Focus without Stress – The Statesman

Posted: February 23, 2020 at 12:52 pm


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We live in times when so many of us find it increasingly difficult to focus on just one thing at a time. When we do not have sufficient time, our technological devices enable us to be in multiple places all at once. But it comes with a cost. Modern technology has split our concentration into smaller bits, scattering them in many directions. As we have become more technologically savvy, we also seem to have lost our ability to live in the present ~ a place where we actually want to be without stress and distractions.

Although we can connect with just about anybody with a touch of a finger, we often find ourselves unable to engage in genuine, one-on-one communication. On the one hand, technology has made us more efficient and productive but, on the other, we find that our attention is scattered and our lives marked by stress and complications. Consequently, we are not always mindful when we are communicating with ourselves or with others. So what exactly is mindfulness? It is the act of consciously focusing your mind in the present moment without judgment and without attachment to the moment.

It can help us become more aware of what is going on for us both internally and externally. We become more present to the here and now. Professor Emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, defines mindfulness as the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, world renowned Zen Master and author of several books on mindfulness, the term mindfulness refers to keeping ones consciousness alive to the present reality.

Although practicing mindfulness has become highly popular in the United States in recent years, it is an ancient practice introduced by Hindu and Buddhist spiritual leaders over 2,500 years ago as a means of calming the mind and gaining insight into the impermanent and interdependent nature of the self. There are now many leading experts on mindfulness in the United States who teach how to harness the power of mindfulness and how it can be used to manage stress, center ones self, see more clearly, live more fully, step out of routine thought patterns, and open hearts and minds.

There are also numerous books written by experts on mindfulness that show us ways how to live in the present moment with ourselves and with others. This is accomplished by engaging in different kinds of meditation techniques, which emphasize the cultivation of keen awareness to experiences in the present moment without any kind of analysis or interpretation or having any kind of attachment to a particular outcome. Kabat-Zinn and many neuroscientists in the United States have helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine, demonstrating that practising mindfulness improves both our physical and psychological wellbeing resulting in positive changes in our health, attitudes, and behaviour.

According to these experts, mindfulness techniques benefit us in a number of important ways; it helps relieve stress, lowers blood pressure, reduces chronic aches and pains, helps with sleep, reduces gastrointestinal problems and, finally, mindfulness is good for our heart. Mindfulness also improves our psychological wellbeing. American psychotherapists now use mindfulness meditation extensively to treat depression, eating disorders, anger, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, among others. Medical research findings also indicate that mindfulness contributes to a positive attitude.

Being mindful also helps us to become fully engaged in activities, while increasing our capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on the present, people who practise mindfulness have reported that they dont easily get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past. They also seem to be less preoccupied with success that boosts ones ego and they are also more capable of forming deep and meaningful connections with others. Since mindfulness has so many important benefits for us, whether they are connected with our physical or emotional wellbeing, mindfulness training has certainly become tremendously popular with many major organizations in the United States.

Companies like Adobe, Amazon, Ford, General Mills, Google, Target, and Goldman Sachs, to name a few, have all instituted mindfulness training for their employees so that they are healthier, less stressed and more focused on their jobs. Mindfulness experts are also training CEOs of major corporations on mindfulness techniques. Business leaders who practise mindfulness report that they now perceive issues more objectively; they can form deeper relationships that are empathic, and they are not driven by their ego and pride as they learn to be humble. These business leaders often mention that they are also more productive, more creative in solving problems, more satisfied with their jobs and are less stressed in challenging situations.

The growing popularity of practising mindfulness in the United States is not just limited to big corporations. Now mindfulness training is imparted to the US military and the US Department of Defence, which have invested millions of dollars to identify ways for US defence personnel to become more focused and less stressed in their work. Even educators in American high schools are turning increasingly to mindfulness training for students, teaching them how to concentrate in the classroom and deal effectively with stress. Many high schools in the United States are also investing time and money to train high school teachers about mindfulness.

At this point, a reader may ask how can one practise mindfulness? Although there is actually more than one way to such practise, the goal of mindfulness is to always be in the present moment. This is achieved by focusing on our breathing as we meditate. When we meditate, we pay attention to the thoughts and sensations that distract us but we do not try to fight them. Nor do we pass any judgment on them. We just observe these thoughts and sensations and go back to focusing on our breathing again. Our goal is to allow our mind to refocus on the present. Here are four popular mindfulness techniques, which all involve meditation. There are obviously many more approaches to achieving mindfulness.

1. Basic mindfulness meditation ~ we need to sit quietly and focus on natural breathing. We must allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to our focus on breath. 2. Body sensations. In this technique, we are supposed to observe the subtle sensations in our body such as an itch or tingling without passing any kind of judgment and let them pass. We must notice each part of our body in succession from head to toe. 3. Sensory ~ Here we practise observing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. We name the sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch without judgment and let them go. 4.Emotions ~ In this mindfulness technique, we allow emotions to be present without judgment. We practise a steady and relaxed naming of emotions such as joy, anger, frustration, while accepting the presence of the emotions without judgment and letting them go.

While all this may seem to be a new-age approach to our holistic wellbeing, hard medical evidence demonstrates that we can train our brains to function differently and that brains can adapt and rewire. This phenomenon, known as neuroplasticity, suggests that there are concrete and provable benefits to exercising the brain by engaging in mindfulness. It is precisely because of this scientific component that mindfulness has gained so much traction with people who might otherwise find this to be spiritual mumbo jumbo. According to Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, There is a swathe of our culture who is not going to listen to someone in monks robes, but they are paying attention to scientific evidence.

Davidson and his coresearchers published a scientific paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, demonstrating that Buddhist monks who had spent at least 10,000 hours of meditation time had brains with more functional connectivity than folks who never meditated or meditated in small doses. These monks also had a higher state of consciousness. Of course, most of us will never have the capacity to meditate at the level of a monk. But neuroscientists seem to be convinced that there is hope for far less experienced meditators because by engaging in mindfulness meditations, they will have more capacity for a working memory, more focused attention and less stress in their lives.

(The writer is Professor of Communication Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles)

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Focus without Stress - The Statesman

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February 23rd, 2020 at 12:52 pm

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