And let’s look at the Brain too! So, The Science, The Brain & Mindfulness…
Welcome to the 2nd piece in this short new series looking at #MindfulHacks for Mindful Living & Mindful Working and if you continue to read the pieces as they are published by Thoughts And Ideas then pretty soon you’ll definitely be that Fish in front in all things #Mindfulness.
So, down to business.
Mindfulness is now everywhere, from Parliament to Primary Schools, which is not only pretty awesome but also extremely encouraging.
But how well understood is it?
Making the complex not so complex
As I wrote in my 1st piece in this series it is my intention to make the complex less complex, the tough stuff not so tough and the unreachable within reach of us all; particularly as I believe that Mindfulness is within each and everyone of us to be uncovered.
Much that has been written about Mindfulness however can seem rather academic, or give the impression that it is some obscure, proto-religous thing that is rather difficult to do and requires a great degree of soul-searching.
Of course, that is all quite ridiculous and only serves to get between the subject and the object — between each of us and Mindfulness.
The tendency towards the academic can become even more pronounced when you start to look at all the Science and the stuff around Mindfulness and the Brain.
So, I have first sought to understand all the Science and then write about it in a way that brings it into reach and readily understood.
What really matters
I go into more detail about Mindfulness and the Brain in Chapter 3 of my Book ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search of a Life More Meaningful’, but here is what I think really matters and why the research is unequivocal on the efficacy of Mindfulness.
I’d even go as far to say if I was a betting person that it would be worth a wager that all this will be conventional wisdom in 5 years time.
The case for Mindfulness
2 things have happened over the past few years that have turned everything on its head and boiler-plated the case for Mindfulness.
1stly, a discovery that challenged what we once thought we believed and knew to be true — via conventional wisdom and the science to boot — and then 2ndly, a concomitant advance in technology that allowed us to see the real truth and develop a whole new understanding.
The Brain is in fact Neuroplastic
This discovery has been described as the most important break-through in the understanding of the Brain and it’s relationship with the Mind since the beginning of modern science.
Quite simply we now know that the Brain is Neuroplastic. It is not immutable, unchangeable, something that becomes fixed at a certain point in childhood — And all that rather kicks the old Jesuit saying into touch, which goes — ‘Give me the child till their 7 and I’ll give you the adult’.
The Brain is not unregenerative — it can be rewired
The relationship between the 500 Billion Neurons in your Brain — & that’s more Neurons in your head than there are stars in the Milky Way — can be renergised and new neural pathways formed.
It is possible to change the way we think and act and our genes, hormones and upbringing do not seal our fate!
We can now see inside the Brain
And because of the advance in technology with EEGs, Chemical Neuroimaging, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Emission Tomography, we are now able to see deep inside the Brain and witness these changes as they happen, as well as measure their impact.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging for instance, can detect changes in the Brain resulting from how Mindful Meditation impacts on Attention, &, as our minds are prone to wonder around 47% of the time and we rarely, if ever, give anything our full Attention, this is rather good news!
The Brain’s a wonderful thing
Without question the Brain is a wonderful thing. It is in fact the most complex organisation of matter we know of in the known universe.
The oldest part, known as the Inner Brain Stem or Reptilian Brain, dates back over 400 million years, whilst the newer bit, the New Bark or Neurocortex, is around 200 million years old.
The brutal truth however is that the Brain is being overstimulated by the Modern World — The demands of technology — The way we work — The way we live — How we conduct ourselves on a daily basis!
As Goethe said to Schiller
The German poet Goethe purportedly said to the Philosopher Schiller, ‘The more I know the less I understand’.
Never a truer word spoken perhaps, allbeit a couple of hundred years ago.
The simple fact is that in seeking to understand the world around us, we use information from multiple sources.
In reality though, we are limited to processing only around 9 pieces of the several million stimuli we are encountering at any one time.
And couple this with the fact that on average we have between 12,000 & 50,000 thoughts every day, although admittedly about 95% of these are about the same thing, we are undoubtedly from the inside-out and the outside-in, enveloped in constant chatter, motion and commotion.
Do you feel unusually tired like Jamie?
I was reading in one of the Sunday newspaper supplement’s at the weekend that on reaching 40 the former ‘Naked Chef’ and now Global Brand, Jamie Oliver, had admitted to feeling unusually tired and decided to do something about it.
Jamie of course, is not alone and it’s not necessarily an age thing.
1-in-5 of us report feeling unusually tired, yet wired at the same time and wake up from our night’s sleep wondering whether we’ve actually been to sleep at all.
All because of the constant narrative buzz that’s been running in their heads.
Perhaps you recognise this?
In a recent survey of 38,000 British employees, 15% said that they never felt refreshed by their sleep. Whilst the Royal College of Psychologists estimates that actually 20% of us will be feeling ‘Unusually tired’ at any one time.
Mindfulness calms the Mind
What Mindfulness does is rebalance things.
It calms and refreshes the Mind, bringing clarity and focus by improving sleeping patterns and helping us to achieve a slower and more relaxed Alpha State and ultimately a Theta or Dream State, that in turn helps build resilience, emotional intelligence and mental stamina.
And by stimulating areas of the Brain such as the Pre Frontal Cortex which is where we make our plans, decide things, & form opinions, it helps us to plan, decide and act with greater clarity and focus.
Which is no bad thing either when we find that 90% of mistakes in life are down to what is called Solid Thinking i.e. being unable to make good choices, or, indeed, change our Minds.
Your Personality is not fixed
With the latest technology enabling us to see deep inside the Brain, we can also see that just spending as little as 5 minutes a day over an 8 week period practicing Mindful breathing can reduce the size of the Amygdala in our Brains, which controls our ‘Fight & Flight’ response to things, making us less prone to over-react or loose our temper.
Only 10% of our personality is down to Genetics — 90% comes from learned behaviours, &, the way we think and act is not set in stone from childhood. A Leopard can change its spots!
For me that is certainly compelling stuff and we’ve clearly got everything to play for — So, let’s bring on the Mindful Revolution.
A Mindful Revolution
I’m afraid though you’ll have to wait until the penultimate piece in this series, when I’ll look in some depth at how to make a Mindful Revolution a reality and share my simple 5 Step Plan to help make it happen.
5 simple things that you can do each and every day, in all areas of your life!
In the next piece in this series though, I’ll be looking at the relationship between Mindfulness and Education and I hope you’ll swim along and join me.
Meanwhile if you fancy it you can tune in and listen to my series of free podcasts on Mindfulness available on iTunes, just click here.
And until the next time, take care and Be Mindful!
Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and www.bookboon.com; the ‘Coffee & A Cup of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Mindful Hacks For Mindful Living & Mindful Working’ series. He is also a Contributing Author to The Huffington Post and a Contributing Writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organistional and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow the continuing journey uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and at @Paul_Mudd