Over the past few weeks I've been reflecting on the changes that I've made that have most greatly impacted my health, and have been reminded frequently that my mindfulness meditation practice may be the single most important health change/habit I've ever made.
Why you ask? Mindfulness has taught me to pause and enjoy the moment. It has allowed me to better understand a problem, to think before I speak, and to process what I'm feeling. It's helped me through athletic events, its kept me focused in stressful situations, got me through +15 hours of quite intense labor for my second child, its kept me level-headed (most of the time) while dealing with a tantrum-ing child, its helped me through some very hard times in relationships.....and it's helped me connect to ME.
What can mindfulness do for you?
Mindfulness alone as a practice is clinically proven (JAMA) to improve: Anxiety, Depression, and Pain.
Mindfulness improves cognition, reduces fatigue, and improves working memory and executive function (Science Direct) and the benefits can be seen in as few as four sessions!
Long term meditation can reduce psychological stress, not only from perception, but physiologically measured by telomerase activity (Science Direct).
Additionally research is finding that mindfulness and meditation can also promote health and well-being. Mindfulness meditation is a specific type of meditation, while it may be what monks practice, it's not a trance state that you have to transcend to in order to see benefit. Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment, without judgment. That's it. You can do it too. What if my mind wanders....well that's kind of the point, your mind will wander - simply bring it back to the present moment and try again. You'll find that overtime your mind wanders less, you're able to just be, and this same focus allows you to be less distracted in real life too. Savoring movements more, enjoying life more, and finding more calm amid the chaos.
I started on my mindfulness journey in 2013 at the nudge of a friend and colleague (Thanks Nicole!) who got me to attend a seminar held by the Penn Center for Mindfulness. I'm type A, super active, and was sure I would not be able to "sit quietly" to myself for a full 20 mins - which we were going to do after the overview of mindfulness, their programs, etc. And needless to say I was shocked that I made it through that first experiment, actually enjoyed it. This first experience with mindfulness piqued my interest, maybe this was something I would be able to do after all...
After that experience my colleague and I were on a mission to get more of this training, to learn more and to share it with our families and coworkers. We saw that it could have great benefit for those of us in demanding, high stress jobs (not to mention those that also had that ever important job of parent, but that wasn't me yet) and got a glimpse of the peace that it brought in the moment.
Through some hard work and creative problem solving, in January 2014 I embarked on my first formal meditation journey in the Foundational program that the Penn Center for Mindfulness runs, led by the founder Michael Baime. He has an amazing story and journey and was a great teacher and we were lucky to have him as the teacher in our space. Side note: In my internal role supporting Vynamic's health and wellness activities I helped to negotiate use of our center city space in return for attendance in the program for Vynamic employees. I committed to this 8 week program fully, and am thankful that I found it while I was pregnant with my first child, because had I embarked on this journey later I'm not sure I would have been as successful! I held true to the required 40 minutes of practice a day, learned many mindfulness techniques like focusing on your breath, doing a body scan, noting, using things in my actual environment to trigger a quick mindfulness exercise, how to be mindful during activities, and more. One of my favorite exercises was one in which you put a little dot sticker on something that caused you stress - we had quite a few laughs about how a person would respond if you put it on their forehead! the point was that when you saw the sticker, you should stop and breathe, rather than stress, but I digress....
Post completing the 8 week mindfulness program I continued practicing daily, I hooked my practice to my train commute when I could, and then added it as a wind down activity to the end of each day. When trying to start a new habit one trick to success (whether it's mindfulness or anything else) is attaching it to something that you already regularly do. I listened to a podcast where they practice a version of meditation, #mindright immediately post workout, which is something I may be trying in my near future too!
I'd like to say that I was able to keep this going, but having a baby derailed me for a bit and turned my schedule on it's head. That being said, once I started to normalize again, I added meditation back into my life and routine. I used the meditations from my mindfulness class for a long time, and then eventually switched to using the Headspace App, which really resonated with me and allowed me to deepen my experience and select tracks focusing on goals like happiness, productivity, or stress - along with the dopamine hit from tracking my progress (with my streak - days in a row that I've meditated) and a running count of the number of minutes I've meditated using the app. **At the time I'm writing this, I'm currently at over 11,000 minutes which breaks down to 184 hours over 685 sessions**
To me, mindfulness has never been intentionally or particularly spiritual - as in feeling connected to God or a high power that you believe in so if that's something that's holding you back don't let it. There are many resources out there, here are a few that I've found and some that I've actually used (*)
A few places to start - Suggested Resources
Ten Percent Happier (with Dan Harris)
Ten Percent Happier Podcast (free)*
Do you practice any kind of meditation or mindfulness? Did I miss a favorite resource in my short list above? I don't want to overwhelm, so this information is focused on mindfulness only but I love learning more and sharing things that work!