Many of us come to mindfulness practices when faced with loss, uncertainty, and stress. The emotions that arise from difficult situations — from ending a relationship, losing a loved one, or simply managing the demands of our daily lives — can feel too difficult or overwhelming to bear. Mindfulness meets us where we’re at, providing the tools we need to process uncomfortable or painful emotions, gradually arriving at healing, acceptance, and peace.
Mindfulness is an invaluable resource when we’re faced with emotional difficulty. But if we only tap into mindfulness when the going gets tough, we won’t experience the rich benefits that come from a regular mindfulness.
As the name implies, mindfulness works with the mind. When practiced regularly, the effects are far from temporary. A sustained practice literally changes the structure of your brain, unlocking your true potential for self-improvement and self-understanding. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
How mindfulness helps you unlock your true potential
Rewire your brain
When you step back and think about it, your brain does a lot for you (for one, letting you “step back and think about it”). From regulating your most basic bodily functions to creating an embodied sense of self, your brain is central to life and your experience of living.
Your brain is shaped and molded by your experiences and perception of them. As you receive external and internal input, your brain lays down neural patterns of thought, feeling, and action.
Our “default” neural patterns can run deep. Despite gains in personal growth, we can find ourselves returning to our familiar foes again and again. A visit from your parents, for instance, may reignite your adolescent reactivity and fury. Constructive feedback from your boss, on the other hand, may stir up your well-played record of negative self-talk. We know we’re capable of responding differently, yet we keep triggering undesirable behaviors and thoughts.
The good news is that you can liberate yourself from knee-jerk reactions and unhelpful thoughts. You can activate the solution by reshaping the brain itself.
Your brain is malleable and capable of change. Through a regular mindfulness practice, you can activate neuroplasticity, a term that describes your innate capacity to rewire the circuitry of your brain. Repeatedly focusing your attention — as you do in mindfulness practices — gives you the power to positively change and redirect your brain’s neural activity. The more you practice, the more you’ll establish and strengthen new pathways of higher thinking, acting, and being.
The frontal cortex of your brain gives you the power to think, imagine, and create. It’s also the home for worrying and overthinking — the hallmarks of generalized anxiety — which can take a negative toll on your overall health and emotional wellbeing.
Anxiety interrupts the ability to unplug and get the mental and physical rest you need, creating a harmful cycle that’s hard to break. As anxiety produces stress, stress produces sleeplessness — and sleeplessness produces even more anxiety and stress.
A regular mindfulness practice can free you from anxiety’s negative feedback loop. The tools you learn through mindfulness can help you recognize your cyclical thought patterns and experience those thoughts with greater compassion and objectivity. Mindfulness helps you reclaim a clearer presence of mind by grounding your experience in reality and allowing you to connect with the calm of your core identity.
Make positive decisions
Your ability to make decisions, regulate emotions, and think theoretically comes from the part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex. Located just behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex also allows you to make moral judgments, develop a sense of self, and create representations of abstract concepts, such as time. It is the part of the brain that gives you the ability to embody your ethics, empathize, experience insight, and pause before speaking and acting (i.e. it keeps your foot out of your mouth).
Your prefrontal cortex is quintessentially human. Its optimal function is vital for successful interpersonal communication and healthy relationships. Yet exposure to stress or trauma can cause your prefrontal cortex to retreat into hiding, sending your survival response to center stage.
When your prefrontal cortex is underactive and survival response is overactive, you experience a decreased capacity for higher thinking, emotional resilience and sound decision-making. You unconsciously react instead of choosing how you want to behave and act. Constantly in a state of perceived threat, you experience a disconnect from yourself and reality.
Mindfulness helps you improve decision-making by teaching you how to understand and experience your inner landscape — including your conditioned stress responses — with detachment, compassion, and accuracy. As you practice regularly, you enhance your capacity for objective analysis, problem-solving, innovation, empathy, emotional regulation, and creativity.
Own your headspace
Mindfulness is the path through which you can climb into your headspace, learn your mind’s unique topography, and redirect yourself to your highest capabilities.
For all its complex neurological benefits, mindfulness practices don’t have to be complicated. Once you learn some simple practices, such as qigong or breathing techniques, you can nurture a daily practice that meets your personal goals and needs.
In White Tiger Qigong we have special mindfulness practices to change the emotions. This takes awareness of oneself. We call this activating the “spirit” to become involved in the practice. In 5 Element Qigong, between the dynamic qigong exercises, we practice a standing qigong mindfulness exercise. This focuses on releasing emotions such as anger and worry and then filling with the opposing emotion such as forgiveness and nurturing. This helps us create a new program for the mind and break out emotional loops. This mindfulness practice is a focal part of that Qigong.
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness, check out our blog here. Alternatively, if you’d like to become a student of White Tiger, feel free to look into our latest qigong training events. It’d be our pleasure to have you and teach more of the secrets Qigong has to share.