Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness

Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness

Learn how to say “yes” to the present moment.
Published on February 22, 2012 by Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D. in The Mindful Self-Express
mindful meditation

Meditation is one aspect of mindfulness

Most people these days are stressed out by the fast pace of life, economy, and worries about the future. In a recent survey, conducted in the UK, a whopping 86 percent agreed that “people would be much happier and healthier if they knew how to slow down and live in the moment” (Mental Health Foundation, 2010).  It is no wonder that mindfulness has rapidly gained attention in the popular press and is one of the few complementary medicine techniques to be offered in  hospitals and clinics worldwide. But what exactly is mindfulness?Mindfulness is a mind-body medicine practice, based on ancient Zen Buddhist meditation techniques, that was popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is an internal resource that all of us already have within us. The idea is to channel or direct this resource to transform our relationships with stress, emotions, pain, and illness. Indeed, controlled research studies suggest that mindfulness-based interventions can effectively reduce symptoms in people with chronic pain, recurrent depression, anxiety disorders,substance abusebinge-eating, and many other health conditions. Mindfulness interventions have also been shown to change the brain’s grey matter and reactivity to emotional stimuli in ways that promote greater conscious control over emotion.

While most people seem to think that mindfulness is a good thing, many people are confused about what exactly mindfulness is. Does it involve emptying the brain of thoughts, inducing relaxation, or going into a trance? Do you have to go live in an ashram and retreat from the material world to practice it effectively?  Is it a kind of religion or cult, and is it potentially dangerous?  In fact, none of the above have been shown to be true. Below is a description of some key concepts that can help illuminate what it means to have a mindful attitude to life.

 

mindfulness

The beauty of the present moment

Focus on the Present Moment—When your thoughts get lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you bring them back to what you are experiencing right now. You try to remain open to how things unfold in the present, rather than having preconceived ideas about how things will or should turn out. Being Fully PresentYou are spaciously aware of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment as you go through your daily life. What do you feel in your body? What are you seeing, hearing, doing – right now?

Openness to Experience—Rather than dreading and shutting out your own feelings and experiences because you think you can’t handle them, you welcome with curiosity any thoughts and feelings that naturally arise, knowing they are merely sensations in the moment and the next moment can be different. You create mental spaciousness to contain these thoughts and fellings. Become aware of your experience as a flow of sensations, thoughts, and feelings and watch how these change and transform naturally over time.

Non-Judgment—You don’t categorize your thoughts and feelings as good or bad, try to change them, or feel compelled to act on them. All feelings have a purpose, whether to protect you from danger or open you to love. You watch and accept whatever arises in consciousness with an open mind. You extend this non-judging attitude to other people and things.

Acceptance of Things as They Are—You don’t try to force or change reality to fit your vision of what it should be, feel like a victim, or bemoan the unfairness of life. Instead, you try to see reality clearly and let it be as it is, knowing that you can tolerate whatever it is that comes up. You extend this acceptance to others, knowing they are the best judges of what is right for them.

Connection—You feel connected to all living things and nature in being part of a larger whole. You reflect on and feel grateful for the cycle of life and the food, beauty, and protection that nature gives us. You know that all living beings want to feel happy and secure and avoid suffering and you feel connected by similarity of needs and experience.

Non-Attachment—You do not try to hold onto things, people, or experiences, knowing that life is in constant flow. Attachment comes fromfear and is the basis of suffering. You learn to surf the wave of life, going with the flow and being confident in your own ability to adapt. When one door closes, another opens.

 

mindfulness

Mindfully walking a labyrinth

Peace and Equanimity—You maintain an even-keel, not getting too swept up in life’s highs and lows. You know that life is a cycle and you can’t see the whole picture at any one moment. When things don’t go your way, you stay firmly rooted in your own clear vision and values. You walk with a peaceful heart and adopt a non-harming, non-violent attitude. Compassion—You deal gently, kindly, and patiently with yourself and others. Rather than judging, or condemning, you open your heart to really listen and try to understand your own and other people’s experiences. You allow yourself to feel other people’s suffering. You love people not for what they can give you or because you need something from them, but because you connect and empathize with their experiences.

With these concepts in mind, you can begin to introduce mindfulness into your own life, whether it is by deliberately directing attention to your breath and senses at different times during the day, taking a mindful nature walk, or beginning a simple meditation practice. You might want to center your attention on each in- and out-breath, noticing the length, quality, and sensations of the breath moving in and out of your body, without trying to force or change it in any way. You may also begin to become aware of the times in the day that you operate “mindlessly,” and on automatic pilot, your head so busy with plans and worries, that you don’t even notice what you feel inside or what is around you.

Developing an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your automatic patterns, and gently redirects attention to the present moment is the beginning of growing a “mindfulness muscle” to help you navigate the winds of change and stresses in your life. “As Eckhart Tolle so eloquently said: “Always say “yes” to the present moment. Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

About The Author

Melanie Greenberg is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Mill Valley, Marin County, CA. She is also a researcher, author, and national speaker with expertise in life stress, relationships, mind-body health, and effects of society and media on human behavior.

