Have you ever driven your car to a destination, realizing you remember absolutely nothing about your trip? Or started eating a bag of chips and then suddenly noticed all you had left in your hands was an empty packet?
These common examples represent being in a state of autopilot.
Dr. Afshin Nasseri states that the average person is in autopilot 47% of the time, our attention is consumed by our wandering minds and we are not ‘present’ in our lives.
Autopilot is described as being in a dreamlike state, since we are not fully ‘there’ in that moment.
The highly connected world we live in, facilitates losing ourselves to autopilot state, almost all the time.
Living our lives in this state, we don’t notice the beauty of life, we get stuck in a robotic, conditioned way of thinking and living. We get lost in ‘the doing’ so we find ourselves constantly rushing and struggling, ‘getting stuff done’ instead of living our lives the way it was meant to be.
Dr. Afshin Nasseri, states that the autopilot or mindless states, renders us vulnerable to anxiety, stress and depression. Research shows, in fact, that the more our minds wander, the less happy we are.
What Is Mindfulness?
It is waking up out of autopilot and taking control of our attention again.
Mindfulness is practiced by reaching awareness of our thoughts and feelings as an unbiased witness.
Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of mindfulness, defines mindfulness as:
in the present moment, and
Jon Zinn shows us that there are three specific ways in which our attention ‘shifts gears’ when we practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness involves the conscious direction of our attention.
When on autopilot our attention is being swept up by a never ending, stream of thoughts which are not always positive, but when we’re mindful we ‘wake up’ and step out of that stream, placing attention as we choose.
“On purpose” is also described as consciously. We are living more consciously, more awake, more our true selves when we pay attention in this way.
In The Present Moment
Our mind constantly wanders and gets caught up in the replaying the past and the playing scenarios in the future. We are rarely fully present in the moment.
Mindful attention, however, is completely engaged in the present moment experience. We forego the tension caused by wanting things to be different, the tension of constantly wanting more, and instead we accept the present moment as it is.
Practicing mindfulness is not about controlling or suppressing our thoughts. We simply aim to pay attention to our experiences as they arise without judging them. Mindfulness then allows us to become the watcher of our senses, perceptions, thoughts, and emotions as they arise without getting caught up in them and being swept away in their stream.
We then become less likely to replay old automated ways of thinking and living. It opens a new door to freedom and choice in our lives.
Dr. Nasseri further elaborates that, by using Mindfulness, the brain’s emotionally reactive center, the Amygdala, which triggers the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ stress response, can be overridden by the conscious part of the brain which can activate the ‘relaxation response’ and restore balance to the mind and body.
As human beings we are born with a set of inherited readymade responses which are triggered involuntarily by specific circumstances and conditions.
Stress response triggers when we encounter a threat perceived as potentially insurmountable. Such threats are called stressors
The human evolution stressors came to us in the form of predatory animals and other humans’ intention of inflicting harm or devouring flesh. Facing such imminent fatality, the stress response prepares us to either fight in defense flee to avoid capture or freeze and fake death, encouraging the predator to relax for a moment so we may escape during this automatic stress response.
Our endocrine system of glands releases a cocktail of chemicals including one called epinephrine often
named adrenaline and another called cortisol.
This in-turn initiate sudden increase in the speed and efficiency with which we can manufacture and
access our bodily store of glucose simultaneously.
Our rate of breathing accelerates so we can inhale the additional oxygen needed to burn that glucose, increasing our available energy.
Additionally, our blood pressure rises as the heart beats faster and oxygen in the blood rushes out to our muscles which tense in anticipation of possible conflict or rapid retreat.
Meanwhile the brain diverts all our attention to concentrate only on the present predicament.
As awareness of all else subsides and is set aside so we do not become for a moment distracted and fall victim to face reality, at the same time our sensitivity to pain decreases. So, we do not become immobilized by the agony of any injuries we may sustain during a stressful encounter.
This stress response is not triggered only when we encounter innate insurmountable stressors it is activated in response to any contentious encounter with a creature or circumstance that we believe to be undefeatable even when it is actually harmless and we have the resources to abate defeat or escape it.
Consequently, two people are likely to interpret the same circumstance differently as a result of their beliefs because one may believe the present situation to be harmless whilst the other believes it to be a significant threat and thereby triggering the stress response.
