July 26, 2011
There are many successful techniques for dealing with a hair trigger amygdala. Today we’re going to look at one: retraining our brains through mindfulness meditation, which in the words of Daniel Goleman, is “an attention-training method that teaches the brain to register anything happening in the present moment with full focus — but without reacting.” Sounds just what is needed!
In a recent study, neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin and Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School offered mindfulness training to the employees of a 24/7, high pressure start up. After eight weeks and an average 30 minutes a day of practice, employees were able to recover more quickly from stress than those who had not been trained. While this was based on half an hour a day, Daniel Siegel of the UCLA Mindfulness Institute has shown similar results in as little as 10 minutes daily. The key is every day. It’s the repetition that creates the new pathways that we need for less reactivity.
Mindfulness doesn’t just create greater resilience. It also increases focus and concentration, and helps us prevent normal cognitive decline as we age.
Here, in Goleman’s words, are the instructions:
- Find a quiet, private place where you can be undistracted for a few minutes — for instance, close your office door and mute your phone.
- Sit comfortably, with your back straight but relaxed.
- Focus your awareness on your breath, staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation, and start again on the next breath.
- Do not judge your breathing or try to change it in any way.
- See anything else that comes to mind as a distraction — thoughts, sounds, whatever — let them go and return your attention to your breath.
This is similar to the training I did this spring, which included rating my stress level. What I noticed is that I am much better at recognizing what my brain is doing, even if I still experience greater than average anxiety.
I’m convinced that 10 mindful minutes are the best thing each of us can do to train our minds to focus better, be less reactive and maintain our brain power!