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                                                             MINDFULNESS

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Introduction

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lense.

 Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

 The practice of mindfulness has become a global phenomenon in the past decade with over 30,000 books currently available on Amazon, dedicated magazines (e.g. Mindful Magazine; Breathe) and Apps, and even both Newsweek and TIME publishing special edition issues featuring the topic.  Mindfulness therapies, coaching, and exercises have been developed and the following companies have invested in mindfulness training for their employees: Google, Apple, Nike, General Mills, Aetna, Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Intel, and Target.

 Some History

 While the mindfulness movement is considered to have taken off in the 1990s, it has its origins in contemplative practices that date back thousands of years and which include Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Stoicism.  Some of these are religious traditions while others are not.  Mindfulness is conceptualized as “a way of being” (i.e., present and available), however,  and not as a religion.   

 Mindfulness entered mainstream America in large part due to the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus at University of Massachusetts Medical School. His program, aptly named Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), was developed in 1979.   Thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and MBSR in particular, inspiring countless programs to adapt the MBSR model for use in schools, hospitals, businesses, prisons, treatment centers, and veteran’s centers. 

 Many universities including Harvard, Brown, Tufts, and the University of California campuses at San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, currently operate dedicated mindfulness research centers to examine the science behind mindfulness

 Some Interesting Findings

 Mindfulness cuts pain in half:  According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, just 4 days of mindfulness meditation cut pain perception in half from its participants compared to those who did not practice.  It presents compelling evidence for the meditation’s ability to improve the quality of life for those suffering from pain.

 Mindfulness physically rebuilds your brain: A study conducted at Harvard Medical School, examined M.R.I. scans of people before and after mindfulness meditation (practiced for about 30 minutes a day over 8 weeks).  The results indicated an increase in the grey matter in the hippocampus, an important part of brain for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of the same grey matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. No such changes were observed in the control group that did not practice mindfulness.  The study confirms a 2005 study by Harvard Medical School Neuroscientist Sara Lazar.  

 Mindfulness boosts creativity and problem solvingSeveral studies cite evidence of a beneficial relationship between mindfulness and creativity.  Authors suggest that learning to free the mind from distractions and become an impartial observer improves the ability to gain insight and new perspectives.  One study indicated that maintaining an alert state during meditation (i.e., measured by raising a hand to report every 10 deep breaths) resulted in more insight regarding unsolved problems, suggesting that watchfulness rather than relaxation contributes to insight.

 Some Facts:

 Mind wandering is very common.  Studies show that humans typically spend between 25 to 50 percent of their time thinking about something unrelated to their current situation. 

 People new to mindfulness are often taught the phrase, “Catch AP-ASAP”, or “Catch auto-pilot as soon as possible” since our minds do tend to drift much more than remain present.  The sooner you notice and refocus back to the present, the more effective you will be in practicing mindfulness.

 Decentering is one of the key explanations offered for why mindfulness is so successful.  Decentering occurs when you observe your thoughts and feelings as temporary events in your mind rather than as facts or truths.  

 Mindfulness and relaxation strategies are different.  While relaxation is often a byproduct of being mindful, the purpose of mindfulness is the cultivation of awareness.  It is important to note that for certain individuals (e.g., those with panic disorders), the practice of mindfulness is actually counter-indicated.