Research shows that mindfulness may change how the brain deals with emotion

In recent years, research evidence has been accumulating to support the notion that mindfulness practices can have wide-ranging beneficial effects on our mental, emotional and physical health. An example of one such study is described briefly below (the full text can be found in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal, Vol. 8, Issue 4 [April 2013]).

Jacqueline Lutz, of the University Hospital of Zurich Psychiatry Department, and colleagues wanted to find out whether and how mindfulness could affect the brain during emotional arousal. Their working definition of mindfulness was “an attentive, non-judgmental focus on present experiences”. They randomly assigned 49 subjects, who had no prior or existing neurological or psychiatric illnesses, to either a mindfulness or a control group. The theory was that, when subjects anticipated or viewed pictures with negative emotional content, those who were instructed in and practised mindfulness would show increased activation of areas in the brain involved in regulating emotions. The researchers also wanted to know whether mindfulness might be associated with decreased activation of regions in the brain known to be associated with emotional arousal, such as the amygdala and insula.

Lutz and colleagues used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanning to measure real-time activity in the brains of the study subjects. During fMRI scanning, subjects in both the control and the mindfulness groups were shown cues that indicated whether each individual picture they were about to view would be “positive” (pleasant), “negative” (unpleasant), “neutral” or “unknown” (meaning there was a 50:50 chance it could be “positive” or “negative”). Because mindfulness strategies are often used with the intention of helping to address unpleasant emotional events, the mindfulness group was instructed to apply aspects of mindfulness (eg. non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations) while viewing only the unpleasant and unknown images.

The study found that, compared with the control group, subjects in the mindfulness group displayed decreased activation in the amygdala and other regions involved in processing emotion when they were shown the negative pictures. They also showed increased activity in brain structures associated with emotional regulation when anticipating negative pictures. The findings of this study suggest that even a short and simple mindfulness intervention has the potential to help regulate emotion.

So what does this mean for you and me? Most people are not familiar with the intricacies and “esoteric” language and implications of scientific research, and so they often find it difficult to interpret such findings in terms of their health, wellbeing and everyday lives. But basically, studies such as the above are increasingly accumulating evidence to show that many of the exercises used in activities such as meditation, relaxed abdominal breathing, mindful yoga, chi gong, and related practices that help us to detach from daily stresses and simply focus on “the present moment”, can have wide-reaching positive effects on the way we deal with life’s stresses, emotional turmoil, traumas, worries, fears, and so on, helping us to find a calmer, more objective and centred perspective, so that we can regain a healthier mental, emotional and physical balance in our daily lives.

Mindfulness training, mindful meditation, mindfulness-based hypnotherapy (MBHT)TM, relaxation skills training, stress management, self-hypnosis, cognitive-behavioural techniques, emotional therapy, and traditional hypnotherapy are available at AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey, with clinics serving the mid-Surrey areas of Ashtead, Leatherhead, Bookham, Epsom, Tadworth, Ewell, Cobham, Esher, and surrounding areas. Please email or phone (see above right for contact details) for more information or to book a consultation. Amanda Jackson-Russell, proprietor of AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey and Energessence Natural Healing; BSc, PhD (Neuroscience), Dip. CBH/HPD, MNFSH, Reiki Master, EFT Practitioner, Stress Management Consultant, Yoga/ Relaxation/ Meditation Instructor.



How Does Relaxation Training Differ from Doing Relaxation in a Yoga Class?

If you have ever attended even just the occasional yoga class, you may have experienced the wonderful “other-worldly” feeling of deep relaxation at the end of a class, where you have become almost completely unaware of your body any more and have just felt as though you were floating and your mind was totally dissociated from any daily concerns or “to-do” lists – either that, or you fell asleep! – as attested to by the light snoring sounds often discerned at the end of such classes! Either way, you probably felt as though you just wanted to stay there and never come back – which is what many people say as they get up to leave a class. Unless you regularly practise relaxation techniques, meditation or self-hypnosis, you may never before have experienced such a deeply relaxed state (termed the “relaxation response” by Harvard doctor, Herbert Benson, M.D., back in the 1970s).

Practising yoga, Tai Chi, meditation and related practices can be wonderful methods of experiencing relaxation, and can help train us to elicit the “relaxation response” more easily. When we are doing the practices, we feel great – relaxed, focused, mindful (in the present moment). However, one problem can be that we attend a class, maybe once or twice a week, and feel great during the class – but the minute we leave, we are back to our rushing around, our mental “to-do” lists, our daily worries, fears, anxieties, planning, emails, texts, voicemails, etc..  and our poor body and mind have to wait until the next time we go to class to get a break! We can end up “compartmentalising” our experience of relaxation, instead of learning how to integrate it into our daily lives, so that we can tune in and switch down to a more relaxed and beneficial way of operating more and more of the time. And that lack of integration into our lives can have a great toll on our physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, our productivity, and our quality of life in general.

