Buzz: Mindfulness is going mainstream.
Mindfulness meditation, it seems, helps just about everyone. From US News & World Report to the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and out to the Financial Times we’re learning about the impact of mindfulness meditation.
Medical students use mindfulness to become more stress resilient, cancer patients experience less pain and better sleep while their doctors listen more effectively and provide better bedside care.
Athletes report increased concentration and a competitive edge, while elementary students have improved their ability to focus at school.
Meanwhile business executives and investments types calm their minds and hone their decision-making skills into profitable action.
It seems that everyone’s onto this idea of mindfulness, one way or another; even the skeptics among us are curious.
What is it and how, exactly, is it helpful?
Mindfulness is paying attention, in this moment, on purpose, without judgment. There, it’s that simple . . . . and that difficult.
That last piece is the kicker for sure. Our minds are so full of ‘shoulds,’ ‘have-tos,’ and the ‘obligatory’ that it’s easy to get sidetracked into a swamp of judgments that keep us stuck in our heads, out of the moment, and racheting up our stress levels.
A typical stress response involves speeding-up the heart rate and breathing, followed by a rise in the level of the stress hormone cortisol. After a bit—a few hours after the stressor subsides—cortisol levels fall back to normal.
That is, if nothing else stressful occurs.
So the real trick is to ‘catch yourself,’ being yourself; that is, before the stress and judgments and cortisol take off. It’s then that you can change direction, on purpose, to reduce your stress and . . . . engage in your sport, work with your clients, move into effective action. Easier said than done.
Recently, I ‘caught myself’ out of the moment as I pondered a troubling situation. The stories in my head had started. In those moments—as anxiety rose—I could feel tension in my shoulders and neck, my breathing became shallow, and a subtle headache emerged just around the corner at my temples.
In the moment of ‘catching myself’ I had a choice: be in this moment and open to my breath and headache, observe my thoughts and feelings without judgment, and actively choose my next action.
Or, allow my stories to run me. What a trip!
Training and tuning into one’s body sensations, including the breath, is one of the keys to the success of mindfulness in addressing such a range of life situations.
And, the best way to be in the moment is to be in one’s body sensations. Such self awareness slows down our brain’s processing resulting in better self control, better decision-making, better choices.
Sounds good, yes?
I don’t know about you, but I like feeling ‘in choice’ about my life. So, if what it takes is to ‘catch myself being myself,’ I’m in! Join me next issue on the notion of Developing a Practice.
I am a trauma survivor and the MBSR program is a powerful tool for anyone who struggles to overcome the effects of PTSD. I’m also a teacher and have used mindful awareness in my classroom to help students improve their focus, connect to their body, enhance their compassion towards themselves and their classmates, and reduce stress. The results speak for themselves…… healthy mind, healthy body.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Yes, MBSR is a powerful tool in working with PTSD as it supports folks coming back to themselves, calming the central nervous system, and moving into compassion for themselves and others. And, yes, the results speak for themselves!