Mindfulness. You have probably heard the term hundreds, if not thousands of times. An Amazon.com search for the term “mindful” reveals over 60,000 books. But, what is mindfulness, really? Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD., defines mindfulness this way: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” How is this different from our default mode? And why is it good for us?
Typically, the thinking mind dominates our waking experience, whether we are aware of it or not. In fact, estimates show that our minds wander 50% of our waking hours! When we are not focused on a particular task, our minds are busy with thoughts that are evaluative in nature. We think about ourselves, and what others are thinking about us. We ruminate. We think about the future. This behind-the-scenes process of thinking is called the Default Mode Network (DMN), and consists of a set of interconnected structures of the brain that run mostly along the midline, from front to back.
The DMN likely evolved to help us define and situate ourselves in a social world, which can be essential to our thriving and surviving. However, when the DMN dominates, we have more preoccupation with the separate sense of “self” and less access to the areas of the brain that promote compassion, empathy, and true connection with others. While the DMN has a place in human evolutionary processes, it also can have negative health effects, including an increased state of unhappiness, anxiety, and depression.
Research shows that the DMN is relatively deactivated in experienced meditators. Mindfulness meditation is a simple way to decrease DMN activity, and to create more neural networks in the brain that promote a sense of well-being and inner peace. How do we do this? By engaging directly with the experience we are having in the present moment.
Try this experiment: Choose an activity. This can be anything, from having a cup of tea, to walking, or even doing dishes! Set a timer for five minutes. For those five minutes, become fascinated with the nuance of your present moment experience. Notice the shape, texture, or temperature of whatever you are in contact with. Become aware of the sounds around you. Each time you become aware of thought, just notice that thoughts are occurring, and direct your attention back to feeling the nuance of sensation. This simple mindfulness practice is a great way to press “pause” on the DMN, and to explore mindfulness anywhere, any time.
For a free five-minute Mindfulness Meditation audio recording, visit my website, www.anjaliyogatherpy.com. If you would like to schedule a yoga therapy session for individualized mindfulness coaching, please call or email Abby at 541-787-1238, email@example.com.