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by Toby Maguire
A Taoist Master
Is it possible to develop our concentration so that we can work more efficiently and prevent our mind from being distracted? Is it possible to control our thoughts rather than let our thoughts control us? Is it possible to learn how to let go of negative emotions such as depression, fear, anxiety, stress and anger? Is it possible to improve our memory, learn things more quickly and become a more calm, friendly and confident person?
The answer to all of the above is a definite 'Yes', if you learn to practise mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the process of living in the present moment and focusing all your attention on one thing at a time.
How does this boost our brain power and help us think more clearly?
When we focus all our attention on one specific action at a time, whether it is brushing our teeth, washing up, doing the ironing or in the case of meditation, observing the breath, then our thoughts do not run away with us, resulting in a more focused and clear mind. Unfortunately for most of us most of the time, this is not the case.
If you have ever stopped and observed what you are thinking about, you will realise that we are constantly having a conversation with ourselves in our minds. If you have a strong emotion attached to a thought, such as anger, fear, sadness or even love, the thoughts become very strong, resulting in constant internal dialogue repeating itself over and over again in the mind like a broken record.
Every time you replay these thoughts in your mind, no matter how big or small, your body reacts to it. Your breathing changes, your heart starts to beat faster and you release hormones into the blood which are chemicals that create your emotions. The more you allow your mind to wander, the more hormones you release and the stronger your emotions become. If you are angry with someone and you allow yourself to dwell on that anger for days on end, your body will think that a threatening situation has arisen and it will continually release hormones into the body preparing it for a fight or flight response, making you feel constantly irritable, even though the angry situation passed by days ago. As a result, your emotional response will impede your thought process and affect your judgment.
When you practise mindfulness, you observe your thoughts and emotions, let them go and constantly bring your mind back to the present moment. This cuts off your body's response to the emotion, slows down the breathing, the heat rate, the release of emotional hormones into the body which in turn calms down the mind.
To practise mindfulness, you really need to do three things. First and foremost, slow everything down. Stop rushing things and observe what you are doing with all your attention. Secondly, notice everything that is going on around you, the sounds you can hear, the sensations you are feeling, the smells around you and really look at everything you see as though you are observing them for first time. Finally, everything you do, no matter how big or small or how insignificant it seems, try and do it perfectly. By doing small things perfectly, you will soon start to notice how much easier it is to do the larger and more important things in life perfectly. By practising mindfulness, you will realise that you become more focused on everything you do without being distracted by irrelevant thoughts and internal chit chatter, resulting in a more relaxed, calm and focused mind.