Mindfulness has become one of the biggest buzzwords popping up across media platforms.
A Google search on the word yields a whopping 40.5 million hits. But what is this phenomenon and how do you “do” it?
What is mindfulness?
According to Greater Good, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” and involves acceptance without judgment.
Rooted in Buddhist thinking, mindfulness has actually been around in this country since 1979 when Jon Kabat-Zinn launched the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The program teaches that meditation is only one way to practice mindfulness, and that some other, more common practices, can enhance mindfulness.
For instance, Kabat-Zinn suggests paying attention to your breathing, particularly if you are immersed in an intense emotion. Also, he recommends calling on the five senses to gain “conscious awareness” of your surroundings and situation; noticing physical sensations, such as the wind whipping your hair as you step outside or the sun baking your skin as you lounge on the beach, is another aspect of mindfulness.
Ed Halliwell, a UK-based mindfulness teacher and writer, further explains: “Mindfulness lets us tune in to what’s going on in our brain and body—and better deal with what’s bothering us.” He adds that employing a mindful approach to life allows us to face difficult emotions in a nurturing way.
Experts indicate that incorporating meditation into your approach can enhance the experience. Contemplative Psychotherapy training proposes that mindfulness be nurtured through sitting meditation, according to Karen Kissel Wegela, PhD, professor at Naropa University and author of The Courage to Be Present.
Her approach involves three dimensions: body, breath and thoughts. This version of utilizes meditative practice and requires the practitioner to take a seated position, either alone or in a group, and focus on breathing and return to the breath when thoughts draw the mind away.
While many mindfulness programs are geared toward self-improvement and fulfillment in adults, several schools now offer mindfulness programs and purport to provide benefits for teachers and students alike. Teachers who practice mindfulness may experience reduced stress and burnout, while their students have been said to increase attention spans, regulate emotions and improve social/emotional skills. Best of all, these benefits often continue into adulthood resulting in higher quality employment opportunities, lower instances of crime and substance abuse and better mental health outcomes.
Mindfulness programs have also taken root in corporate offices with the end goal of enhancing organizational skills, improving leadership qualities, and achieving work-life balance. Janice Marturano attended a six-day “training of the mind” that introduced her to mindfulness and changed her career path. After spending 15 years at General Mills in a leadership position, she left the company to found the Institute for Mindful Leadership (IML) in January 2011.
Since that time, IML has conducted numerous trainings with remarkable results. For instance, a multi-year study at a Fortune 200 company produced impressive outcomes: 48 percent increase in focus; 40 percent increase in personal productivity; 31 percent improvement in employee satisfaction; 34 percent advancement in performance under pressure; and 34 percent better ability to prioritize.
Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists for the benefits of mindfulness, and science backs up those claims. For instance, Psychosomatic Medicine published the results of an eight-week clinical training program that found mindfulness meditation produced “demonstrable effects on the brain and immune function.”
Another study from May 2011 indicates that mindfulness can help a person control brainwaves and thus focus better.
And yet another study published in Emotion compared meditation with dance, an activity that demands close attention to the body, and found that the former technique enhanced emotion and promoted higher body awareness better than the latter.
The authors noted, “Most centrally, our findings bridge two important themes in emotion theory: response coherence and body awareness.” In other words, meditation encouraged greater awareness of the body.
Taking a mindful approach to all aspects of life might yield some positive changes – in time. Marturano’s words in an article published in the August 2016 issue of Mindful, offer encouragement: “Be gentle and patient with yourself. Most of us have lived lives of such constant distraction that learning how to be more present takes time.”