#055 Mindfulness Is the Way to Go! Use the Body to Condition the Mind

Associate Professor YUKAWA Shintaro, Faculty of Human Sciences

Past failures and anxiety about the future. We all worry about these things even though there is nothing we can do about them. The way out of that is to concentrate on "the now, this moment," and "mindfulness" is a way to achieve this. This methodology, an extension of meditation and zazen, is used in psychotherapy and business and is not a type of unscientific mental training.

We spend a surprising amount of time zoned out, like when we are on a train or sitting and watching television. But even during that time, our minds involuntarily wander through time and space; we recall the past and imagine the future. We may think we are relaxed, but this is an unexpected source of stress. By thinking about something unpleasant which happened the day before, or about an exam the next day, we place a burden on our minds. These thoughts, over which we have no control, can burden a person with unnecessary stress.

These mind wanderings seem to be one of the brain's intrinsic habits, but there is a need to do something about them if they become a source of stress. The best thing would be to have the mind concentrate on the present and not stray into the past and the future. The idea is to stop making value judgements like good or bad, enjoyable or unpleasant, and divert one's attention to what is happening in the here and now. The ability to achieve this freely is known as "mindfulness." Prof. Yukawa researches this methodology and practices it himself.

However, it is by no means easy to concentrate solely on the present. Mindfulness is an acquired skill, the key to which is breathing. One can concentrate on one's awareness of the body at a given moment through intentional, slow abdominal breathing. The unnatural poses and slow movements of yoga and tai chi are also devices for heightening consciousness of the body. However, no matter how much one tries, the mind eventually starts to drift. Rather than trying to prevent your mind from wandering, the key is to shift it back to the present as soon as you notice it beginning to wander. Eventually, when you master these techniques you will be able to divert your consciousness to your entire body.

Prof. Yukawa's original field of research was violence and the emotion of anger. One way to control anger and other forms is known as expressive writing therapy. According to this methodology, describing one's feelings in writing during an episode of emotional turmoil can help one to sort through and accept how one feels, and it is an effective way to deal with specific events. But it is not enough in itself because an approach which helps a person to alter his/her overall outlook is required, and it is while thinking about this that Prof. Yukawa came across mindfulness, in which emotions are controlled by the body and not through words. When one notices a change in the body, this change is then linked to an awareness of emotion and cognition. When one hones one's ability to notice these changes, one is able to notice more subtle emotional ups and downs in addition to outbursts of anger.

Prof. Yukawa has always been interested in the body. When he was an undergraduate student he took up pantomime acting, and began karate in graduate school. Both of these have much in common with mindfulness as they require you to pay attention to every corner of your body. Martial arts practice, which is also in effect mindfulness training, is an essential part of Prof. Yukawa's schedule every morning. He also runs a mindfulness meditation seminar at the University every Wednesday evening (which he refers to as "martial arts meditation").

As a student, he took an avid interest in pantomime acting

A prolific writer and translator of books and journal articles

Psychological mindfulness, or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which is based on Buddhist meditation and zazen techniques, was established in the 1970s as a stress reduction methodology by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness has been thoroughly researched thus far, and its effectiveness has been scientifically validated. Slow breathing heightens the functioning of parasympathetic nerves, and if this is adjusted intentionally it relaxes both the body and the mind. However, mindfulness in itself only gives a greater awareness of conditions and changes in oneself and cannot be expected to have a particularly positive effect on the body and mind. Nevertheless, because it does reduce stress and improve concentration, it enables us to lead a more healthy life and it improves our performance at work, which means that it has applications in psychotherapy and human resource development. However, perseverance is the most important thing?mindfulness must be practiced continuously for one to acquire the ability to observe one's consciousness. One does not try to control it, rather one must wait without expecting for one's consciousness to be effectively "managed". This means that one only actively observes the here and now and does not carry out a value judgment. First of all, let's start by breathing in deeply...

Article by Science Communicator at the Office of Public Relations

Celebrating the 151st 50th Anniversary of the University of Tsukuba
Celebrating the 151st 50th Anniversary of the University of Tsukuba