What is Mindfulness?

By: Ron Gengler, Chief Clinical Officer

During this time of ever changing and 24/7 information through traditional news sources and social media we can and are flooded.  We are tasked with determining what is accurate, what is embellished, what is sensationalized and what is just plain wrong. 

I was listening to a news station and a caller was relaying an event that was racially charged.  The host instead of wanting to ask for more details, thus validating the racial comments by the caller, asked; “Is that really true?”  The call stumbled and it was clear the racially charged event was fabricated.  The call ended and the host commented that if you make a comment on my show you need to back it up with facts.  I was impressed that the host appeared to be mindful and did not impulsively validate the caller.

So how would learning to be mindful help in the above situation?  Mindfulness is all about being non-judgmental and being present in the here and now.  Learning to notice your surroundings and being in tune with what your senses are noticing.  We can learn to quickly recognize bodily sensations that are indicators that our stress level is increasing.  In the mindfulness world we learn to control the fight, flight or freeze reactions of our brain and body. 

You can search “mindfulness” on-line and find hundreds of resources free of charge on activities that help you develop your mindfulness skills.  Mindfulness is not an innate skill, it is something that must be practiced.  I used to coach high school soccer.  One of the favorite phrases on practice was: “Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.”  Of course you want to practice skills correctly so you do not develop a permanent skill incorrectly. 

Practice just listening to sounds for 30-60 seconds.  Do not judge the sound, just notice it and move on to the next one.  After practicing this a few times you will be surprised as what you miss.  Go outside and try it today.

Another one to practice is to just notice your thoughts for a minute.  Just notice each thought as if you were sitting next to a slow moving river and the thoughts are floating down the river.  Don’t focus on or judge the thought, just notice it and wait for the next one.  You will learn there are thoughts you have throughout the day that really need your attention and others that are probably not worth your time or even worse, they are unhelpful and damaging. 

One that I practiced a lot when first learning to be mindful is to describe.  Try this, look at an object in front of you (not this blog) and try to describe to someone how to drawl the object without telling them what they are drawing.  For example you want them to draw a square.  How would you start the description, where on the piece of paper would you want them to start, how long would you want them to draw each line?  Try it with a friend and see how long it actually takes.  That is being mindful. 

One of the most famous mindfulness activities is deep controlled breathing.   As a children’s therapist we called this “belly breathing”, breathing while involving the diaphragm.  I learned that the exhale is the most important part of deep breathing.  When I teach belly breathing I explain to breathing in slowly to a county of four and exhale slowly to a count of five to six.  A good friend, who is a choir director, taught me to try to breathe in slowly to a count of 10 and exhale to a count of 12.  The bottom line is we can control our fight, flight or freeze reactions as we learn to control our breathing.  It is hard for the reactive part of your brain to spin out of control if your brain is sensing you have controlled breaths. 

Go practice, have fun, be non-judgmental and find something that works for you.

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