We all know that feeling, walking out of the lecture theatre and realising you can’t remember a thing that’s happened in the last hour and a half. If you’re anything like me (I’m really hoping for your sake you’re not but if you are let’s be friends), instead of diligently note-taking and listening, you’ve been daydreaming about dinner and your hot date on Friday night (which is so not a weekly Greasesing-a-long on the couch with your dog). The good thing is we’re not alone, with studies suggesting our mind wanders for about 47% of the time. The even better news is by bringing a little “mindfulness” into our day, we can dramatically improve our mental wellbeing and productivity.
This idea of “mindfulness” has been branded around everywhere recently. From mindful eating to mindful yoga, celebrities such as Oprah, Emma Watson, and even Dustin Martin have hopped on the bandwagon. But what is mindfulness and why is everyone going crazy for it?
Put simply, mindfulness is living in the present and paying deliberate attention to what we are doing from moment to moment. Instead of reminiscing about the past or planning for the future, mindfulness is about becoming completely engaged with what is actually happening right now in our external and internal worlds. Thiscan sometimes be challenging, especially in those moments where we find ourselves struggling with powerful emotions such as sadness, frustration, boredom, or anger. The truly beautiful thing about mindfulness is it teaches us to adopt an attitude of friendliness, curiosity, and acceptance to whatever we are experiencing. Instead of judging or criticising ourselves or a situation, we gain a sense of perspective, and over time can recognise and refrain from our habitual thought patterns and behaviours.
For example, when sitting in a lecture, we come to realise that’sexactly allwe’redoing – simply sitting in a lecture. We recognise the feeling of boredom and don’t get swept away by an unhelpful monologue questioning, why we are even studying law when we don’twant to be a lawyer. Through mindfulness, we can gently guide ourselves back to reality through the senses and refocus our attention on the lecture.
Sceptical? Fair enough, at face value, mindfulness does sound a tad “airy-fairy” – a practice for hippies and kale-smoothie lovers (they are actually really good okay). Stay with me, one of the reasons for the hype is the practice’s astounding scientific results.
On a basic level, research is increasingly linking the activation pattern of the brain when it is on “default mode”, lost in ideas and thoughts, to an array of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and ADHD. We don’tneed any reminding of the growing prevalence of these devastating conditions. However promisingly, by engaging in mindfulness and focusing on the present moment, different areas of the brain are activated, reducing our tendencies for stress, worry, and reactivity. Repeatedly bringing our attention back to the task at hand stimulates the growth of the areas of the brain which help foster positive mental wellbeing. Indeed, making the time for 15 minutes of mindfulness practice a day for six weeks has been shown to grow the areas of the brain such as those associated with learning, memory, and emotional regulation.
That’s not all. Studies have shown mindfulness over time improves academic performance, preparedness, and information processing. Regular meditators can experience increased creativity, greater empathy, and compassion. Thishas been noted to have a flow on effect in improving the quality of relationships, not only with others but importantly, the self.
Ready to give it a go? Monash has made it easy with a range of programs and resources to help introduce you to mindfulness. Check out the mindfulness resources page. (https://www.monash.edu/health/mindfulness/resources), you can download some short-guided meditations. Monash academics Dr Craig Hassed and Dr Richard Chambers have created a four-week online program called “Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance” which unpacks mindfulness and provides techniques and practices to incorporate into your daily life. Also, every Tuesday and Wednesday at 1:15-1:45pm there is a free guided meditation in the Narthex room in the Religious Centre. No need to book, just drop by.
Personally speaking, mindfulness has changed my life. However, by no means is the practice easy – it requires dedication and persistence, and there have been many confronting moments.I can safely say it is one of the most worthwhile and rewarding things I have ever done.
In our busy lives, balancing study, work, socialising, and technology it is so easy to lose touch with the things that truly matter. How often we forget our greatest asset is health and our body is our one true home. The simple practice of mindfulness, living moment to moment, helps us reconnect with what is important to us. In doing so, we treat ourselves and others better and start paving the way to a meaningful, happy life.