Mindfulness and Well-Being

November 29, 2016 by School of Medicine Webmaster

Why cultivate a practice of mindfulness?
What is the relationship between mindfulness and well-being?

It has to do with how we pay attention…to how we are in any moment and what we are doing.  For example, how do we typically react to the alarm clock, to work colleagues, to life situations, to our partners or children? How do we react to anger or fear or pain, in someone else, in ourselves?

Research has shown that mindfulness affects our quality of life because it can:

  • Reduce stress, panic and anxiety
  • Help with chronic pain and depression
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decrease sleep disturbances and fatigue
  • Expand the neuroplasticity of the brain to promote higher levels of focus, memory, learning and resilience
  • Boost the immune system
  • Increase the capacity for joy

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be aware of the present moment, which is constantly changing, like water going over the edge of a waterfall, the only moment in which we are alive. We learn to not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around or inside us.  The great news is that mindfulness is innate – we’re born knowing how to do this.  Constant mindfulness is elusive. Whenever we notice the mind is caught in a trance of thinking about the past or future, we can pause, relaxing any tightness in the body, and then gently escort the attention to right now – this breath, this sound, this sensation.  We’re not changing our experience of life – it’s impossible to keep the stuff we don’t want (conflict, illness, anxiety) at bay. What we’re changing is our relationship to our experience.  Mindfulness is an innate capacity to access and use the intelligence of the body, with its wealth of sensations, images, feelings and intuition, in our learning and in our decision making process.

How do we begin (or restart) a practice of mindfulness?
We can adopt useful attitudes, beginning with curiosity, patience and trust, letting go of expectations, and, oddly enough, letting go of striving.  Daily we practice awareness of sensations, including the breath and sound, awareness of thoughts and feeling states – because this is a systematic training that takes time, like learning any skill well. We practice, with kindness for ourselves, and we gain insight into conditioned reactions that inhibit our capacity to respond most effectively and satisfactorily in everyday life.

  • Pause – allow the body and the mind to establish a calm, alert, receptive state – like allowing a cup of muddy water to settle, to become clear.
  • Relax – soften any contracted areas or places of holding in the body…the eyes, the forehead, jaw, shoulders, hands, belly, pelvis, feet.
  • Suspend judgment – see your seeing (like the movie director who’s filming you, your thoughts and feelings and your movements).
  • Observe with focused attention – the habits and the conditioning of the body and mind (stories, assumptions, fears) and let go.
  • Allow – intuition or insight to arise.

What can happen?  According to students of past classes…

“Mindfulness is becoming aware of how disconnected I am from what I’m really feeling…I usually just plow through without pausing and noticing what’s going on with me – thank you for providing the wake-up call.”

“This has been life-changing…I got so much out of the experience and continue to practice.”  “I have gained tools for a mindfulness practice and am the better for it.”

“I am putting this class into practice, particularly given my health issues.”

“This life-long practice is empowering… The class was so helpful to me, especially with all the changes happening in my life.”

Filed Under: Monthly Musings