Mind­ful­ness skills: Im­prove the qual­ity of your life — be­gin us­ing them now

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

I would like to re­view the core ma­te­rial we have cov­ered in the last three let­ters to the ed­i­tor:

1) Stress is a key fac­tor in our health and well-be­ing.

2) Stress re­stricts blood flow to the pre-frontal cor­tex re­gion of the brain which di­min­ishes our abil­ity to think clearly and to feel con­nected to oth­ers.

3) Stress causes us to use only one third of our lung ca­pac­ity, which de­prives ev­ery cell in our bod­ies of the op­ti­mum amount of oxy­gen.

4) The Stress Re­sponse has be­come chronic in mod­ern so­ci­ety.

5) Chronic stress of­ten leads to de­pres­sion which is why de­pres­sion is epi­demic in mod­ern times.

6) Un­treated de­pres­sion is the pri­mary risk fac­tor for thoughts of sui­cide and hope­less­ness.

7) Mind­ful­ness tech­niques have been val­i­dated by mod­ern science as ef­fec­tive in man­ag­ing the stress re­sponse.

8) Mind­ful­ness skills al­low us to choose the mind state we wish to main­tain and, thanks to neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, cre­ate the brain struc­ture to sup­port that mind state.

9) The more we in­cor­po­rate mind­ful­ness in our daily ac­tiv­i­ties, the more pow­er­ful and last­ing the change in our brain struc­ture that we de­sire be­comes.

They don’t teach this in school. We are not com­pelled to feel anx­ious, de­pressed, joy­ful, loved, or any­thing un­less we choose it. No one ex­plained that we can choose how to feel in this mo­ment. As long as we stay in the present, then we can choose from one mo­ment to the next to fo­cus on the pos­i­tive. It is when we are re­gret­ting the past or are anx­ious about the fu­ture that we are vul­ner­a­ble to go to neg­a­tive and/or de­pres­sive thoughts, and lose sight of our choice to be pos­i­tive in the mo­ment.

If you have read each of my three pre­vi­ous let­ters to the ed­i­tor, you now have the knowl­edge you need to use the skills I will teach you to take charge of your phys­i­ol­ogy and choose how you feel from mo­ment to mo­ment liv­ing in the mind state that you pre­fer.

The mind­ful­ness skills that I will share with you in this and other let­ters were re­searched and de­vel­oped by the HeartMath In­sti­tute. The HeartMath In­sti­tute was started in 1991 by Doc Chil­dre and Howard Martin. Their goal was to re­search stress man­age­ment (mind­ful­ness) tech­niques and cre­ate science-backed, ev­i­dence-based, peer-re­viewed stud­ies that demon­strate ex­actly how and why these skills cre­ate a shift in our phys­i­ol­ogy and al­low us to be in charge of our emo­tions on a mo­ment-by-mo­ment ba­sis. As I have men­tioned be­fore, these skills are used by Navy SEALs and other seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion that are re­quired to act at their high­est and best un­der ex­treme con­di­tions.

The first mind­ful­ness tech­nique we will learn is heart-fo­cused breath­ing.

We fo­cus our at­ten­tion on the chest area and breathe a lit­tle deeper and a lit­tle slower. We imag­ine that the air is flow­ing in and out of our heart. When dis­tracted we just re­turn our fo­cus to the chest area and the move­ment of the air in and out of our heart. The goal is to dis­cover our own nat­u­ral rhythm that is re­laxed, un­forced and com­fort­able.

The re­search be­hind this process tells us that when we use this skill, one of the things that hap­pens is the back of the stom­ach mas­sages the va­gus nerve bun­dle. The re­sult of this mas­sag­ing is that the amount of blood in the pre-frontal cor­tex re­turns to nor­mal and we es­tab­lish a “neu­tral” state. When this tech­nique is used through­out the day it will re­duce the level of cor­ti­sol in the blood stream and al­low us to choose how to feel in the mo­ment.

This skill is used any­time we feel our stress level ris­ing, or to pre­pare prior to a known stres­sor, or to re­gain con­trol of our phys­i­ol­ogy af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a stress­ful event.

In my next let­ter I will share an­other HeartMath In­sti­tute skill that as­sists us in estab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing the mind state we wish to ex­pe­ri­ence, or how we feel in the mo­ment. It takes ad­van­tage of neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and re­in­forces the neu­ral path­ways that sup­port the mind state we wish to main­tain. We will start with grat­i­tude, the most pow­er­ful emo­tion.

I will also make avail­able an eight week pro­gram that teaches our phys­i­ol­ogy a “new nor­mal” and brings us ever closer to be­ing in charge of our emo­tions and qui­ets the “crit­i­cal voice.”

John Sta­ples, Bryans Road The writer is the pro­gram man­ager for War On Stress, a project of United Char­i­ta­ble, a 501(c)3 non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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