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Mindfulness

Mindfulness

August 1 2017

This is an excerpt from our new workshop: Mindfulness: Finding Calm and Connection in a Digital Age.

What is Mindfulness?

There are a ton of definitions out there but for pure ‘get-ability’ and simplicity, the one below by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man credited with bringing mindfulness to the Western world, is great. He says:

‘Mindfulness ispaying attention in a particular way:

on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.’

What this means is that being mindful is more than just being aware; the non-judgemental element is crucial. This means being kind to yourself and others - as well as staying open to what is happening in the now without labelling it.

In order to be really clear about what mindfulness is, it can be helpful to know what it is not. It’s not just about meditation, it's not to do with religion or politics and it’s not a theory - it can only be experienced through practice. And, crucially, it’s not about zoning out or not thinking at all. In fact, it’s the opposite: being in charge of your thoughts and directing your attention to where you want it at any given moment.

Why all the hype about mindfulness?

Despite the fact there hasn’t been a world war for over 70 years, life on planet earth feels anything but easy and peaceful right now. In fact for many of us it can feel overwhelmingly busy and stressful. An increase in workloads and work place stress, the GFC, global terrorist threats and our increasing dependence on devices means many people are now living close to (or actually in) a state of chronic stress.

And it’s not just the adults we need to worry about in this new world order. Recent research has highlighted that parents’ use of digital media, at even a moderate level, impacts directly on their children in terms of more problematic behaviour[1] and shortened attention span[2]. At the same time a decrease in opportunities for children to engage in unstructured play is depriving them of the practice necessary to develop self-regulation - which in turn impacts negatively on their life outcomes.

In the midst of all this busy-ness, stress and multimedia overload it’s perhaps not surprising that the importance of mindfulness and focused attention is rising. Mark Epstein, psychiatrist and author, says mindfulness directly benefits our brains and explains that instead of being driven by your reactions, mindfulness provides a little bit of room where you can choose to respond differently.

“Mindfulness basically helps us tolerate the aspects of the external world and the internal world that otherwise are hard to face,” he says. “Sometimes things happen, instead of letting them become the thorn stuck in your mind that keeps annoying you, you can try some mindful awareness or meditation to help you work with accepting them and letting them go.” [3]

The now considerable body of research on mindfulness shows that practicing it can reduce stress, anxiety, emotional reactivity, rumination, psychological distress and time spent off task. And can increase coping abilities, self-regulation, working memory capacity, decision making skills, working relations, relationship satisfaction, self-insight, immune functioning and can increase the length of telomeres (- telomeres predict how long your life span will be and were thought to be fixed)[4].

How do I do it?

Like with any new skill, mindfulness takes time and practice to develop. But the great news is that even just a little bit each day can have benefits. Take a look at the following ways you might include some mindfulness in your life - and the lives of your children:

°      Mindful breathing: spend several minutes each day just focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.

°      Mindful sensing: take a moment to focus on one of your five senses and simply notice, notice, notice.

°      Mindfully manage stress using S.T.O.P:

S- Stop     Whenever you notice stress or imbalance, simply pause in awareness.

T- Take a breath Bring your awareness to your breath, just letting the sensations of the breath move into the forefront. Also, notice how your mind begins to settle a bit, bringing more clarity.

O- Observe           Just notice how the breath begins to naturally bring balance to the systems of the body. Let this be felt. Also, look around. What is really happening, in the moment?

P- Proceed            Having shifted to a more mindfully responsive mode, take an action that is more skilful, appropriate and best attuned to your situation.[5]

°      Make a Mind Jar with your kids: help children ‘settle their glitter’ by making their own version of a snow globe. Shake it up and breathe slowly in and out as the glitter settles.

Visit www.mindfulaotearoa.nz/assets/Directory/Resource/Mind-jar-instructions-FINAL.pdf to find out how.

 

If you’d like to read/practice more, check out these useful resources:

www.mindful.org

www.smilingmind.com.au (app available also)

www.headspace.com (app available also)

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

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (And Their Parents) by Elin Snel

Or come along to our new Mindfulness Workshop and learn more about how your brain operates when stressed or overwhelmed and the one thing that helps to calm it down.

 

‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf’ - John Kabat-Zinn.



[1] published in the online version of Child Development, May 2017

[2] Retrieved from www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3563880/Parents-phone-distracted-playing-babies-causes-grow-attention-problems.html

[3] Retrieved from www.mindful.org/mindfulness-stops-slave-bad-habits

[4] Retrieved from www.apa.org (American Psychological Association) ‘Empirically supported benefits of mindfulness’.

[5] Lisa Kring. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-kring/the-5-main-tenets-of-mindful-parenting_b_4086080.html