Mindfulness is a buzzword that’s been around for a few years now, but did you know that new science is emerging that suggests its pluses for your brain are impressively far-reaching?
MEDITATION 2.0: A new way to meditate
Dr Craig Hassed is from Monash University in Melbourne’s Department of General Practice and has authored Mindfulness for Life and co-authored Mindful Learning. He says consistent use of the skill has been shown to:
1. Lower your risk of relapse if you’ve suffered bouts of low mood
2. Help preserve your memory and brain function
3. Stimulate new brain growth
4. Quieten down stress
5. Aid your ability to make decisions
6. Improve the flexibility of your thinking
7. Grow your capacity for empathy
8. Help you manage pain
9. Slow down the brain’s ageing process
On the latter, Hassed adds, “One really fascinating area of research is to do with genetics. Research from Elizabeth Blackburn, the Nobel Prize winner and her team, shows that mindfulness stimulates the repair of telomere, which is associated with slowing down the ageing process on the level of our DNA.”
We quizzed Dr Hassed about how much time is needed to accrue these benefits, and how to best get on board.
How would you explain mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not just a form of meditation; it’s also a way of living. So when people are learning to develop mindfulness, it’s not just sitting in a chair, practising a bit of meditation. It’s what they take with them out of the chair that really matters.
So when they are talking with their friends, do they have their attention engaged? When they are eating food, do they really taste it? In their day-to-day work, are they focused on what they’re doing and really engaged with their work?
Being mindful means really living with attention, and being present and open and curious, and also being accepting about your day-to-day life – accepting of the ebb and flow, the ups and downs, all of which are quite natural.
How much time does it take to see some of the payoffs from practising mindfulness?
You start to get some of the benefits even if you’re doing 5 or 10 minutes a day. In the case of addressing more chronic illnesses, studies have looked at benefits among people doing 30 or 40 minutes in a day.
What do you think is the biggest positive about practising mindfulness?
Probably honing your intuition. As a result of mindfulness, the mind is calmer, clearer, more attentive and engaged – the brain works differently, and very often, in a much more intuitive way. When we’re quieter inwardly, we can hear our intuition more clearly. When we’re busy and distracted, very often we don’t hear our intuition.
What’s the best way to get started?
It’s very good to do a course and to work with a group. Psychologists are trained it these days, and you can also access information and courses through The Black Dog Institute, Beyond Blue and the Anxiety Recovery Centre.
There are books you can read and there are apps, like Smiling Mind which are very good, but there’s nothing better than learning from a well-trained teacher alongside a group – here, you can learn from each other’s experiences as well.
Mindful Learning: Reduce stress and improve brain performance for effective learning ($29.99) is published by Exisle Publishing