A few generations ago, periods of stillness and silence were woven into the fabric of life; constant stimuli and speed were not. Perhaps this helps explain the vast application of mindfulness training in hospitals and workplaces, schools and beyond.
Thirty years ago, the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation was offered to chronic pain patients in the basement of the University of Massachusetts hospital, with well-documented successes. Since then, over 1,000 scientific studies have demonstrated the broad benefits of mindfulness practices, from stress reduction to better sleep, increased ability to pay attention to impulse control, improved immune function to improved effectiveness at work, in parenting and places in between, and a general increase in contentment in life.
Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment, with an acknowledgement and acceptance of the sensations, feelings, and thoughts that occur moment to moment. It is cultivated by resting one’s attention on a chosen object, be it on sound, the breath, movement, or other elements that anchor our awareness in the present.
Neuroscience research illuminates how it works. For example, when we experience stress and strong emotions, the brain’s fight/flight/freeze center, the amygdala, is activated and we have limited access to the brain’s executive function center, the prefrontal cortex, used for learning, problem solving, and impulse control to name a few.
Mindfulness allows for deactivation of the amygdala and access to the full capacity of our brains.
I used to be more at the mercy of my habitual responses and impulses. Mindfulness has greatly increased my awareness and ability to take difficulties in stride and to choose actions that favor kindness and longer term happiness.
Sarah Heffron, C.N. is a certified nutritionist, with more than 14 years experience. She teaches classes, gives talks, and offers nutritional and mindfulness counseling in Moab. Heffron will be teaching a six-week introductory class, Cultivating Mindfulness, beginning Nov. 12 and 13. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.