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