by Allison Peet, Mindfulness Instructor at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
(November 2017) – The word “mindfulness” has become very much of a buzz word these days. It’s new, hip, totally the rage, and also 2,500 years old. Neuroscience is finally confirming what so many people have known for centuries from their own direct experience and practice, that mindfulness meditation can help you reduce stress and help keep your brain young.* Many of us are almost always in “doing” mode: the constant multi-tasking and busyness of life and glued to our smart phones as to not miss a text, meeting or notification. Add in job, family, and relationship stress…toxic stress can really take its toll on our minds and bodies. Meditation can seem like a pretty foreign topic, but it’s surprisingly and beautifully simple. Simple…. but not easy.
Mindfulness is a solution to our chaotic lives. It’s a way of waking up out of auto-pilot and taking back our innate, human ability to fully “be” in the moments of our lives, that can only be experienced directly in the “now”. Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has been introduced into secular settings like public schools, businesses like Google, Twitter and General Mills, hospitals, and even the military. According to the founder of the 37-year-old MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program, Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We feel more alive. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.” Which, turns out to be much easier said than done. Here are a few tips if you’re interested in beginning a meditation practice:
- Start Small: Know Your Why – If you don’t know why you want to start a meditation practice, you’ll never stick to it. Take a few moments to really ask yourself why you’re doing this. Maybe it’s because you want to be less reactive to your kids, show up more fully for your spouse, reduce stress, find more peace of mind, or you want to be kinder and gentler to yourself. Meditation can be difficult at times, and the payoffs don’t show themselves immediately. Knowing your why can keep you on track, even if you don’t feel like it – you remember the bigger reason of your commitment. Once you begin to feel the benefits, these moments help motivate you to keep going. Anyone has 5-10 minutes in their day – try a simple awareness of breathing meditation. One of my favorite meditation apps is called Insight Timer, plus it’s free!
- Take One Bite: Mindful Eating – Eating is a wonderful opportunity to experience mindfulness since we do it multiple times per day. Eating has become so familiar that we hardly notice the explosion of flavors, textures, aromas and the simple, but powerful pleasure of taking in nourishment. Take back your lunch break – sit and Just. Eat. Don’t distract yourself with technology, driving, working at your computer, or even talking with someone. Start by sitting down with your meal and taking three mindful breaths before you take your first bite. Using your five senses, simply pay attention to the process of eating. When your mind wanders, note what’s on your mind and acknowledge that you were involved in another storyline, place or time. Then, bring your attention back to the present, using eating as the object of awareness. Can “just eating” be enough for you without trying to add in more stuff?
- Take an MBSR™ class – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a 37-year old program that has been proven to reduce symptoms of stress. The course is for adults who’ve never practiced meditation as well as seasoned practitioners. It’s intended to make the practice your own, incorporate it into your life, and support you in creating and maintaining a regular meditation practice. MBSR™ is designed to recognize and put to use our inner psychological resources to respond to toxic stress, increase stress hardiness, focus, creativity, regulate emotions, and allow a greater sense of self-care and well-being.
Allison Peet is a qualified MBSR™ (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) Instructor trained at UMass Medical Center for Mindfulness, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. She is trained through Mindful Schools and teaches mindfulness to youth, K-12. She’s completed 21 full days of silent meditation retreats to date, has a daily practice, and is currently working toward a therapeutic yoga teacher 200-hour certification. Allison has a personal path of living and working with chronic stress and anxiety which is why she started her own business in 2015, From Within Wellness, LLC, to benefit others. She is committed to creating a more mindful community by helping people develop practical life skills in attentional strength, present moment awareness, self-compassion, and stress resiliency.
Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young (2009)
“A study by Dr. Eileen Luders at UCLA School of Medicine, published in Neurolmage, shows that long-term mindfulness practitioners have greater brain volume, stronger neural connections, and less atrophy than non-practitioners. This suggests mindfulness may keep brains young and even help prevent dementia.” Vol 45, Issue 3, Apil 15, 2009: Pg 672-678
Mindfulness Reduces Stress (2010)
A study conducted by Britta Holzel at Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neroscience, finds that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to structural changes in the amygdala, a brain structure that plays a crucial role in stress responses.” Vol. 5, Issue 1: Pg 11-17