Mindfulness and Meditation

This is the April 2012 issue of the Integrating Awareness Newsletter. The theme for this issue is Mindfulness and Meditation, with articles about:

  • Effects of meditation on body and mind – scientific research findings;
  • How meditation can help your brain toward increased happiness;
  • Eating-mindfulness; informal mindfulness practice;
  • Mindfulness practice can help you quit smoking: research report.

Can mindfulness and meditation practice increase your life expectancy?

Interesting question, and probably one that most people would dismiss with a “get real!,” or at the most offer a tentative “maybe?” in response to. But in fact, there are at least two perspectives from which this question can be answered with a “yes, absolutely!

First of all, scientific research on practices such as mindfulness meditation have found indications that mindfulness and meditation may

  • improve the functioning of your immune system;
  • enhance brain longevity;
  • counteract cellular damage caused by chronic psychological stress;
  • lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes; and
  • slow down the aging process on a cellular level.

You can read more about this in the article “Effects of meditation practice on body and mind; scientific research findings”. Furthermore, mindfulness may help you quit smoking, which in itself is likely to increase your life expectancy, of course. Read more about this in the article “Mindfulness practice can help you quit smoking – research report”.

The other perspective is of a more subjective nature, but nevertheless valid and important. Take a few moments to reflect on your day-to-day life;

  • Are you often rushing through daily activities, without being really attentive to them?
  • Are you focusing so much on getting where you are going, that you don’t fully experience the steps along the way to getting there?
  • Do you spend a large part of your day “on autopilot,” without being present to what you are actually doing?
  • Do you spend more time in your head, thinking about the past and/or the future, than you do fully experiencing the here-and-now?

I think most people would have to admit that this is pretty much how their lives are played out. As modern-age human beings we tend to get so caught up in the busy-ness of daily life that we are more or less unconscious of the actual experiences that we move through moment by moment.

Going about life this way, you may only be fully conscious and present for one or two hours out of your 16-hour day (assuming that you sleep for 8 hours). If you are 40 years old, and have a life expectancy of around 80 years, this leaves you with a mere 2.5 – 5 years left to be fully alive, awake, and truly conscious! So, if you could double – or why not triple or quadruple – the number of hours that you are truly alive each day, this would, in effect, double, triple or quadruple your life expectancy! It would be equal to be given another 40, 80 or 120 years to live!

Mindfulness and meditation practice helps us live in the present, rather than be trapped inside a foggy daydream, it helps us fully experience more of life, and therefore our subjectively experienced life span is increased. Of course, quantity isn’t everything, but being present in the moment, rather than lost in “mind-wandering” has also been demonstrated to increase happiness – see the article “How meditation can help your brain toward increased happiness” for more on this subject.

To increase your awareness of your actual experience in any given moment, you may want to start practising mindfulness “on the fly.” Anywhere, anytime, shift your attention from wherever your mind has wandered, to what is in your actual present experience; simply notice the sounds around you, notice smells and fragrances, notice what you feel with/in/on your body, notice the colours of the view you have in front of you, notice what feelings and emotions are present, even notice the stream of thoughts that flow through your mind, but without getting caught up in them.

You may want to make it a habit to “stop and simply notice” at certain points in your day; e.g. when you are waiting for a green light, when you are cleaning your teeth, when you are cooking, when you are eating lunch etc. The article “Eating-mindfulness; informal mindfulness practice” provides step-by-step instructions for practising mindfulness while eating, which may be beneficial if you are trying to lose weight as well.

And if you would like to learn the “formal” practice of mindfulness and meditation, do consider participating in the Integrating Awareness Meditation course.

Articles about mindfulness and meditation

Effects of meditation on body and mind; scientific research findings

While meditation practice is well recognised as a tool for quietening the mind, and cultivating harmony in daily life, scientific research has also discovered that mindfulness and meditation has actual, measurable effects on the body that relate to both physiological and emotional-psychological healthy functioning. Such effects have been found not only on long-term meditators, but also on people who have done short meditation courses. Read more…

How meditation can help your brain toward increased happiness

Research has shown that “mind-wandering” decreases happiness, but also that the practice of mindfulness and meditation over time has the effect of reducing the mind’s wanderings, and furthermore that long-term meditators have more developed connections between brain regions involved in self-monitoring and cognitive control. Read more…

Eating-mindfulness – informal mindfulness practice

Formal mindfulness meditation can be complemented with informal mindfulness practices, where you, even momentarily, disengage from the thinking activity, by drawing your awareness to your actual experience in the present moment. Eating-mindfulness is an interesting example of informal mindfulness practice which may increase your appreciation of the flavours of your food immensely. It is a useful tool to help with weight control and in the treatment of eating disorders, such as binge eating, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia. Read more…

Mindfulness practice can help you quit smoking: research report

Nearly half of all adult smokers attempt to quit each year, but the majority of quit attempts are unsuccessful. Giving up smoking is a significant stress factor, which can cause irritability, disturbed sleep and other withdrawal symptoms that persist for a long time. Tobacco cravings have been identified as the main culprit in making people fail to quit, and mindfulness practice has proven to be an effective strategy for decreasing such cravings. Read more…

I hope you found something that interested you in this issue of the Integrating Awareness Newsletter, and I look forward to seeing you at one of the meditation courses!

P.S. I have started a YouTube channel for Integrating Awareness, where I will upload videos on various aspects of personal development, relationship issues, mindfulness & meditation practice and similar. Please, have a look, and click the ‘Subscribe’ button at the top of that page, to keep updated on new videos.

P.P.S. In case you haven’t discovered it yet, I have also started a Facebook page for Integrating Awareness that you may Like… (please, do!)

Until the next time,
Be well and enjoy Being!

Lars Andersson