Hence our beliefs can convince us that something harmless is in fact dangerous. Our beliefs can convince us that a difficult problem more challenging situation is insurmountable when we can resolve and overcome it.
The belief that we hopelessly lack resources with which to surmount challenges, triggers the stress response. Whether we possess the capacity to overcome them or not.
Meanwhile believing that we can overcome them prevents the stress response from triggering.
Unlike the transient stresses of predators and assailants that once threatened historically, those of present days are mostly persistent.
Our financial commitments, inability to meet deadlines we cannot meet social expectations we cannot fulfill and pressures from peers and family that push us to the edge of our resources.
Some respond to these perpetual stresses by forever fighting against the odds.
Others live a life characterized by an unceasing attempt to run away.
Meanwhile many among us go numb and lose hope.
Yet all these reactions proceed from the stress response which persists indefinitely in the face of unrelenting stresses and the consequences are of epidemic proportion contributing to disease, illness and misery for a significant majority.
This is because in order to make maximum biological resources available to us as we prepare to fight freeze or flee a stressor the brain withdraws them from other less urgent long-term projects.
In so doing the brain shuts down all the physiological activities and mental preoccupations that are not immediately relevant to the urgency of the present situation.
These processes and activities which are put on hold include planning for tomorrow remembering yesterday strengthening bones healing wounds and growing new neurons in the brain.
This is of no detrimental consequence when stressors are transient and pass quickly but when stress persists all our long term cognitive and biological operations remain in a state of partial suspension and reduced function.
we get exhausted, confused, worried, agitated and depressed as we face an inevitable early death unless we bring the hope that your state of stress will come to an end.
Hence, the top priority is to alter the way we respond to stressors. This is what mindfulness-based stress reduction aims to achieve.
-Mindfulness reduces depression, Dr. Nasseri states that clinical trials are showing mindfulness is as effective as medication with no side effects.
-Mindfulness reduces insomnia, increases your sense of wellbeing, reduces lethargy and increases energy both mentally and physically.
-Mindfulness is also highly effective for pain management.
-Mindfulness sharpens your memory and increases your focus and attention.
-Mindfulness improves your emotional and social intelligence and develops your empathy and compassion. It is also shown to improve relationships.
-Mindfulness improves health and boosts immunity. Mindfulness is shown to have beneficial effects on many serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
-Mindfulness creates clearer, more focused thinking and improves efficiency at work and at home.
-Mindfulness improves confidence and emotional resilience.
-Mindfulness reduces compulsive and addictive tendencies and has also been shown to work better than any diet for effective long-term weight loss.
-Mindfulness turns out to also be the single most important determining factor in whether you will be happy in your life.
Dr. Afshin Nasseri, invites you to a mindfulness session, on his website (MindfuldoctorMd.com) find out for yourself, firsthand, what mindfulness practice can do for you.
You may discover that all you have been searching for, feelings of fulfilment and peace, have been within you all along.
Harvard and Stanford University Research:
A 2011 study, from Harvard University, showed that participants in an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course exhibited measurable changes in the grey matter of their brains.
‘The results suggest that participation in the course is associated with changes in grey matter concentration in the brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotional regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking.’ (1)
Another study from Stanford University showed that Mindfulness can reduce the reactive effects of the amygdala and strengthen the connections to the higher areas of the brain, which can override emotions. (2)
Mindfulness is an individual, step-by-step, process because we all have different motivations for starting Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill that needs practice, like any other skill you will learn in your life, like riding a bicycle.
By using Mindfulness practice, your day will go smoothly: it will be calm and won’t feel like you’re in the middle of an ocean storm, you are 50,000 feet above the storm and looking down at the waves from the window of a plane.
Mindfulness can be best understood by looking at the mechanisms of the brain and by doing a regular Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness needs to be experienced, in the same way as learning to ride or playing a sport.
Mindfulness is a way of changing your relationship with the natural world by purposefully focusing attention on the present moment in a non-judgmental way.
Clarity, Calmness and Compassion:
Mindfulness will allow you to see things with more clarity, be calmer and understand yourself and others more compassionately.
By living in the moment, a person can enjoy the basic experience of life in a happier and richer way, by being more aware and responding to positive and negative events and by being more adaptive to these experiences.
Past problems can be observed in new ways and with regular practice your power of Mindfulness will become stronger, which means the thinking, ‘chatter’, and the feelings that go with that will be reduced.
