Research has proven that active mindfulness makes you a better, calmer, happier person. It also makes you a better partner. The effects of mindfulness aren’t aspirational, they’re biological. Regular practice of active mindfulness changes the chemistry of the brain, and hard-wires your ability to actively improve your relationship.
What's The Difference Between Passive & Active Mindfulness? Excellent question. Passive describes more a state of being than an effortful practice. Active mindfulness requires not that you’re perfect, but that you try. Effort is everything. Active mindfulness says: “Stay in the moment as long as you can - when you get distracted by a to-do list or an errant thought, don’t get discouraged. Keep trying. Act your way into a better relationship, don’t think your way into it.”
One of our Relish coaches, Munni, echoes this sentiment: “Mindfulness is focused attention on the ‘now.’ Being mindful in your relationship means being present without distraction or judgment, with full acceptance of your partner and the moment.”
Here are 4 ways active mindfulness can improve your relationship:
1. Mindfulness changes the way we react to each other: Practicing active mindfulness over a period of 8-10 weeks actually changes the emotional regulation area in the brain. Our amygdala is the part of the brain that hijacks us into fight or flight reactions - either shutting down completely or reacting with anger. Mindfulness shrinks the volume of the amygdala, meaning it has less influence over how volatively we react.
2. Mindfulness improves emotional regulation: Studies prove that practicing mindfulness improves the connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. That means there’s less 20/20 hindsight, less regret, and less words you wish you said (or didn’t say). That means lower incidents of blowing up at your partner in frustration, and higher incidents of clear communication.
3. Mindfulness enhances empathy: Regular practice of mindfulness changes another part of the brain called the insula, the part associated with compassion and empathy. This can help you approach your partner from a place of compassion, not a place of competitiveness, and allows you to freely express warmth, love, and kindness to each other.
4. Mindfulness increases self-awareness: People that practice mindfulness present changes in their anterior cingulate cortex, which regulates our sense of self and self-awareness. This change helps us redirect our focus from what’s wrong with them or their many deficits back towards ourselves, and how we can improve the situation or ourselves.
Pretty convincing stuff, right? And before you think "Yeah this all sounds great but I'm too busy to take an active mindfulness course right now" - then you're in luck. Here are some super-easy, super-fast ways to practice active mindfulness that will immediately make you feel more present:
- Do A Quick Body Scan: No, we're not talking about what happens in the airport security line - a body scan's purpose is to take you out of your head (you know, where all that pesky anxiety happens) and into your body. Typically, you'd lie on your back or sit in a chair, but in a bind, you can really pull this off everywhere. Close your eyes, and focus on each part of your body starting from the toes up: feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, lungs, shoulders, down your arms, to your elbows, and so on. After just a few seconds you'll feel more present, less overwhelmed, and more grounded.
- Box Breathing: In the middle of traffic or if the dog won't stop barking at the UPS guy - take a few seconds for box breathing. This method increases breath retention, which immediately slows your heart rate.
- Close your eyes
- Inhale to the count of 4, and imagine yourself drawing a line as you do so
- Hold for 4, and while you do imagine the line extending upwards at a 90 degree angle
- Exhale for 4, and imagine another line forming at the "top" of the box
- Hold for 4 (with no breath), and imagine the line completing to form a box
Sure, would a quiet, peaceful meditation retreat do the trick? Uhhh yep, especially if it happened to be located on the shores of a remote island off the coast. BUT - when the private jet doesn't show up... this is a really great second option. Putting to use these active mindfulness exercises sharpens your awareness of the NOW. And present partners are better partners, we can guarantee it.