Visit  my website at  http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/  for original research articles and therapy services

Connect with me on facebookhttp://www.fb.com/mindfulselfexpress

Follow me on twitterhttp://twitter.com/#!/DrMelanieG

Read my personal blog: http://marinpsychologist.blogspot.com

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Top Ten Smart Foods

Top Ten Smart Foods

Certain foods are especially good at protecting the brain, nerve cells and blood vessels from the damage of aging.

By Carlin Flora, published on February 12, 2004 – last reviewed on June 30, 2009

Crossword puzzles alone won’t save your brain and protect it from aging, though they will help. So will the right foods. Some edibles are especially good at protecting the brain’s delicate nerve cells and blood vessels from the damage that accompanies aging. Most of them squelch free radicals, the renegade oxygen molecules spun off as the brain goes about the business of the mind. Most of the foods that are smartest for the brain are also good for the heart because both rely on a steady oxygen supply. The risks for cardiovascular disease correlate with risks for cognitive decline.

  • BlueberriesSweet wild blueberries are bursting with antioxidants, which mop up nasty free radicals. Studies of rats show that a blueberry-rich diet improves memory and motor skills and reverses age-related declines in balance and coordination. Chemicals in blueberries affect the contractile machinery of arteries, and therefore have a good affect on blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure can damage delicate blood vessels in the brain and can lead to strokes.

  • Dark Leafy GreensChemicals called homocysteines are a normal part of protein metabolism, but high levels are linked with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease(as well as heart disease), which accounts for most cases of dementia in the U.S. According to Katherine Tucker, director of the dietary assessment research program at the Human Nutrition Research Center of Aging, “homocysteine has a toxic effect on arterial walls, and oxidation corrodes the arterial walls too, which makes them a bad combination.” In order to break themselves down, homocysteines require folate and B12 or B6, vitamins found in vegetables like collard greens and swiss chard.
  • Salmon, Sardines, and HerringFatty fish are full of neuroprotective omega-3 fatty acids. Higher levels of omega-3 in the blood go hand-in-hand with higher levels of serotonin, a mood-enhancing brain chemical. A study from the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago found that people who eat at least one fish meal a week are significantly less likely to end up with Alzheimer’s disease than those who regularly eschew fish. Because a fish diet aids communication between nerve cells, studies have shown its positive effect on learning acquisition and memory performance.
  • SpinachResearch has finally caught up with mom’s advice: Spinach turns out to be full of antioxidant power. James Joseph, chief of the Neurosciences Laboratory of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, finds spinach beneficial in slowing down age-related problems in the central nervous system and cognitive deficits. A salad with spinach has more than three times the amount of folate than one with iceberg lettuce.
  • Red Wine, or, better yet, Grape JuiceDrinking red wine in moderation increases longevity. But since alcohol slows down the brain’s ability to function properly, grape juice may be a smarter beverage choice. Research from James Joseph shows that concord grape juice significantly improves short-term memory and motor skills. It’s not just the heavy dose of antioxidants. Joseph believes that grape juice increases production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Concord grape juice has the highest total antioxidant level of any fruit, vegetable or juice tested.
  • Whole Grains and Brown RiceOne of the best things you can do to improve intake of nutrients is to switch to brown rice. It’s filled with vitamins and magnesium, which seems to be important to cognitive health. Whole grains contain vitamin B6, which aids in reducing homocysteine levels. Americans often don’t get enough vitamin B6, because they mostly eat processed foods.
  • Hot CocoaWarm up with hot cocoa to help your brain as well as your frostbitten fingers. Chang Young Lee, professor of food chemistry at Cornell University, found that the antioxidant content of two tablespoons of pure cocoa powder is “almost two times stronger than red wine, two to three times stronger than green tea and four to five times stronger than that of black tea.” The antioxidants in hot cocoa protect brain cells from oxidativestress that can lead to Alzheimer’s and other disorders.
  • Nuts, Notably Almonds and WalnutsAdding to their party-mix appeal, nuts are rich in antioxidants and have been found to lower blood cholesterol levels. A Harvard study showed that women who ate more than five ounces of nuts per week had a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who ate an ounce or less. And, they don’t contribute to weight gain as much as other kinds of fatty foods. Walnuts are rich in omega-3s.
  • Olive OilA staple of the highly touted “Mediterranean Diet,” olive oil contains the potent antioxidants called polyphenols. Olive oil has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The extra-virgin variety is best.
  • GarlicThis pungent herb fends off aging via its antioxidant properties. It also contains strong antibacterial and antiviral compounds that help shake off stress-induced colds and infections. Raw, crushed garlic is best; cooked garlic is less powerful but still benefits the cardiovascular system.

    reposted from Psychology Today