Before we begin, we invite you to pause, take a slow, deep breath, and notice how you’re feeling right now…
This is a moment of mindfulness, a gift that you can give yourself with just a simple breath.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism and Hinduism over 2,500 years ago, but has profound relevance to all humans regardless of religion or belief system.
In North America, mindfulness became popularized largely through the American scientist and meditation teacher, Jon Kabat Zinn, who created a mindfulness program for patients whom traditional, western medicine was not able to help.
Through this program, patients successfully learned to cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness.
Now, his research-backed mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program is offered by thousands of medical centers and hospitals around the world.
The Two Main Elements of Mindfulness
Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally.
There are many definitions, yet all combine two aspects:
- Awareness - knowing what is present here and now.
- Curiosity - an attitude of openness or non-judgment towards whatever comes into your awareness. In fact, the Chinese character for “mindfulness” is a combination of two separate characters, each with its own meaning. The top part of the character means “now” and the bottom part of the character means “heart” or “mind”. Literally, the combined character means the act of experiencing the present moment with your heart.
This is in contrast to how we commonly approach life, where we are distracted, either hyper-focused on what has already happened or stressing about something in the future, instead of on what is happening right now.
Being with our experience goes against our conditioning.
Research shows that we spend about 50% of the time thinking about something other than what we are currently doing.
And, when we are pulled away from the present, we are more likely to be unhappy.
Getting stuck rehashing the past and worrying about the future amplifies our stress since ultimately we can not control or change it.
As the American author Mark Twain said— “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.'’
When we have periods of prolonged stress, the release of the hormone cortisol increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
When we are in a near-constant state of stress, this can lead to many health issues, including hypertension, and can even change brain structures and contribute to anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors.
How Can Mindfulness Help Those Impacted by Concussion?
Concussion is an incredibly common form of brain injury -- a recent poll found nearly 1 in 4 Americans experienced a concussion.
Concussion can lead to intense physical, emotional, cognitive, and social changes, which amplifies stress levels and challenges maintaining work, school, and relationships.
What’s devastating is that because concussion is often invisible, people often don’t receive the support, understanding, and medical care they need.
atWith mindfulness, we are able to recognize what is happening in the moment and find ways to more skillfully work with the stressors (and joys) of life.
In this brief video from LoveYourBrain, you can see that mindfulness does not mean stopping what is causing us stress, like difficult emotions or thoughts.
Instead, mindfulness gives us more space to work with or respond in ways that better serve ourselves and others.
A growing body of research shows that mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can improve a variety of health outcomes following concussion and other forms of brain injury, including memory, attention, and emotional regulation, shown in the infographic below.
A systematic review on the effectiveness of mindfulness for chronic mild TBI (also known as concussion) found significant benefits in mental health, physical health, cognitive performance, quality of life, self-related processing, and fatigue and depression symptoms.
Also, this steady, caring presence in the face of difficulty not only benefits yourself, but also those around you and your relationships.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh shares a story that when the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats were met with storms or pirates, if everyone aboard panicked, all would be lost.
But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.
And so, with your own steady presence, you become that person on the boat that calms and steadies the way for yourself and for those around you.
How Can I Start a Mindfulness Practice?
For those of us that may be new to mindfulness, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Mindfulness is an ability all humans have, we just have to practice! Below are a few ideas.
Mindfulness Practice Tips
- Try a brief guided meditation designed for the brain injury community, like this 5-minute mindfulness meditation on breath.
- Try a slightly longer meditation designed for the brain injury community, like this 10 min mindfulness meditation to improve attention through awareness of sound, breath, and body.Nidra
- Try a longer guided relaxation practice, like this 25 minute yoga nidra meditation to improve sleep.
- Go for a mindful walk. Read the story of a TBI survivor who discovers mindful walking here.
- Try mindful movement designed for the brain injury community, such as yoga.
- Sign up for an online mindfulness program for the brain injury community, like LoveYourBrain Mindset, a free six-week mindfulness, yoga, and education program.
- Pause and take a deep breath, notice what you can feel in your body, heart, and mind. Remember that it’s normal for your mind to wander! When you notice that your mind has wandered, congratulations, this is a moment of mindfulness! Your opportunity is to gently bring your attention back to the present moment with as little judgment as possible. This takes practice.