Our resident Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Andrea Murray was recently interviewed by HerCanberra’s Ashleigh Went to talk all things mindfulness. Here’s a little excerpt from the chat and you can hit the link at the bottom for the full low down.
AW – What does it mean to be mindful?
AM – There are three mental states that our brain can be in at any one time—the past, the present, or the future. Our brain can spend time in the past, reminiscing about pleasant or unpleasant experiences that have unfolded. It can also spend time in the future, planning and organised for upcoming events, or anticipating problems that might pop up and trying our best to solve them.
Our brain can also spend time in the present. This is where we experience life exactly as it is. When we are fully present in a moment of our lives, we experience life through all of our senses and it becomes rich and meaningful. This is when we are mindful.
AW – What are the benefits?
AM – Being present has a two-fold effect on the brain: it decreases our stress and increases our productivity. When we stress, our sympathetic nervous system becomes active and gets us ready to fight or flight. But when we become mindful we very effectively calm the system back down. It may seem counterintuitive, but a calm and relaxed system is also a very productive one. When we focus all of our attention on one thing at a time, our brain’s efficiency is maximised.
The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that its positive effects are felt across different aspects of our lives. Relationships start to work better because we’re more engaged and connected with our partners and our children. Work starts to get better because we’re able to deepen our focus and engagement. Our health gets better because we reduce our stress and its wear and tear on the body.
AW – Why do we find it difficult to practice mindfulness?
AM – Our brain has evolved with one focus in mind—our survival. Because of this, our brain does not like to hang out in the present moment. In terms of evolution, this was the mental state that was most detrimental to our survival. Our brain prefers to spend time in the past, reminiscing about unpleasant or painful experiences, so we can learn from these and do things better next time around. It also likes to hang out in the future tense, worrying about things that are yet to happen, predicting the worst, preparing for the worst. Historically, our survival has depended on us learning from past experiences and anticipating upcoming problems. This is why our brain resists being mindful.
AW – How can we become more mindful?
AM – Any exercise that gets you to spend more time in the present moment helps you become more mindful. We all understand the importance of looking after our body, of exercising and eating well. But very few of us do things to look after our brain, to keep it strong and healthy too. Using a mindfulness app can be considered as exercise for your brain. By training your brain to sit for longer and longer in the present moment, it starts to recognise how good this space feels, and wants to spend more time there.
Want to read more? Head on over to this article at HerCanberra to keep reading.