Mind Matters: Ruby's a mindfulness champion
IN A relatively short period of time there has been a surge of interest in the benefits of mindfulness, as academic research and advancements in neuroscience have shown it to be important as a stress-management tool.
Stress has become more apparent to people in their daily lives and chronic stress can increase the risk of developing depression. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.
As is often the case in making a new concept popular, it takes the advocacy of high-profile individuals to champion an idea’s benefits and help quicken the pace of public acceptance.
Ruby Wax, the US actress, comedienne and author of a best-selling book on mindfulness, Sane New World, engaged a packed Waterfront Hall in Belfast earlier this month with the story of her own battles with stress, anxiety and mental health issues.
She spoke passionately from personal experience about the dangers of convincing ourselves that we need to be always 'busy' in order to be successful in our lives. Such an outlook, she emphasised, was a sure way to increase one’s stress levels.
Ruby has been a strong advocate of Equality 4 Mental Health UK, a cross-party, cross-society campaign aimed at persuading the government to help reduce the suffering of those with mental ill health by increasing investment in mental health services.
Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment, in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. It is a meditation practice which aims to bring greater awareness to our thoughts, feelings and emotions so that we can develop the capacity to manage them more skilfully.
Mindfulness teaches us how to manage anxiety, cope with illness, shift self-defeating thoughts and increase emotional intelligence. There is much interest in mindfulness among GPs as studies show that it can also lower blood pressure and improve sleep.
Mindfulness teaches us the importance of learning how to recognise the need for not engaging in almost constant activity; to take time out to reflect on the sounds, smells, and beauty of life around us.
The application of mindfulness to sport performance has recently become a popular research endeavour; learning how to live in the moment is now a practice embraced by many athletes across a wide span of sports. Learning to live ‘in the moment’ can help to generate 'flow', or a state of complete focus on the task at hand.
In the golfing scenario being mindfully aware can help you notice any intrusive thoughts, anxiety, physical tension, and environmental conditions like the wind. In team sports mindfulness can help deal with difficult emotions on the field of play – for example, a bad call by the referee or a missed scoring opportunity need not be a reason to throw you off your game but can be seen as an event and no more than that.
Mindful breathing exercises and visualisation can creates calm and focus. A sudden development, be it a child breaking a family keepsake or an overly pointed criticism by a supervisor in the workplace, can be a moment for growth instead of anger and anxiety. Stepping back to take a breath can switch our attention away from the emotional part of the brain and give us space to assess a situation before doing or saying something that we might regret.
:: Anne Costello is a Belfast-based mindfulness and yoga teacher and sports coach who offers mindfulness and stress management programmes to the public and private sectors (firstname.lastname@example.org / 0772 0841 509).