The group of participants who were involved in the study reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day for MBSR. When, after eight weeks, their MR images were tested, it was found that their gray-matter density in the hippocampus had increased. It is a factor that boosts one’s learning abilities, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
The other aspect of brain changes was noticed through the reporting of decreased stress levels in the participants. This was correlated to decreased gray-matter density in the amygdale, a factor that can reduce one’s stress levels and anxiety.
However, the eight week period was not sufficient to witness any changes in the self-awareness associated structure called insula. The researchers suggested that a longer period of meditative practice is needed to produce changes in the insula.
A meditation practice that is based on mindfulness is essentially about two things: focusing and awareness. To establish both, you must do the following exercises.
Clubbing focusing and awareness
Focusing is basically an inward process. With your eyes closed, keep your eye balls straight as if they are looking on a road ahead. Try to anchor the process by focusing on your breath. This will help you ward off thoughts.
On the contrary, awareness is an outward process that involves observing yourself from an outward perspective. This will help you know yourself better and notice aspects that you didn’t know existed in you. Do this by distancing yourself from your mental traffic and watching it from the eyes of an outsider. Let your thoughts flow and make a conscious effort to break it down dispassionately and distance from your stream of consciousness.
Focusing and awareness will overlap at the point when you are at the risk of getting drowned in your stream of thoughts. That’s when you need to focus.
Focusing on the moment that’s right here is essential but we are hardly doing that in our lives. By practicing the following focus exercises, you can make a conscious effort to break down and relish every second that passes by.
Breathing: Take deep breaths that go down to your belly. Once you are settled and thoughts start flowing in, pick a thought like you pluck it from a stream. Analyze it and when you want to switch to another thought, let that one flow away in the stream.
Body scanning: Lie down with your eyes closed and imagine that you are scanning your body for any kind of discomfort or soreness. If you feel that any spot is particularly tight or sore, breathe into it like you are healing it.
Mindful walking: While you walk, make a conscious effort to focus on your body movement. Relax your movement, look around and try to notice everything around you. Pay heed to your speed and how every part of your body moves when you are moving. This will help you release any kinds of tensions in your body.
Mindful eating: Try to avoid eating while you are focusing on other things, like while watching television. Instead, focus on what you are eating, its taste, and texture.
Mindful stretching: Perform stretches, like hatha yoga, while being conscious of your breath and movements.
Observance: When you are flooded with thoughts and find it difficult to focus, just step back like you are an observer of your own thoughts. Don’t judge them and simply watch them, like you watch the sky with its floating clouds. You may pen down or say aloud, as your situation allows, the subject of each thought that floats to your mind, such as cousin’s wedding, pizza, date, weekend and so on.
Worry surfing: When you have mastered the art of distancing yourself from your thoughts, try to remember any incident that made you feel stressed, anxious, worried, fearful or any negative emotion. Try to remember how you felt about it. This may distress you in the present and your body may start showing signs of it and become uncomfortable. Notice each and every way this is happening to you and tell yourself that you can notice the change. Keep remembering the feeling till you feel that you are at least a 5 on 10 on the scale of that emotion.
Now, you must remember that every emotion has a point where it saturates and starts to diminish. It happens with every single emotion that you have experienced in your life. When you are doing this exercise, try to remember this. You might reach a point when you may feel that you are getting too affected and you need to stop remembering the traumatic incident. When this happens, let your mind and body take charge. The emotional wave that’s rising within you will surpass soon. Doing this, you would have gotten on the other side of the wave you thought would go on forever.