So, what exactly is mindfulness?
In short, mindfulness is the act of being present and aware. However, it is much deeper and more intricate that that. The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn may have the best definition of the practice:
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is really about being truly in touch with your body, feelings and state-of-being in this exact moment and not dwelling on the past or stressing about the future. We can spend so much of our lives thinking about the future and the past that we miss the only real, tangible, rich present moment. Not only does that lack of being present give rise to the tragedy of missing out on most of our lives, but it carries tremendous negative-health consequences. MBSR has been scientifically proven to help alleviate, lessen and/or eliminate many of the awful health issues that are rooted in stress.
Mindfulness is not a stress-eliminator; lets get that straight right now. Life is full of stress and that is not going to change. Mindfulness, meditation and MBSR are tools to help you recognize, address and better manage stress and stressors. So much of what we do is reactionary and automatic; and often our responses are drastic and excessive, in comparison to the actual stressor. Building your “awareness muscle” can help you manage that tiny gap between stimulus and response and make better, more appropriate decisions and actions. One of the best descriptions of this comes from psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Victor Frankl
Think of this like a batter facing a major-league pitcher in baseball. For most of the world, walking out and trying to hit a 98 mph fastball is incomprehensible; you can barely even process its passing, much less take a swing. However, for a professional player, someone who has been practicing diligently for years, that fastball appears to move much slower. The professional batter can actually analyze the motion of the pitchers arm, the rotation of the ball, determine an estimated location and then decided what action they will take; swing or let it pass. With practice, mindfulness and MBSR can help develop the ability to analyze the stimulus (the pitcher/ball) and make a more logical and appropriate response (to swing or not to swing); taking control of our “power to choose.”
What health issues are related to stress?
Stress can exacerbate just about any health condition you can name. The physiological effects of stress on the body are so far-reaching and expansive, that it truly can worsen just about any condition and create some major, life-altering conditions. Here are a few of the more common health issues and conditions that can be caused or worsened by continuous stress:
The ways in which our bodies respond to stress (both real and perceived) are incredibly complex and intricate; often making it difficult to draw clear and direct lines of cause and effect. Our amazing bodies have so many systems in place to help us effectively respond to our environmental stimuli and then attempt to return us to homeostasis, its mind-blowing. But all of these systems, actions and processes have costs that can drastically lessen the quality of our lives and even decrease our lifespan if not properly managed. Learning how to better respond to stress is a life-changing skill.
How can I be more mindful?
Purposeful, consistent, attentiveness to the practice. While simple in theory, the mindfulness-muscle tires quickly and needs to be conditioned. If you have tried before, you know how difficult it is to keep your mind in the present moment and not start thinking about the past, future or drifting down paths of seemingly random thought. Even those with extensive practice will find their mind drifting during meditative practice; but with time you will become better at simply recognizing the presence of the thoughts, non-judgmentally acknowledging them, avoiding participation and gracefully letting them pass. The same happens as we move through our day in “informal” practice; taking time to recognize our surroundings, what is happening around us, within us and where we stand in this world.
There are numerous techniques and meditation methods that can be applied, such as choice-less awareness, Anapanasati (awareness of breathing) and mindful movement, to name a few. For many, it is very beneficial to utilize guided mediations, both in the beginning and ongoing, to really help structure and direct their mindfulness practice. As with anything, having an experienced coach is tremendously beneficial.
If becoming more mindful sounds like something that you are interested in achieving, please take a look at our schedule and locations to see if we have and classes or seminars in your area.