Mindfulness Matters

October 1, 2013 Carol No comments exist

But wait! First, what is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is a way to live your life as if it really mattered. And that involves being in the present moment with open-hearted presence and kindness toward yourself.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is often defined as “the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present.” [1]

Two critical elements of mindfulness are that:

  • It is intentional (i.e. we are consciously doing it); and
  • We are accepting, rather than judging, of what we notice. [2]

In other words, mindfulness is “openly experiencing what is there.” [3]

Why does mindfulness matter?

  • Mindfulness changes our brains – for the better! “Recent research has shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.” — Action for Happiness
  • Mindfulness improves health. Mindfulness lowers blood pressure. Mindfulness can alleviate depression and anxiety. Mindfulness reduces cortisol levels. Mindfulness improves sleep quality.

Tweet this quote: “The inner peace of an alert and calm mind are the source of real happiness and good health.” — Dalai Lama XIV  – 12/7/2012 on his Facebook page

  • Research shows a number of benefits that mindfulness can have on our cognitive abilities. Mindfulness can improve: memory and cognitive flexibility, attention and ability to concentrate, learning ability, and creative thinking. [4][5]
  • Mindfulness improves psychological functioning. It gives us a fuller awareness of internal and external information, enabling more accurate assessment, more conscious choice and so more flexible, less automatic or impulsive reactions. [7]
  • Mindfulness has been shown to directly increase our levels of life satisfaction and positive emotions.  Studies have shown that individual levels of mindfulness are associated with increased emotional, psychological and social well-being [3][6][7] and likewise with higher levels of life satisfaction and positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions. [3] See Mindfulness Plus Compassion Equals Happiness on this blog.
  • Mindfulness can benefit our relationships with others. Training in mindfulness increases empathy and levels of compassion towards others. [4][7]  One study has suggested that meditation may potentially have benefits for our ethical behavior and therefore benefit society. [4]

Some Wonderful Special Benefits of Mindfulness

  • Treatment of traumatic stress: “Mindfulness practices may be of benefit to trauma survivors. Research findings show that mindfulness can help with problems and symptoms often experienced by survivors. Mindfulness could be used by itself or together with standard treatments proven effective for PTSD.” — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD
  • Mindful kids, peaceful schools: Mindful Schools is a non-profit organization whose “mission is to integrate mindfulness into education. We are a non-profit organization that has taught thousands of educators, social workers, psychologists, and parents from 41 U.S. states and 25 countries how to use mindfulness with K-12 youth, impacting tens of thousands of lives each year.”  In the 2011-2012 school year, Mindful Schools partnered with the University of California, Davis to conduct the largest randomized-controlled study to date on mindfulness and children. Read the results from that study here.

Mindfulness Mentors

  • When I decided to write this post, it occurred to me that I should hold up my dog Tillie as a model practitioner. Imagine my delight when I found this on AARP’s website: “Dogs are great practitioners of mindfulness, according to Jonathan Kaplan, PhD, author of Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence, and Purpose in the Middle of It All. Besides being nonjudgmental (dogs think their owners are great no matter what kind of bad hair day they are having), dogs live only in the present moment.”
  • Cats too are sound role models for staying in the here and now.
  • Picture a small child learning to fish. Mark A. Burch writes: “When I was a boy of five or so, my father took me fishing for the first time. … he told me to sit very still in the boat … I should watch the float closely for any sign of it being pulled under water. Then I should pull up the fishing rod and hook the fish.These few instructions  – sit still, be quiet, watch for the invisible – introduced me to many hours of fishing. … For the first time in my life, I was being challenged to both pay attention to what a fish might be doing with my bait, but also to myself as motionless, vigilant, awake.”
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn is my favorite mindfulness mentor. His landmark work on mindfulness, meditation, and healing is “Full Catastrophe Living : Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.” Revised and updated after twenty-five years, it is available from Amazon, in both paperback and eBook formats. To view the complete descriptions, click here.
  • Take advantage of the resources found on this website: Greater Good The Science of A Meaningful Life.

Try It For Yourself!

  • Marty Cottler, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in teaching mindfulness in Grass Valley, California, recommends a three-minute practice for beginners:
    • “At least once a day, check in with yourself. Intentionally pause for 10 seconds while you become aware of your breathing. Don’t try to change how you are breathing. Breathe naturally but with awareness.For the remainder of this exercise, cast your eye-gaze downward to minimize visual distractions, and if possible, close your eyes and proceed.
    • Next, for approximately 60 seconds, move your attentive awareness from the top of your head down throughout your body to your toes and back up to the top of your head. As you scan your entire body, note areas of unpleasantness and pleasantness, such as tense shoulders or a full belly.
    • For another 60 seconds, focus your attention on your breathing at one of the following locations: your nostrils, lips, chest or belly. Practice awareness of your breathing at the part of the body you selected as your focus. Your attention will wander. Notice this and gently escort your attention back to awareness of your breathing at your selected body location.
    • For one more 60-second interval, practice being attentive to whatever grabs your attention: internal or external sensations as well as inner feelings and thoughts. Just notice—don’t chase after any of these sensations, feelings, or thoughts.
    • Lastly, open your eyes, raise your gaze, reestablish your connection with the outside world and carry on with your day. After following this routine for a few days, ask yourself if you are notice any difference in your daily experience.”
  • Every single thing that you do can be done with mindfulness! For some specific examples, read this post by Laurie Erdman on Huffington Post’s  “GPS for the Soul”: 5 Ways You Can Use Mindfulness to Improve Your Health.
  • Stop and take notice! Write it down! Here is an example:”I love beauty and people. I stop and look at gardens, people interacting, animals living in our environment, birds, etc. clouds in the sky, changing colours of the light during the day, I stop and pay attention to myself, how I am feeling, thinking. I listen, I love to stop and listen to all the sounds, bells tinkling in the distance… I like to notice the breeze, or the air everyday and breathe in the sunshine or the greyness of the skies, the stars at night, the glow of the moon…”  — Patricia, Paris, France 2 Sep 2010, 13:31
  • Tweet this: “I Am Mindful. Pass along! This simple act has the power to change everything!”

Your Turn

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post! I know that writing it has been helpful to me; it would make me very happy to find out that it has been of some value to you too!

If you try any of the suggestions in the “Try It Yourself” section, please share the results with us!

References

[1] Huppert, F.A. (2005). Positive mental health in individuals and populations. In Eds. F.A.Huppert, N.Baylis, & B.Keverne.The Science of Wellbeing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Shaprio, S.L., Oman, D., Thoresen, C.E., Plante, T.G, & Flinders, T. (2008). Cultivating Mindfulness: Effects on Well-being. Journal of Clinical Psychology,64, 840-862.

[3] Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.

[4] Shapiro, S.L. (2009) Meditation and Positive Psychology. In Eds: S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder,Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press

[5] Marianette, O. & Passmore, J. (2010). Mindfulness at work: Paying attention to enhance well-being and performance. In Eds: P.A. Linley, S.Harrington & N.Garcia,Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work. NY: Oxford University Press

[6] Howell,A.J., Digdon,N.L., Buro,K, & Sheptykcki, A.R. (2008). Relations among mindfulness, well-being and sleep.Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 773-777.

[7] Brown, K.W., Ryan, R.M. & Cresswell, J.M. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for it’s salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 211-237.

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