Mindfulness practice is like training in the gym. You may feel uncomfortable at first, but through regular practice you get better at being mindful in each moment. As it’s such a gradual process, you may not notice any change at all at first, but just trust in the process and give it a decent try. Keep going to the brain gym!
Breathe and smile with mindfulness
Research has found a connection between the muscles you use to smile, and your mood. You smile when you feel good, but interestingly, simply smiling makes you feel good. It works both ways.
You can test this out for yourself. Try smiling right now and simultaneously think a negative thought. Can you? Smiling certainly has an effect over negative mood.
Smiling is contagious – have you noticed how infectious a smile is? If you see someone smiling, you can’t help but do the same. It also reduces stress – by deliberately becoming aware of your breathing and smiling, you act against the body’s automatic defense mechanism and allow a more restful and calm state to occur.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a world-famous meditation teacher, has dedicated his life to the practice of mindfulness. One of his recommended practices is breathing and smiling. He offers the following meditation. Try reciting these lines as you breathe in and out:
‘Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.
He goes on to say:
Smile, especially when you don’t feel like it or it feels unnatural. Even though you don’t feel great, it has a small effect. You’re planting the seeds of happiness. With time, the seeds are sure to grow.
Mindfulness increases happiness
Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Richard Davidson, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry of University of Wisconsin-Madison, and their colleagues have proved that mindfulness increases happiness.
The researchers randomly split a group of employees at a biotech company into two groups. The first group did an eight-week course in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and the others did nothing. The electrical activity of their brains was studied before and after the training.
After eight weeks, the people who did the mindfulness training had greater activation in a part of the brain called the left prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is associated with positive emotions, wellbeing and acceptance of experience. Left prefrontal cortex-activated people normally describe themselves as interested, excited, strong, active, alert and enthusiastic. In comparison, right prefrontal cortex-activated people describe themselves as afraid, nervous, scared, upset and distressed.
The experiment showed that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training in a busy workplace environment can have positive effect on wellbeing. Other studies with more experienced meditators suggest these changes in the brain become a permanent feature – explaining the mild grin on the faces of experienced meditation practitioners.