Former Extension Educator, Family Life
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Friday, October 7, 2016
Take time to be more mindful each day.
This week I want to talk about how and why we should be a little more mindful in our daily lives. But before I get started with that, here is an interesting fact on the increased popularity of the word mindfulness over the past 3 ½ years. The University of Illinois Family Life Team developed a lesson on mindfulness in late 2012. While researching mindfulness Google pulled up 5,340,000 results. And this morning, as I write this in September of 2016, Google's search engine found the word mindfulness 40,500,000 times in .87 seconds. Take that in for a moment. I was astounded by that dramatic increase. So what is all the fuss about? Let's take a look!
Although mindfulness originates in ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions, it is actually not so much about spirituality as it is about concentration. The ultimate goal of mindfulness is to help quiet busy minds and more effectively deal with stress by giving your full attention to what you're doing.
Often times our mind is so involved in something else that we weren't really in the moment, experiencing what we were actually doing. Have you ever read a book and after a few pages, you couldn't remember what you just read? Have you ever driven somewhere familiar and when you arrived you realized you couldn't remember anything about the drive? You may also have been texting or talking on the phone. Distraction is becoming more commonplace in the busy world today, especially when you figure in all the forms of technology we have at our fingertips. It is becoming more and more difficult for people to "be in the present moment" and it can be harmful to our well-being.
Basically, mindfulness is paying purposeful attention to the present moment. Mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn says that mindfulness is "the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment." Another researcher in the field, Ellen Langer says "Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things, relinquishing preconceived mindsets, and then acting on the new observations." In other words, pay attention! Obviously, it is more complicated than that, but it begins there. It also includes an openness to new ways of looking at things and, in Langer's definition, be willing to change based upon the new perceptions.
As I mentioned earlier, mindfulness has been a hot topic lately. But it is not a new topic. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn back in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center with the focus of helping patients cope with chronic pain. His idea was to teach patients mindfulness meditation techniques to refocus their attention so they could change their response to pain and reduce their overall suffering. Zinn wanted to focus on what is now called the biopsychosocial model of illness, meaning that we look at physical, psychological and social elements, not just biological causes. Consider the influence of this way of thinking – it seems obvious now that our minds and our social connections are related to how we feel physically and how we heal, but that has not always been the case.
There are some basic benefits to mindfulness. Being mindful can:
·Give people more appreciation for life
·Assist with focus and attention
·Assist people in handling emotions
Research shows that practicing mindfulness can help one's health by:
·Reducing stress levels
·Improving working memory, emotional regulation and well-being
·Enhancing coping with distress and disability
·Reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and chronic pain
·Lowering cortisol levels and blood pressure
·Increasing immune response
Research has shown that the benefits of mindfulness can be seen in as little as a 15-minute session. This can be worked in to the day when it is convenient to you: morning, day, night or even just before bed.
There are several ways to practice mindfulness. Since being mindful is the act of focusing on and experiencing the present, this can be applied to just about anything you do in life. If you need a little guidance at first, there are several types of scripts, books, articles, workshops and retreats available. There are even apps out there for smart phones. As with anything you can search for ideas on the internet for everything from paying attention to smells, to sounds, when you walk or even simply focusing on your breathing techniques. If searching for specific terms, here are a couple you can try:
- Basic meditation
- Rapid relaxation
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Mindful eating
- Mindfulness of smell
- Guided walking meditation
When trying new things, I suggest that you try different techniques to find what works best for you. Give new techniques a couple of chances before you dismiss it. It may take you a couple of tries before it works for you.
As we wrap up our summer season and head in to fall, let's be mindful to enjoy each of the sounds, sights, smells, tastes and even feels that each of the seasons give us. I am off to savor some watermelon while it is still tasty as we are transitioning to fall.