The word ‘mindfulness’ itself is fairly bland – and so widely used in media and popular culture that it can be difficult to grasp exactly what is meant by it. Mindfulness is both a formal practice (mindfulness meditation) and an informal practice – (a way of communicating, eating, parenting, etc.)
A common definition is: ’Paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is’.
Or, put another way: ‘Mindfulness helps us to better understand what is happening in our minds so we can respond to our circumstances with better choices, and more clarity….’
I think this excerpt from the Mindful Awareness Research Centre (UCLA) website is helpful: ‘Mindfulness is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience. There are many ways to bring mindfulness into one’s life, such as meditation, yoga, art, or time in nature. Mindfulness can be trained systematically, and can be implemented in daily life, by people of any age, profession or background.
In the last ten years, significant research has shown mindfulness to address health issues such as blood pressure and boost the immune system; increase attention and focus, including aid for those suffering from ADHD; help with difficult mental states such as anxiety and depression, fostering well-being and less emotional reactivity; and thicken the brain in areas in charge of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy.’
Workplace & Stress
It’s been said ‘the mind can lie, the body cannot’. Stress lodges in our body, and often leads to illness and further stress. Occupations that are pressure filled often lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, panicked and fatigued. Mindfulness offers a path for minimizing the damaging affect of stress. By enhancing resiliency, mindfulness practice supports our ability to return to peak performance again and again.
(If you’re curious about the science, clink on this link for a terrific NY Times article: ‘How Meditation Changes the Brain and Body’ outlining the findings of some recent work of Dr. J David Creswell, Director of the Health and Human Performance Centre at Carnegie Mellon University)
Mindfulness practice has been described as a ‘fitness membership for our brain’. We’ve been wired to slip into ‘fright or flight’ mode when we are triggered by a difficult situation. Sometimes this response is helpful, but often it leads to an overreaction.
Many of us enjoy hobbies and interests as an escape on the weekend or end of day. We enjoy these activities because they give our minds a ‘rest’ and we find them pleasurable. Similarly, mindfulness can offer our minds a rest – even in stressful situations.
Where do we go from here?
Mindfulness is often called a ‘practice’. For the vast majority of us, with practice, we can learn to uncover our inherent ability to be present; not ruminating about the past or projecting into the future.
The good and practical news is that Mindfulness can help us ‘down regulate’ our stress response. Science has proven that even small doses of mindfulness practice can actually rewire how our brains respond. In fact, for example, research shows that the part of our brain that regulates our reaction to stress (the amygdala) actually changes in shape and size as a result of a commitment to mindfulness meditation practice.
Curious? Try these 3 Mindful Strategies at Work today:
1. Deep Breaths. Explore the value of belly breathing! This practice can have a direct calming affect when in the throes of a tricky situation or emotion. Most of us practice shallow rapid breathing much of the time. We breathe from our upper chest – especially true when we are feeling anxious or rushed. The trouble is, shallow and rapid breathing mimics the reaction we feel when in a ‘fright or flight’ situation. Breathing from our diaphragm can have an almost immediate positive impact on feelings of stress. Interestingly, we were all expert belly breathers as newborns! Babies breathe from the belly from birth. It’s only as we aged that we reverted to shallow breathing. Breathing from our bellies more efficiently transfers oxygen throughout our body. Try it out!
2. Knowing a Feeling Will Pass. We all experience the rush and flood of ‘hot’ emotions from time to time. For a few days take an inventory of different emotions as they arise. Within the span of a few days many of us ride a wide pendulum swing of emotion. Feelings may range from boredom, longing, fear, contentment, anxiousness, worry, guilt, sadness, joy, fatigue. And on and on. Some feelings linger longer than others. But unless the result of an acute trauma, most feelings eventually pass.
3. Notice your body. This may seems like a silly suggestion. Of course we notice our body – we carry it around all day! However for many of us our body is experienced as separate from our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Over time I have come to appreciate that there is no break in the connection between body and mind. Try this out by scanning for tightness for a few moments in the morning. As the day goes on, check in again – watch how emotion and thoughts can impact the ebb and flow of our energy and bodily sensations.
Beth Wallace is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has 25+ years of operations and senior management and executive background, primarily in the education and software sectors. She has done significant work in all major regions in Canada, and across the US. Since the early 90’s Beth has been working with start up and growing organizations helping them troubleshoot barriers to growth.
Much of Beth’s background is in the software and education sector with significant time leading growth and expansion during the dot-com era. During that period, Beth was named in Chatelaine magazine’s “Who’s Who of Canadian Women”.
Through The Mindful Project, Beth assists others to uncover their natural ability for greater clarity, resiliency, and presence in meeting the challenges of leadership.
Combining her corporate management background with her interest in the benefit and practice of mindfulness, Beth views mindfulness as a gateway to greater presence, intention, action, and ultimately, greater compassion for self and other.
Beth offers mindfulness based programs that emphasize resiliency and growth. The format ranges from presentations and keynotes, to seminars, workshop training, and individual coaching format. Beth also engages in project based in-house consulting.
Beth has a Certificate in Mindful Facilitation through the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA Semel Neuroscience Institute in California. Prior to that, Beth was Associate Publisher of Mindful magazine, where she was instrumental in its launch, collaborating with leading researchers and mindfulness teachers across North America.
Beth has a BBA from Mount Saint Vincent University, and has studied at the graduate level in Adult Education at Dalhousie University. Beth is faculty member of the Atlantic Contemplative Center and regularly publishes articles on mindfulness online.