The power of mindfulness – Dealing with thoughts and strengthening concentration

Today more and more people are practicing mindfulness. The practice is to simply notice your breathing, follow or be consciously aware of the inhale and the exhale and when random thoughts come into your mind you chose to not get involved or distracted and simply return to awareness- to the awareness of your inhale and exhale. It’s that simple … or that difficult.

Dropping thoughts is not easy – if it were then poor mental health, anxiety and unhappiness would not exist. I come from a Cognitive behavioural therapy stance where we see how thinking triggers behaviours that reinforce thinking that generate feelings that fuel more thinking and more problematic behaviour – the original vicious cycle. The guilt of addiction can make you want to obliterate it by drinking or using more. The profound sadness of depression can make you hide away from friends and positive life experiences and so only remain in the gloom.

It can be so difficult to reset your thinking and strengthen the positive view. Your whole life has been programming you towards your world view and your judgement of yourself. You will benefit from a talk therapy or a few CBT sessions to help clarify why you think the way you do and more importantly how to rethink how you do – how you act out these thoughts, making them real palpable feelings. You can reframe your shame to hurt and you can learn to lessen the hurt. Eradicating the shame will open your life up – will give you your life back.

While we are trying to rethink ourselves there is nothing better than mindfulness to advance the process; to bring cognitive strength and clarity to the situation. Mindfulness is not positive psychology (happy thoughts) but it is a way to strengthen the neural pathways to your tranquil or non-distressed self. The more you practice mindfulness, being in the now of what’s going on in real time rather than in the reacting mode of pandering to the perpetual pop up thoughts – then the more control you have over choosing to drop or run with thoughts that do arise.

Mindful meditation can help you hang up on your hang-ups. It can help you enjoy more of the good moments in life by being fully present in them. The idea is not to stop your mind from wandering – You don’t have to become thoughtless – the idea is to become aware that you are wandering and return to the breathe, or to any sort of meditation mantra and in time to return your attention to where ever you want it – back to the now of whatever you are doing. Over time this skill gets easier – practice makes perfect – a few minutes a day will greatly benefit your brain and your willpower.

There have been quite a few scientific studies* on how meditation and mindfulness affects the physical brain. What the findings suggest is that the process of focusing on a single thing – your breath, a mantra or a mindful practice – that is returned to whenever the mind wanders off builds connections in neural pathways. The more you do it, the more the circuit is reinforced. You can literally rewire your ability to focus and enhance your concentration capacity.

Ultimately mindfulness is more than a relaxation technique – it is self-control. Taking it up will provide the power over those thoughts that make you feel bad, sad or mad. When I chose to study psychotherapy as an extension of my horticultural therapy, I chose CBT because it is evidence based – just as I had chosen to explore mindfulness as a therapy through its validated science too. I do have faith in faith but not everybody does – so bringing some validated proof to the table I find helpful in helping switch people on to a new way to get well. Below is some of the current research that informs this piece and also informed sections of my book on mindfulness practice – By time is everything revealed

The book is a health mix of mindfulness and cbt-like homework to help you attain a more controlled and healthy outlook self. It is a lifetime of experience and many years of deep research – but then so is this blog so please don’t think I’m just promoting a book – there is plenty of free advice here. The books I write are not about bank balance they are about harmony – if I can express my inner hippie for a second. The books just have so much more than I can cover in short posts – as in, it’s the extra content that I’m plugging- buy it or borrow it but engage with it if you can.

1. Berkovich-Ohana A., Glicksohn J., Goldstein A. (2011). Mindfulness-induced changes in gamma band activity – implications for the default mode network, self-reference and attention. Clin. Neurophysiol.
2. Brefczynski-Lewis J. A., Lutz A., Schaefer H. S., Levinson D. B., Davidson R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 104, 11483–1148810.1073/pnas.0606552104
3. Chiesa A., Serretti A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychol. Med. 40, 1239–125210.1017/S0033291709991747
4. Corbetta M., Patel G., Shulman G. L. (2008). The reorienting system of the human brain: from environment to theory of mind. Neuron 58, 306–32410.1016/j.neuron.2008.04.017
5. Farb N. A. S., Segal Z. V., Mayberg H., Bean J., McKeon D., Fatima Z., Anderson A. K. (2007). Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 2, 313–32210.1093/scan/nsm030
6. Green R., Turner G. (2010). Growing evidence for the influence of meditation on brain and behaviour. Neuropsychol. Rehabil. 20, 306–31110.1080/09602010903172239
7. Hasenkamp, W., & Barsalou, L. W. (2012). Effects of Meditation Experience on Functional Connectivity of Distributed Brain Networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 38. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00038
8. Jha A. P., Krompinger J., Baime M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cogn. Affect. Behav. Neurosci. 7, 109–11910.3758/CABN.7.2.109
9. Kilpatrick L. A., Suyenobu B. Y., Smith S. R., Bueller J. A., Goodman T., Creswell J. D., Tillisch K., Mayer E. A., Naliboff B. D. (2011). Impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction training on intrinsic brain connectivity. Neuroimage 56, 290–29810.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.02.034
10. Kozasa E. H., Sato J. R., Lacerda S. S., Barreiros M. A., Radvany J., Russell T. A., Sanches L. G., Mello L. E., Amaro E., Jr. (2012). Meditation training increases brain efficiency in an attention task. Neuroimage 59, 745–74910.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.088
11. Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity – A review. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1083. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01083
12. Lutz A., Slagter H. A., Dunne J. D., Davidson R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends Cogn. Sci. (Regul. Ed.) 12, 163–16910.1016/j.tics.2008.01.005
13. Lutz A., Slagter H. A., Rawlings N. B., Francis A. D., Greischar L. L., Davidson R. J. (2009). Mental training enhances attentional stability: neural and behavioral evidence. J. Neurosci. 29, 13418–1342710.1523/JNEUROSCI.1614-09.2009
14. Manna A., Raffone A., Perrucci M., Nardo D., Ferretti A., Tartaro A., Londei A., Del Gratta C., Belardinelli M. O., Romani G. L. (2010). Neural correlates of focused attention and cognitive monitoring in meditation. Brain Res. Bull. 82, 46–5610.1016/j.brainresbull.2010.03.001
15. Rubia K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biol. Psychol. 82, 1–1110.1016/j.biopsycho.2009.04.003
16. Xue S., Tang Y. Y., Posner M. I. (2011). Short-term meditation increases network efficiency of the anterior cingulate cortex. Neuroreport 22, 570–574
17. Yu X., Fumoto M., Nakatani Y., Sekiyama T., Kikuchi H., Seki Y., Sato-Suzuki I., Arita H. (2011). Activation of the anterior prefrontal cortex and serotonergic system is associated with improvements in mood and EEG changes induced by Zen meditation practice in novices. Int. J. Psychophysiol. 80, 103–11110.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.02.004
18. Zeidan F., Johnson S. K., Diamond B. J., David Z., Goolkasian P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Conscious. Cogn. 19, 597–60510.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014

About The Holistic Gardener

I am a horticulturalist and writer interested in how the garden and engagement with nature facilitates full potential living and therapeutic benefits.
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