Today, practitioners of mindfulness/meditation can be found in a wide variety of settings…some perhaps surprising.
Employees at Google have been taking classes in mindfulness meditation for over six years! Mindfulness is taught and practiced at many schools and universities across the country.
In the United States Congress, Representative Tim Ryan practices meditation and has even written a book entitled “A Mindful Nation” in which he discusses the benefits mindfulness can bring on personal as well as national levels.
A government report in 2007 found that 1 in 11 people in the United States reported engaging in some form of meditation, which amounts to about 20 million Americans…no doubt that number is even higher today.
Perhaps the most basic definition of mindfulness is:
simply being fully present in the current moment.
The informal practice of mindfulness can be summed up as just being aware of what is going on in your body, your thoughts, your emotions and your life right now. When we are fully present and awake we taste the food we are eating, we see the sights around us and we truly listen to those who are talking to us.
While this sounds pretty easy, consider how rare it is in our hectic lives that we give our full attention to anything. Some have described our society as having perpetual ADD (attention deficit disorder) because we tend to give partial attention to everything all the time and our full attention to nothing ever!
Think about the number of times you’ve been driving home from work, only to realize, upon arriving, that you don’t remember the trip at all.
Or, perhaps the meal that you were eating which was suddenly gone without a real memory of what it tasted like or at what point you were satisfied.
Or, sadly, the times that you’ve been cooking dinner or looking at the mail while a child told you about “what happened at school today” and then realized that you have no idea what they’ve said.
If any of these sound familiar, you know what mindlessness feels like. It’s like an “automatic-pilot” way of living in which time passes without awareness or presence…and it is how most of us generally live too much of our lives.
It’s easy to see how life on so many levels…from eating, to listening to music, to observing nature, to completing a work project, to being with a loved one becomes richer and more satisfying when it is experienced mindfully.
While this may sound great, actually staying present from moment-to-moment can be quite challenging, especially when we are stressed, which is where meditation comes in.
Meditation is an intensive training of the mind in which we learn to consciously bring the mind back to the present moment over and over again. Since it is in the nature of the mind to wander (just try keeping your focus on your breath for the next 5 minutes if you want to check this out!) learning to sustain focus and attention through meditation is extremely beneficial for living life mindfully.
Meditation can be taught in a variety of ways and settings including programs like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which is secular and based on a scientific approach.
MBSR was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and programs are now found in virtually every state and many countries around the world.
MBSR is a systematic program which consists of 8 weekly classes as well as one extended class.
It is designed to provide guided instruction in mindfulness and meditation practices. It includes gentle stretching/mindful yoga and group discussion aimed at enhancing awareness in daily life. It also includes daily home assignments utilizing practice CD’s (provided as part of the course) and other materials.
Numerous studies have been conducted which suggest consistent positive outcomes for those who have completed an MBSR course.
Studies suggest that training in this practice can ease pain, improve concentration and immune function, lower blood pressure, curb anxiety and insomnia, and possibly even help prevent or manage symptoms of depression.
Participants also report a greater sense of well-being, increased abilities to relax, improved ability to cope with pain, greater energy, improved self-esteem and an ability to cope more effectively with stressful situations.
Things you could try right now include:
- Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and take a few breaths. Really feel the breath as it enters and leaves your body. When your mind wanders just notice where your mind has gone and come back to the breath.
- Try eating a few bites of a meal mindfully. Slow down, look at your food, feel the movements involved in bringing it to your mouth, consider all that went into getting that food to you…the process of planting, harvesting, delivering…the sun and rain…the preparation involved in bringing it to your plate. Then fully experience the smell, texture, flavor and how your body is affected by that one bite.
- Pick up a mindfulness/meditation CD and practice with guidance.
You can also consider taking a class to learn more.
MBSR is now being offered at McKay Dee and Logan Regional hospitals.
Day and evening classes are available. Class size is limited to allow for individual attention and focus.