Mindfulness has been in the news a lot and I certainly talk a lot about it here. So let's define it. Mindfulness refers to a moment to moment awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, to thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and our surroundings without trying to judge them. Sounds weird, I know. But bear with me...
Why practice mindfulness meditation?
…Because it can make you SMARTER, HAPPIER, AND HEALTHIER!!!
Studies show that mindfulness meditation can:
decrease levels of anxiety
boost immune system function
improve the brain’s capacity for memory and learning
foster compassion and altruism
reduce behavior problems and aggression
fight obesity by encouraging mindful eating
It might seem strange that working on staying more aware in the moment and acceptance of what is (when needed) can have all these positive benefits but much of this lies in the fact that stress comes from wanting things to be other than they are (when they cannot be.) Stress also comes from reliving past moments or stressing about future moments so much that we miss the one wonderful moment we are int! How often do you drive to work thinking about the day ahead or what someone said yesterday and miss an amazing sunrise or a gorgeous tree or a smile from a fellow driver.
A Little History of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is based in centuries old traditions of meditation – but now with a much broader audience thanks to a gentleman named Jon Kabat-Zinn who launched the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at University of Massachusetts Medical school in 1979. He found that so many people he came into contact with in the medical world were struggling with various medical and psychological symptoms that could benefit from meditating. His MBSR course has now taught thousands around the world some basic techniqeus to cultivate mindfulness, improve symptoms of chronic pain, stress, and mental health disorders, as well as others, and provide a means to study the influence of such techniques.
Here are some examples of ways to cultivate mindfulness in the day to day:
Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns. Tune into your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.
A lot of people have preconceived notions about what mediation is or isn’t so let me address a few of these concerns right off the bat:
Mindfulness is not a religion. Practicing mindfulness meditation is not based in any religious practice (and will not turn you into a Buddhist). It is more of a mental training to help us get in touch with ourselves and to be present in each moment. For me, this is quite a spiritual experience (as I believe each moment is given to us by God) but it does not subscribe to any religious doctrine and in no way conflicts with or calls into question religious beliefs.
You do not need to be a peaceful and quiet person to practice mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness training is geared, at some level, at stress reduction and so is perfect for those whose minds are far from quiet and peaceful
Mindfulness does not take a great deal of time. You can achieve the benefits of mindfulness in as little as 10 minutes a day, and even a moment of awareness here and there, over time, can help!
Mindfulness does not have to be done in a formal quiet setting. It helps for it to be quiet, but you can be mindful in multiple situations throughout your day and benefit greatly – even if only for a second.
Being mindful does not mean you go through life in “la la” land. Our brain’s default is always thought, so we go to planning or worrying mode very easily. Practicing mindfulness when you can is just a way to “reset” in order to take on the day’s tasks with less stress – especially about the little things. It also simply brings more joy to your day as you give yourself an opportunity too really notice your surroundings.
Square Breath- the square breath is a great easy one for kids to learn and can be visualized easily. Basically you breathe in slowly to the count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4 and hold empty for 4.
Candle Breath- another simple one for our littles. Imagine or make a candle with your hand (hold a finger up in front of your face or hands folded with index fingers up in front of face) and deep easy breath in, and slowly blow the candle out. Keep repeating!
Darth Vader or Ocean Breath- for this breathing technique, breathe in fully then make an ocean or darth vader sound by constricting the back of throat during exhale. This constriction makes the exhale last a bit longer which decreases the stress hormone cortisol. A version of breath is commonly used in yoga flow classes
4-5-6 Breath- This is a super simple breath that can help calm you down in the moment. In for 4, hold for 5, out for 6. This patterning helps really elongate the exhale which decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Slowing down your breathing, especially the exhale, sends a signal to the brain that says “I am OK.” And if your brain believes you are ok, it all gets easier!
GR kids yoga and mindfulness links
AM Yoga has an AMazing kids program and has a lovely prenatal and mama/ baby classes too! CheCk them out at http://amyoga111.com/kids
Yoga Zen in Caledonia is right in our neighborhood and offers a number of different options for kids including child care for certain adult classes! Love this! https://theyogazengr.com/kids-yoga-classes-grand-rapids-caledonia-byron-center-michigan
Renew Mama Studio has many interesting offers for babes and moms. Take care of yourself and your kiddos. https://renewmamastudio.com
Meditation and Mindfulness Books
The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate by Susan Kaiser Greenland
Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercise for Kids and Their Parents by Eline Snel
Mindful Movements by Thich Nhat Hanh
Calm Kids: Help Children with Mindful Activities by Lorraine Murray
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
A Still Quiet Place: A mindfulness program for teaching children and adolescents to ease stress and difficult emotions by Amy Saltzman
10 Mindful Minutes: Giving our children and ourselves the social and emotional skills to reduce stress and anxiety for healthier happy lives by Goldie Hawn