It’s called a “superpower” by ABC news correspondent and author, Dan Harris, in his animated viral video circulating on the internet.
The biggest Silicon Valley companies are offering classes in it, and they are spreading across the nation. And the just-released new Breathe with Me Barbie sits for daily meditation practice with her breathing necklace in her fluffy cloud pajamas.
“Mindful Mayo'' graces our grocery stores. We can order a “Mindful Meats” burger from restaurants. What’s next? Will “Got Mindfulness?” billboard’s pop up on our commutes?
Let’s call mindfulness “Vitamin M” - it’s taking our society by storm.
The surge of research on mindfulness and its growing list of health benefits contributes to its current rock star popularity. If it were a supplement or pharmaceutical drug, it would be a blockbuster.
Does Everyone Need “Vitamin M?”
If you could take a supplement that was proven to make you healthier and happier, with the following scientifically-proven benefits, would you take it daily?
Benefits of mindfulness:
● stress reduction
● less emotional reactivity
● more cognitive flexibility
● reduced rumination
● increased immune functioning
● increased focus
● improved memory
● increased creativity
● enhanced self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation
● improvement to well-being
● reduction in psychological distress
Most people would probably jump at the chance to take “Vitamin M” if it came in a pill. Of course, mindfulness is better than a vitamin or drug in that it is free, and without side effects - but it does require some effort on our part to enjoy its many profound benefits.
The Far-Reaching Powers of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple life skill that when practiced on a regular basis, can actually change structures and patterns in the brain in lasting, positive ways. Mindfulness increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps you plan and make good decisions, while it calms parts of the brain that activate the stress response. Regular meditation over the long-term has been shown to make areas of the brain that are associated with attention and sensory processing both thicker and more connected.
Put simply, mindfulness helps the brain to achieve optimal, integrated functioning and it also calms the stress response, which builds resilience in the entire body. And the best part is that this happens with a simple process that is always available to us in every moment.
Most definitions of mindfulness involve intentionally paying attention to the present moment with compassion and kindness toward what we notice. So it’s both something you do (a process), and also a state of mind that we can cultivate.
And we do not need to close our eyes or even sit still to be mindful.
Mindfulness is both easy and not easy. It’s not easy for some to remember to practice and sustain this particular type of awareness and focus in our busy and overstimulating world. What is easy and simple about mindful awareness is that it is ready for you at any time you choose - it’s just a shift in attention. And you can practice it while eating, biking, crying, laughing, or dancing.
For adults, some find it helpful to use a range of apps that remind us to stop, pause, breathe, and pay attention. While not essential, apps can serve as training wheels that help us create new habits that can really transform the way we go through our day.
For young children, activity-based mindfulness is recommended, which can be layered throughout the day with short, playful, and fun practices. Children live in present moment awareness more naturally and often than adults, except when children have been through trauma.
For some of us, our past experience of trauma can pull us away from being present with what is, because the “here and now” can be too painful, scary or uncomfortable.
Statistically, a majority of people have been through some sort of trauma by the time they are adults. We need to be aware that a tool like mindfulness can shine the light of awareness on our best self can also shine the light on all of our dark places - and without support, this can be too much for some people.
Anything that triggers our trauma and invokes it into our present can leave us feeling defensive, scared or overwhelmed. So when heightened self-awareness or a mindfulness practice becomes a trigger, we can adjust the focus with care and compassion. With children and adults, a teacher or coach can gently guide them in a different direction. When their nervous system starts to rev up or shut down, we need to recognize what is actually happening, not react, and help them move back into feeling a sense of safety again. We do this by being flexible and adaptable, leading with our own mindfulness and weaving it into daily activities without attachment to how it will look.
Ultimately it is our own mindfulness practice that has the greatest impact on others, rather than any specific technique we teach. When we turn our attention inward on a regular basis we reconnect to and heal our own mind, heart, body and spirit. If we want to really help others feel calm and present, we must start with our breathing and ability to be aware, calm, present and attuned to others.
Becoming a Calm and Attuned Presence
Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, helps us have a more integrated brain - and a calm, regulated state of presence that supports us to pause in between stimulus and response to truly notice what is happening.
When you create this safe and secure place within yourself, you can be a safe haven for others. Thanks to mirror neurons in our brains, children and adults will pick up on your regulated state and like a tuning fork, will mirror that back to you. This co-regulation involves our biological need to be in synch with others and to feel connected and imitate those around us.
Mindfulness can offer you a way back to your own sense of safety and open-heartedness, so you can offer that resonance to others. You can give this gift to people in your life, who can reach a sense of safety and calm, and mirror that back to you and others beyond your circle. In this way, mindfulness and self-regulation becomes reciprocal and contagious.
Mindfulness is an effective self-care strategy that can create a significant ripple effect, which is why it’s important for parents and teachers to learn and model it, and send it forth.
A Bridge to Our Best Self
Most of us are not getting enough “Vitamin M.” In our current fast-paced, busy and stressful world, our nervous systems are constantly being pulled out of the present moment to move faster and meet our pressing needs for survival and safety, much less connection and belonging.
Our economy is designed to draw our attention into endless addictive TV shows, movies, internet sites and social media - and convinces us that we are deficient unless we own that new car, deodorant, cell phone or house. Mindfulness is an important step toward reclaiming our attention, our minds, and our lives from these forces that profit off our consumerism programming and unconsciousness.
Regular mindfulness practice is the start of a journey that can lead us back to our true nature - the best version of ourselves. Beyond reactivity there is love, clarity, creativity and self-acceptance waiting for us. But we need to stick with our practice and keep turning our attention inward.
What Really Matters
What makes life meaningful to most people is fundamentally the presence, clarity and awareness that we bring to our lives - the moments we really pay attention to. The time that we spend connected to others, having bonded relationships, and enjoying awakenings of curiosity, creativity, wonder and awe amidst the everyday - these are what really matter. And when we slow down, get quiet, and really tune into our lives, even our simple and quiet experiences of solitude may one day stand out as among our most precious memories.
Lisa Lewis-Cogswell, M.A., M.S, is a master level trainer for Center for Optimal Brain Integration™ focusing on self-care and mindfulness for both adults and children. Contact us if you would like Lisa to train on mindfulness or self-care with a trauma-informed lens at firstname.lastname@example.org or join us for more resources, blogs and become a part of our COBI™ Community on Facebook (Center for Optimal Brain Integration) or Instagram (Center4OptimalBrainIntegration/COBI) or join our email group list at www.optimalbrainintegration.com.
Lisa is also a consultant, coach and presenter on a variety of wellness topics. To learn more, contact Lisa Lewis-Cogswell at email@example.com