What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches us to be present for our lives, with more kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is sweeping the country with over 25 million Americans engaging in some kind of practice. It is now offered in a wide array of professional settings, including business, law, medicine, healthcare, the military, veterans, education, professional sports and the non-profit sector. Why this interest?
Researchers at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center define mindfulness as: Paying attention to the present moment with a curiosity, kindness and willingness to be with what is. It can also be described as the ability to be present with the present moment –whether pleasant or unpleasant—without judgment. This fundamental human capacity is part of who we are as people. It awakens naturally in moments when our senses are heightened and we experience feelings of wonder, such as when we are observing the beauty of nature, falling in love, or holding a newborn baby.
Yet much of the time, we live in habit energy and are not truly present. Many of us feel like human doings instead of human beings, as we push ourselves relentlessly to accomplish our pages-long “to-do” lists. We go through our daily routines lost in thought about what has recently transpired, or worried about what might happen in the future, instead of being present with this moment. And, when we are present, we often find ourselves making comparisons and judging ourselves and others, instead of being open to what is happening. The mind is a gift which allows us to reflect, remember, plan, discern, and many other activities, but many of us cannot seem to turn it off. We can’t let go of whatever is bothering us. We sometimes lie awake at night. We are lost in thought while we drive, eat, and do other daily activities. Sometimes, even are caught up in our thoughts when we are watching a movie, exercising, or enjoying a relaxing outing.
With training, we can learn to release this perpetual habit energy and become more present. We can find more balance in our lives. We learn to see our experiences and the people in our lives as teachers. We can key into our inner wisdom. More than anything, however, mindfulness teaches us, not only to accept ourselves and others, but to be gentler and kinder to ourselves and others no matter with what we are struggling.
While the practice of mindfulness emerges from Buddhism, we can find similar teachings in all of the world’s wisdom traditions. Ann’s teachings at her office, the McGovern Health and Medical Science Museum, and the community at large are totally secular (non-religious) in nature. When Ann teaches at Rothko Chapel, an interfaith meditation chapel, she teaches in a non-religious format, but provides references to similar teachings in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism. In synagogues, she links the teachings back to those in Judaism.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Adults
The newest research suggests that mindfulness can:
- reduce stress
- improve cognitive attention
- boost the immune system
- lessen suffering from anxiety, depression, and physical pain
- promote a general sense of well-being
- improve performance
- change the structure and functioning of the brain, including calming areas of emotional reactivity and increasing gray matter in areas of impulse control, judgment, memory, and learning.
The body of research on mindfulness is compelling enough that corporations such as Aetna, Google, McKinsey & Co, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills and others are offering mindfulness to their employees. Ann’s power point presentation, Mindfulness: The Health Benefits, covers the most recent research on mindfulness with adults in areas of physical and mental health.
Health Benefits for Children and Teens
The most recent research with children and teens suggests that mindfulness practice can:
- reduce stress
- improve attention and focus
- increase strength of areas of brain involving learning and memory
- decrease anxiety and depression
- promote a sense of well-being
- improve social-emotional skills.
As children are told to pay attention in school, yet we were never taught how to do it. Mindfulness teaches us how to train the “muscle” of attention. The research is compelling enough that many charter and private schools, as well as public school districts nationally, are using it with teachers and children.