In order to understand Mindfulness, it’s important to explore the meaning of being ‘mindless’, the opposite of mindfulness. People whose actions are mindless have automated reactions to thoughts and feelings, which are based on past experiences and emotional schemas.
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
There are two forms of mindfulness practice. The first is the formal practice of mindfulness, which is commonly referred to as meditation.
A meditation practice is commonly done sitting, usually with eyes closed, but can also be done lying down or even walking. some meditation practices also involve mantra (sound) or movement.
The informal practice is the rest of your life! You see, anything we do in daily life with full awareness can be said to be mindfulness practice.
You can do the dishes mindfully, wait at the traffic lights or go for your morning walk mindfully.
Any routine activity can be made into a mindfulness practice when you bring your full attention to it.
You do not have to have a formal seated meditation practice in order to practice mindfulness. Here are some things you can do every day to practice mindfulness.
According to Dr. Nasseri, meditation and mindfulness are not the same. You do not have to meditate in order to be mindful. Mindfulness is a nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, sensations, surroundings, and emotions, and meditation is one tool for developing mindfulness but is not the only tool.
When you are consciously bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment, you are cultivating mindfulness. You can do that in everyday life by tuning into your surroundings.
Experiment with using your senses to notice these new things as you move throughout your day and see what happens.
Take a Mindful Sip
Stop for a moment to savor your morning beverage of choice. Smell and examine your coffee or tea before taking a slow sip. Close your eyes and wholly feel and taste the liquid on your tongue before swallowing.
Cherish Your Family Members
If you have children or a partner at home, can you notice something new about their morning routines? With nonjudgmental curiosity, observe their moods, energy levels, morning greetings, and favorite breakfast items. What can you notice that you have never seen them do before?
Savor Your Shower
Have you ever truly paid attention in the shower? What does the water feel like as it hits your skin? Notice the soap as it lathers, and tune into the feeling of the soap on your skin. Mindfully massage your scalp as you shampoo your hair.
If you drive to work, try tuning into the feel of your steering wheel in your hands, and notice the air conditioning or heat against your skin. If you are on a train, subway, or bus, first pat yourself on the back for taking mass transportation. Then tune into the feel of your seat and take in your surroundings by noticing who is with you and what you can see and hear.
See Your Colleagues
Is there something new you can notice about your coworkers? Perhaps the person next to you listens to classical music or has photographs of her family on his or her desk. Maybe your boss has a skip in his or her step today.
Before eating your lunch, take a moment to examine it. What colors and textures do you see? What does it smell like? Take a small bite and allow your mouth to take it all in by noticing what the food feels like. Is it crunchy or soft? What tastes do you observe? Does the flavor change as you swallow? Try to take several slow and mindful bites. If your mind wanders, try to bring it back to the process of eating.
Go for a Hike
Stretch your legs in the afternoon with a walk around the block and allow your senses to engage with your environment. Can you see something that you have never seen before, whether it’s on the ground, on the side of a building, or high in the sky? What do you hear? Tune into each step and notice what your legs do and how they feel with each step. Also notice your feet and the important job they have.
Take a moment to close your eyes and tune into your body. Start at your toes and move up, observing each body part until you reach the top of your head. Be curious about what you find, noticing any tension, lightness, heat, pain, or other sensations. Notice if the mind wanders and creates stories about those feelings. If so, see if you can bring the mind back to the sensations without judging them.
Notice Your Social Media Use
Do you have a habit of checking Facebook or Instagram without even knowing it? Start tuning into those habits and see if you can be more intentional with your time. Once again, do not judge yourself for the time you spend on social media, simply observe it.
Listen to the Sound of Silence
As you make your final moves toward bedtime, stop, close your eyes, and listen. What do you hear, and what don’t you hear? Can you notice the sounds of silence with curiosity, allowing your ears to hear the texture of each sound?
Practicing mindfulness throughout your everyday life can help train the mind to focus on the present, with or without cushion. Observe what happens when you make noticing a priority.
What Can Mindfulness Do for You?
Thanks to research and exposure from the media, mindfulness is no longer hidden in ancient spiritual texts, monasteries, and ashrams. Today, it is practiced by millions of people the world over.
It is now being taught in schools, in workplaces, in hospitals and in homes all over the world. As people continue to discover for themselves the incredible benefits of living mindfully, the interest continues to skyrocket.