Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Benefits of Mindfulness - And An NPR Program

Mindfulness is one topic that I like to write about, and one that comes up frequently in the context of tea culture. Wikipedia has good, separate pages on mindfulness in Buddhism and mindfulness in modern psychology; the two concepts are not identical, but overlap quite a lot.

A mindful state is not characterized by a straight, narrow, or perfect focus; it is more like this zigzagging path, straying a bit from side to side, and being full of distractions and imperfections, yet having a clear direction.

A little over a month ago, I listened to a program on NPR's Science Friday about mindfulness, called Be Here Now: Meditation For The Body And Brain, which contains an interview with one of the authors of a book called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Although this program does not mention tea, it explicitly mentions food a number of times, talking about how, as people get caught up in fast-paced lifestyles, they often stop paying attention to how their food tastes. If you are interested in mindfulness, you might really enjoy the program.

In case you don't have time or aren't interested in listening to it (I'm often not in the mood for listening to radio programs or podcasts when I'm reading blogs), a brief summary of some of the key points that I took from it are as follows:

  • Many of us, in our society, have very fast-paced lives, and go through much of our days on "autopilot", preoccupied with worries, and often not paying much attention to the moment, which includes both paying attention to the thoughts going through our heads, and paying attention to physical sensations, like those in our body, or the flavor and aroma of the food and drink we consume.

  • A lack of mindfulness corresponds to a continually heightened stress response in the body, including changes in the relative activity of different regions of the brain. This can put us at increased risk of depression, and can exacerbate or directly cause psychological disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder.

  • Simple exercises in mindfulness, such as paying attention to the sensations in our body, our senses, and the thoughts in our mind, can promote a more mindful state of being in our lives. Even a few minutes a day spent meditating in a certain way can produce profound changes in mind and body.

  • When in a more mindful state, we actually become more productive, and we also have greatly improved capacity for empathy.

This summary represents my understanding of the program, not necessarily the views of the people hosted on it. But I found that overall, the program strongly resonated with my experiences.

If you ever feel busy, stressed, overwhelmed with worry or anxiety, or if you have trouble with depression, agitated mood, or irritability, I think you might benefit from listening to this program. I found it very helpful and informative.

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