The New York Times has had a series of well written articles on the topic of mindfulness. The most recent article notes that brain scans show that mindfulness can change the way our brains function, and help us improve attention, reduce stress hormones and even bounce back faster from negative information.
The increased ability to bounce back from negative information that comes from regular mindfulness practice is particularly important for people who sometimes experience depression. One of the most disabling aspects of depression is that it robs us of the ability to recover from bad news and stress.
The article had a nice discussion about how mindfulness differs from relaxation.
What [mindfulness] is not is only about reducing stress. Or about emptying our minds of all thoughts. Or about religion…
While being aware of your feelings may be nice when drinking a lovely cup of tea or relaxing in a garden, Ms. Matta said, part of mindfulness is also uncomfortable feelings — not trying to change or judge them, but being aware of them. And that may not feel so pleasant.
Dr. Baime said another common misconception is that mindfulness is about learning to be happy. It’s not. Nor is it about eliminating stress.
“Stress doesn’t go away, ever. That’s why we call it stress management rather than stress elimination,” he said. Rather, he said, mindfulness can “create a world where you experience depth, meaning and connectedness. You see joy and sadness more fully and settle more deeply into an authentic way of being.”
And it gave a pretty good description of one approach to mindfulness practice.
So here’s what I learned about the basic techniques. First, find a quiet place to focus your attention — on your breath or perhaps on an object. It’s not deep breathing, but rather experiencing “when the breath enters and leaves,” Ms. Marturano said. “Feel the stretch in the rib cage, without me doing anything. Can I notice when the mind takes a hike and redirect it? That redirection is the exercise.”
Perhaps you start at 10 minutes and work your way up to half an hour or 40 minutes a day. But that’s only part of the whole practice.
There’s also what Ms. Marturano calls “purposeful pauses.” Deciding that instead of thinking of a coming meeting while brushing your teeth you really focus on the taste of the toothpaste and the bristles and the water.
“Take yourself out of autopilot,” she said. And eventually expand that “being in the moment” to other parts of your life.
The idea is that over time you’ll feel more focused and more connected to yourself and others.
Finally, the author of this article suggests that it is really hard, perhaps almost impossible, to develop a mindfulness practice without a teacher.
I am not sure that that is true, but I do know that almost all of the people I work with who incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives at some point take a class.
Not everyone can find a good class. I was inspired by the articles to sign up for an online mindfulness course, just to see for myself how effective it could be. I will from time to time be updating you on my progress…