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Mindfulness and Meditation: A guide

What is mindfulness and who can use it?

Mindfulness is the essential human capacity to be completely present, mindful of where we are and what we’re doing, and not being excessively responsive or overpowered by what’s happening around us. While mindfulness is something we have normally through the natural processes of our brain, it can be a much more powerful tool when used everyday. At whatever point you bring attention to what you’re encountering with your senses, or looking thoroughly at your thoughts and feelings, you are being mindful.

Anyone can practice mindfulness and meditation but practising it consistently and frequently is the real key. If you want to improve your physical and mental well-being then mindfulness meditation is right for you.

mindfulness

What is meditation mindfulness good for. Design & concept: David McCandless, Research: Miriam Quick, Featured on: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

The Benefits of Mindfulness

There has been extensive research in to mindfulness and meditation in recent years and all point to great benefits when anyone practices it for both physical and mental health. Here is a list of the key benefits:

  • It lowers stress 
  • It reduced Anxiety, Depression and irritability, especially in teenagers and pregnant women
  • It can help in work and exams – Mindfulness improves working memory, creativity, attention span and reaction speeds. It also enhances mental and physical stamina and resilience.
  • It could help people with arthritis better handle stress and lessen pain
  •  It helps us even when we’re not actively practising it – It can be used with cognitive behavioural therapy to improve a range of mental health difficulties and it has lasting effects to help you deal with difficult emotions.
  • It changes the brain in a protective way – It can actually result in brain changes that may be protective against mental illness.
  •  It makes music sound better. Mindfulness meditation improves our focused engagement in music helping us to truly enjoy and experience what we’re listening to, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Music.
  • It could help your doctor be better at his/her job. Doctors who are trained in mindfulness meditation are less judgemental, more self-aware and better listeners when it comes to interacting with patients.
  •  It makes you a better person. Sure, we love all the things meditation does for us. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by making us more compassionate, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities found that meditation is linked with more virtuous, empathetic behaviour.
  • It could help the elderly feel less lonely. Loneliness among seniors can be dangerous, in that it’s known to raise risks for a number of health conditions. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mindfulness meditation helped to decrease these feelings of loneliness among the elderly, and boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.
  • It comes in handy during cold season. Good hygiene, mindfulness meditation and exercise could lessen the nasty effects of colds. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in the practices miss fewer days of work from acute respiratory infections, and also experience a shortened duration and severity of symptoms.
  • It supports your weight-loss goals.
  •  It helps you sleep better.

How do I practice mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditations and body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it. Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:

  1. Set aside some time. You don’t need any special equipment to access your mindfulness skills  you only need to set aside some time and space.
  2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. Easier said than done, we know.
  3. Let your judgements roll by. When we notice judgements arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
  4. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
  5. Focus on your breath – To bring yourself back to the present moment it can be helpful to focus on some thing that here in the present. The most popular thing to focus on your breath as it is always there and can stay in the present.
  6. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognising when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.

The more you do it the more benefits you will reap.

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Green Prescriptions & the Impact of an Allotment on Health

There has been a new wave of thinking when it comes to visiting the doctor and health. GPs in the UK can now prescribe so called ‘green prescriptions’ which advises patients to attend leisure centres, parks or start gardening. This new type of social and medical care is primarily there to encourage exercise and reduce the strain on NHS services from preventable illness and diseases caused by the obesity epidemic.

The prescriptions could provide free visits to national parks or gardening sessions at National Trust properties, match patients up directly with a leisure centre and on to fitness courses. There are already trials of these ‘social prescribing schemes’ in Devon, Dorset and Liverpool, with hopes for more across the country.  However, The Royal College of General Practitioners’ Spokesman Dr Steve Mowle said: “Social prescribing schemes can certainly be beneficial to a patient’s overall health and wellbeing – as some pilots have shown – but to be effective, there needs to be better integration between health and community services, so that GPs and our teams can signpost our patients most appropriately.”

Patients can be recommended to allotment and gardening groups where the benefits to both physical and mental health are extraordinary. In The contribution of allotment gardening to health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature , findings showed “Allotment gardening provides a stress-relieving refuge, contributes to a healthier lifestyle, creates social opportunities, provides valued contact with nature, and enables self-development.”

Information from NHS Choices indicates that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

With all these benefits, maybe it is time you picked up your pitch fork and get digging!

Further Reading

The contribution of allotment gardening to health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature

The Impact of an Allotment Group on Mental Health Clients’ Health, Wellbeing and Social Networking

Doctors urged to offer ‘exercise outdoors’ prescriptions – BBC

Green prescription needed to tackle ‘cradle to grave’ health crisis – National Health Executive

Benefits of regular exercise – NHS Choices