The Vine – Issue 4 – Mindful May
Curated by John McCallum-Cherry
Welcome to The Vine.
A monthly editorial bringing fresh cultural content from Bloom.
“The mind is its own place and, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost.
The cerebrum. The cerebellum. The brainstem. (The RZA. The GZA. The Ol’ Dirty BZA).
Sort of has the same ring to it, doesn’t it?
This triumvirate make up the central organ of the human nervous system. With approximately 640 muscles in the body, the strongest being the masseter and the stapedius; the weakest, found in the middle ear. The three sections of the brain deal with everything: motor control, sensory regulation, language, vision and what we are most interested in here; emotion and cognition.
To science that up for you – emotion and cognition processes are found within the limbic system, specifically the amygdala. The amygdala, made up of two almond shaped clusters, play an important role in emotional response – fear, panic, pleasure, anxiety, anger, joy – and how emotion is attached to memory. Specifically, memories related to fear.
So why the lesson in neuroanatomy, I hear you wonder? This month I invite you to participate in #MindfulMay. And, I am going to convince you why in the space of a few paragraphs. Hold my beer. (Well, my skinny vanilla latte).
What does #MindfulMay consist of? In the thirty-one days and 744 hours of May, commit to practising at least ten minutes of mindfulness mediation. Do it when you wake up, do it when you go to sleep. Do it when you have a ten-minute lull in work, or on the bus, train or ferry. Take ten minutes each day to begin building the practise of mindfulness. That’s only 310 out of 44,640 minutes.
Why does #MindfulMay exist? Well, in part, because I just created it. Mindfulness is the state of being fully present. It requires no membership format, fees or special equipment. It can simply be you, your breath and a comfy seat. It’s existed in different forms for thousands of years. It’s linked to the mediation practises of Buddhism and Hinduism but it also has roots in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, it has become more popular as a form of non-religious mediation as popular culture realises the importance of mental well-being. The benefits are widely accepted in positive psychology treatments and it is now prescribed by the NHS to treat low to mid-level forms of anxiety and depression.
Back to the amygdala. The emotional response and the emotion meets memory centre. A pretty important part of the brain, amiright? Now, let’s reintroduce mindfulness. Studies have shown via MRI scans that an eight-week mindfulness course can appear to shrink the amygdala and its functional connectivity with the rest of the brain. Not only does the amygdala shrink but other connections are reinforced, particularly the pre-frontal cortex, where decision making, awareness and concentration are found. In ordinary-people’s terms, that’s fear and panic (anxiety) reduced and self-confidence and concentration increased. Not a bad swap for 10 minutes a day.
How do I practise mindfulness? Simple. Take a seat, ten minutes, and a deep breath – close your eyes. Notice your breath, thoughts: name your emotions. Enjoy it. Be kind to yourself. Expect to be distracted at first. Keep returning to the breath, and breathe, breathe, breathe.