101 Things To Do To Build Brain Power-#5-Attention and Mindfulness

At a dinner party, people were told that one of the guests would be receiving a tasty surprise: freshly picked and sautéed Morel mushrooms. Only one person would be getting this surprise, as it was an expensive and rare food item and the host was only able to purchase enough for one person. The guests waited in anticipation to see who would be the special recipient of this delectable morsels of food.  After they randomly sat at the table, the host said that on the underside of the chairs, was a card. The person with the card would be consuming the delicious mushrooms.  A woman found the card and was very excited over the prospect of enjoying this special treat. When the dish was served she savored every mouthful.

Later the hostess, with great discomfort, confessed that there had been a mistake. Someone else had eaten the Morel mushrooms. The guest who thought she’d eaten a specialty item, had only eaten plain button mushrooms.

The lesson learned was not how delectable a delicacy could taste, but how pleasant ordinary food can taste when you pay attention to each mouthful.

Yesterday you read about the importance of attention and how as we get older our ability to concentrate and focus changes. You also read how there are different components of attention, each one equally as important as the next. I hope I stressed how vital this ability is, especially as it plays a role in age-related cognitive impairment.

So what does eating mushrooms have to do with building brainpower? Well, other than the fact that Morel mushrooms really are delectable, this is a great example of what happens when we pay attention to everyday tasks. The experience intensifies and becomes more enjoyable.  Our experience of attention shifts and it can transform the ordinary to the extraordinary. And in the doing can improve our ability to focus and concentrate.

Though the practice of mindfulness is not new, it has only entered the realm of psychotherapy and medicine recently. Mindfulness is about paying attention in a different way, it’s focusing on purpose, in the present, accepting things the way they are, without judgment. It’s a shift from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ that can slow time, intensify experience and improve our brain’s ability to attend.

Most of the time we move through our day on autopilot, multitasking, without putting too much thought into any one thing. It’s a bad habit to get into. Practicing mindfulness breaks the habit and encourages a more conscious living. Studies now show that by practicing mindfulness we can rewire negative thoughts and beliefs, improve mood, help with quality of sleep, boost the immune system and improve concentration. That’s a lot of accolades for enjoying a Morel mushroom.

How do you start? If concentration and focus is an issue for you, start small. Practice for only short periods of time and try to incorporate while performing regular daily tasks. For instance, when you brush your teeth in the morning, slow down and experience it mindfully. Focus on the sensations, sounds, feelings and thoughts. Imagine you are standing outside of your body looking at yourself brushing your teeth. What do you look like?

Another great exercise to improve attention is eating a frozen blueberry. That’s right, both are good for your brain!

First, hold the blueberry in your hand. Focus on it. You might even imagine you’ve never seen a blueberry before!

Next really look at the blueberry, exploring every part of it, the way the light plays on it, the wrinkles and smoothness and how unique it is.

Roll it across your palm with your other hand’s fingers, feeling the textures and coolness.

Hold it to your nose and breathe in the rich and cool aroma. Notice any sensations in your mouth or stomach.

Now place the blueberry on your tongue, rolling it around, feeling the bumps and ridges, experiencing any other sensations in your body. You might even close your eyes to concentrate more completely.

When you are ready, consciously prepare to bite into the berry. Take a bite and notice what happens in your mouth. Do the sensations change?

When the berry has been chewed to your satisfaction, focus on the intention of swallowing and then intentfully let it move to the back of your mouth and swallow. Sense it moving down your throat to your stomach.

As you experienced the intensity of flavour, temperature and texture, your brain underwent a flurry of activity.  Neurons fired, sending messages to various cortical and subcortical regions activating areas that normally aren’t used during eating.

You just woke up your brain! Just by practicing a bit of mindfulness.  Now practice this throughout your day. While doing the dishes, experience the water, while making dinner, slow down and notice each step it takes, while walking your dog, be like the dog and totally focus on the moment.

Check out the video on mindfulness conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

copyright 2011 @ Meza Health Systems, Inc.

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