What I learnt from practicing mindfulness: a practical guide
I had a 25,000 word thesis due. Stress levels through the roof. My future depended on this single PDF document.
It was late September 2015 and my year Honours programme was coming to an end (thesis was due late October). It was everything I dreamed of, better and worse!. Earlier in August, I completed all my testing and set out in earnest to tell the world about my data, I was certain I would be a published scientist. All the participants all complied with my testing program, the numbers looked beautiful but after analysis: no correlation.
All my hard work, over the last 10 months came crashing down – my hypothesis was disproven.
And then the mental dialogue came into play. Lets see if this sounds familiar.
“Why did you pick this program/ unit?” – usually comes 3 weeks before exams
“Why does everyone make this look way easier?” – usually during exam study
“I am definitely going crash-land this exam. I’d be luck if i got a credit!” – a few minutes before you submit an assignment or walk into the exam.
That mental dialogue is probably the most harmful voice your brain will ever hear. It a virus. It is your limbic survivalist brain, from before we evolved into intelligent human beings, telling you to evade, evade, evade! Whilst you still can. This response is very normal, not just in university students but in corporate suits, doctors, home makers and even Barack Obama (as cool as he seems). But you need to shut that voice up. Tell that primitive brain that it is not in control So how did I overcome it?
Enter Mindfulness (def: a process of non-judgemental introspection)
On the 2nd of October I decided to try an age old technique that I had used when I was participating in competitive sport back in high school. My coach called it introspection, I not call it mindfulness. What did I do?
For 10 mins every morning and 10 mins before I hit the hay leading up to the submission:
1. Inhaled for 5 seconds
2. Exhaled for 5 seconds
That was all it took. Easy? Super easy!
The stress, the internal dialogue, the emotional response and the limbic brain all shutdown within the first few breaths. My heart rate lowered, and everything seemed to slow down. I decided to
extend this mindfulness time to 15 mins. Within a few days what seemed like an impossible submission, became (not an easy) but a very probably outcome.
The science behind breathing related mindfulness lies in a little system called the Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia. When you’re stressed, your heart and breathing goes crazy. Your emotional internal dialogue takes over and you assume the worst. When practicing mindfulness, through controlled respiration, what you are doing is simply using your breath to slow down your heart rate. Instead of the fight or flight system (sympathetic for all you nervous system nerds!), you are creating a shift in in your body to start engaging the rest and digest portion (parasympathetic) of your nervous system.
The immediate benefits of mindfulness is immeasurable. But just like exercise, each individual is at starts at different level of mindfulness and therefore the benefits, I repeat THE BENEFITS not NEGATIVES will differ. It is a beautiful and very profound technique that has helped not just me, but my close friends who have gone through trying times in both their personal and professional ives. The best part is mindfulness is made so accessible. If you have a smartphone, I encourage you to download one of these 3 apps to begin your mindfulness journey:
2. Smiling Mind
No one is better than the other. And the key to mindfulness is to start!
Oh.. about my thesis. Yes I did submit it. And I killed it!
The title: Does Mindfulness Breathing Affect Heart Rate Variability.
Yeah I know… Silly me.