Lately I've been hearing a lot about mindfulness. One day when I was rattled about running late for an event, someone told me to "be mindful." At work, a gal spoke of mindfulness like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. So I asked a mindfulness instructor, what is it?
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction certified instructor Angie Payden invite me and a friend to one of her mini-mindfulness sessions in River Falls. Five other women were there. We were invited to sit on the floor with a pillow and blanket. My friend made it very clear that she did not want to sit on the floor because she wouldn't be able to get back up! Payden must have heard this before and quickly responded with a comfortable chair. You don't have to sit on the floor to practice mindfulness.
As we were softly instructed to stretch and focus on our deep breathing, I could feel the crud of my day drift away. I was soon relaxed and not thinking about random things. Like an angel speaking, we were instructed to picture a place that brings us happiness. Well, that messed me up a little because then my mind started to scramble. After a few minutes we became aware again and started a different type of mindfulness, walking. With each step across the room, we used four words we wanted in life. I used love, faith, health and trust and stepped proudly through the room. I liked that lesson because I do my fair share of walking, so it felt like this could be a regular practice.
Just when I was getting comfortable with my steps, another lesson was introduced: mindful eating. We were each handed a small cup of raisins and gummy bear candies. We described the texture, taste, sound it made in our mouth, how it felt on our teeth, hints of flavors, etc. I seriously never knew a gummy bear could bo so involved! Focus on what you're eating, using all five senses to experience the first few bites in every meal or snack.
Overall, going through this mini-mindfulness class was okay, but I am not ready to take time to meditate. I met with Payden again and had some basic questions for her, such as "Who needs mindfulness? Does it always need a quiet place to practice? What are the benefits of learning this? How often should one practice? Describe mindfulness to a simple mind."
Payden obtained her MBSR qualifications from UMass and has been teaching MBSR-related classes since 2017, so she was more than willing to answer all my questions. She provided print material about this ancient practice.
Mindfulness is technically MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction). It's a practice that was structured by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD in Massachusetts in 1979 by combining Buddhism and neuroscientific principles. MBSR addresses various health problems. Out bodies' response to stress is regulated by our limbic system. It's proven that stress can be a strain on our mental and physical well-being. When our bodies experience stress, no matter how big or small, our bodies produce the hormone adrenaline. While the situation's excitement is sending out adrenaline, the body has to find a way to calm the excitement, to keep things balanced. In doing so, our bodies release the hormone, cortisol.
Every time you experience a stressful situation, picture a teeter-totter in your head, representing the limbic system. Adrenaline is on one side and cortisol on the other, trying to balance. For some, this sounds like your body is constantly trying to balance things out all day, making both hormones very busy. Maybe that is why some are tired all the time? We are tired when we're sick because our bodies are trying to heal and only rest can repair the body.
Chronic stress makes this teeter-totter continue to produce more and more cortisol and too much can be deadly. Cortisol is known to cause numerous negative physical and mental conditions. After reading a little bit about this hormone, I learned it helps regulate salt and sugar balance in the body, and aids our digestive system. I can be measured through our saliva. That made me think about high blood pressure, obesity and how too much sugar affects behavior.
By practicing MBSR, we can reduce excessive cortisol production. This can be viewed as a "reset" for your mind and body. There are two different ways to practice, depending upon your time availability or location: informal and formal. Informal practices include acceptance, letting go, patience, trust and non-judgment. Those are all qualities I could sure improve upon! Formal MBSR includes sitting and breathing, mindful movement, walking, mindful eating, loving-kindness, mind clearing and body scan.
After learning about our limbic system, MBSR makes sense. It can improve focus and memory, balance emotions, increase immunity, reduce stress and depression, regulate heart rate, increase happiness and energy! Mindfulness is a lifetime engagement, not to get somewhere else, but to be where and as we are actually in the very moment, whether the experience is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
When I'm ready to learn more, Payden will educate me further. She has spent two years practicing and learning this evidence-based therapy. It has changed her life for the better and she wants to help others. How when you hear about mindfulness, you can ask, "Oh, what are your favorite methods of MBSR?" That should either shut them up or you can have a meaningful conversation.