That’s where Relaxation Training (or Applied Relaxation) comes in. We can learn to operate our lives in a more relaxed way more of the time. And this can make us more productive, happier and healthier, by increasing our mental and emotional resilience, boosting our immune system, increasing our ability to experience joy (“light-heartedness”), switching off “disease” genes, and reducing our susceptibility to (or enhancing our recovery from) stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and so on.

Relaxation Skills Training involves a number of stages, and I’ll describe these in more detail in a later blog entry, along with the wider benefits. But basically the stages are: 1) experience deep relaxation; 2) practise eliciting this state; 3) learn to elicit relaxation “on cue”; 4) imagine facing anxiety/stress situations – usually in hypnosis – while practising your relaxation skills; 5) use your relaxation skills in “real-world” situations; 6) your relaxation skills become integrated into your everyday life.

If you’d like to find out more about relaxation skills training or hypnotherapy, or if you have any other questions, please contact me at AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey by email or phone (see top right of this page). Amanda Jackson-Russell: clinical and cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapist; stress management consultant; relaxation, meditation and mindfulness instructor; researcher, editor and writer.


A Happy New Emotional You in 2013! You Have The Power..!

People of all cultures and all walks of life have their share of difficulties and challenges, big, medium or small. What one person sees as a huge obstacle, another person might view as a minor problem to be solved fairly easily with a bit of ingenuity and common sense. Similarly, what one person takes in their stride, another might find too much to bear – the “last straw that breaks the camel’s back”, as it were. How we deal with so-called challenges depends on many factors – our own recent or distant life history, stress levels, general health, learned coping strategies (or lack of), cultural, family and social attitudes, our day-to-day lives and responsibilities, work-loads, previous traumas, self-confidence, belief systems, social support systems, and so on.. You may or may not consider yourself to be an “emotional person” – some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, others believe in “putting their best foot forward” and not wallowing in their feelings, others might like to express their feelings but don’t really know how, others feel it is “weak” to show their emotions, and still others can’t understand what the problem is all about and favour calm, patience, logic and systematic analysis of the problem to get to the root of an issue. And there are many others in between – our greatest gift, as well as our greatest challenge!, is our individuality..

So… What has all this to do with a happy new emotional you in 2013? Well, whether we recognise/ believe/ accept it or not, it is our emotions that in the end determine the quality of our lives and the joy and satisfaction we gain from life. Whatever we do, say, think, achieve, worry about, care about, busy ourselves with – in the final analysis, it is our FEELINGS about it all that determine whether we are happy, contented and fulfilled, or unhappy, frustrated, angry, disillusioned, resentful, guilty, etc, about our lot in life.

But, before you take this on board and decide that you are at the mercy of your emotions and do not have the ability or the POWER to change your feelings.. THINK again.. That is one of the keys (our ACTIONS – rather than reactions – are another). You have more POWER than you realise. A phrase that has been circulating in the spiritual/ holistic communities over the last few years is that ENERGY FOLLOWS THOUGHT – and is increasingly being recognised as a potent aspect of reality. However, another truth, for everyone to take on board, is that EMOTIONS FOLLOW THOUGHT.. (think about it..) (Note: ENERGY and EMOTION have a special relationship – but that is for another discussion at another time and place..)

So, at the start of a New Year, still at the near beginning of this New Millennium, are you coming to the conclusion that you want to make changes – to improve your lot in life, your general happiness and satisfaction, your outlook on life and your general wellbeing? Have you decided it is long time that you took back your POWER and CONTROL over your life, your destiny, your future? Well, whether you want to change self-defeating habits, focus on your goals, overcome fears and anxieties, strengthen your self-confidence, become more assertive and learn to stand up for your personal rights, learn relaxation skills, reduce stress levels, learn how to enjoy the present moment and be more contented in your current life, develop greater problem-solving skills, learn or improve your performance at work, in a hobby or in giving presentations.. in fact, anything that helps you reach for and accomplish more of your own unique, individual, wonderful potential.. YOU HAVE THE POWER..!!

If you want to discover, develop and reap the benefits of YOUR OWN PERSONAL POWER, lying as yet untapped in the recesses of your mind, your subconscious, your brain, your intuitive self, your energy body, your unfathomable and infinite self.. then I would love to have the opportunity (given a comprehensive assessment of needs and suitability) to help you achieve your GOALS!

So, if you think you might benefit from the insights and applications of clinical and
cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy, please contact me at AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey. You can either give me a call on 01372 279841, or, ideally, send me an email on giving me a brief outline of your present circumstances and the issues you would like to address (contact information is also given at the top right of this page) – and I look forward to us working together for a Positive Emotional New You in 2013! Amanda Jackson-Russell, Clinical & Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapist, BSc (Hons), PhD (Neuroscience), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Practitioner, Reiki Master Practitioner & Teacher, British Wheel of Yoga-qualified Yoga Instructor (including Relaxation, Meditation & Mindfulness), Healer Member of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers (MNFSH), Medical Writer & Editor. AJR Hypnotherapy Surrey & Energessence Hypnotherapy, Wellbeing & Stress Management.