By Megan Harshbarger
As society becomes increasingly more health-focused, I find the topic of mindfulness to be quite appropriate. Efforts towards becoming physically healthy is usually approached through physical exercise and eating well. But what about mental health? Although mental health has become more normative in treating disorders, I wonder about those who consider themselves as not experiencing any type of mental disorder, if there is any desire towards obtaining a higher level of mental health.
The common phrase of describing the entire human being is “mind, body, and spirit”. Each of these entities can be utilized to their full potential by a multitude of practices. However, I would like to point out a practice which encompasses all aspects of the mind, body and spirit, that can be enhanced through what is called “mindfulness”.
Interest in the practice of mindfulness has been increasing throughout recent years. The term "mindfulness" was coined by an American psychotherapist named Jon Kabat-Zinn. His writings include a book on this very subject, entitled “Wherever You Go, There You Are." The defining feature of his book was that it was adapted from the Eastern practice of medicine principles (most closely associated with Buddhism) to be free of religious philosophy, and thus appropriate for people from all backgrounds.
What images come to mind when you think of meditation? Some people associate meditation with Buddhist monks sitting in a temple somewhere on a Tibetan mountain, possibly chanting. Kabat-Zinn's book brings to the forefront that mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any moment. Although It can involve various forms of meditation, it can also simply imply a different way of being in the world as we go about our days. At its most basic, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment, and being as aware as possible of how we're feeling, both in terms of bodily sensations and emotions, and what's going on around us.
I live a fast-paced life; at one point I was a full-time student, full-time employee, and full-time mother and wife. I had (and still do) everything I ever wanted, but of course managing the many different facets of life came at a price. Although I was able to keep my head afloat, I was exhausted and stressed. My stress slowly forged into a pit of anxiety, rooted in my gut and working it’s way up to my mind to overwhelm my thought process. As a result, I was over-emotional and and at times irrational.
I don’t think the situation I just described is by any means unusual in today’s world where we are constantly striving to keep up with the everyday demands and pressures imposed on us by our work, our family, and even ourselves. Finally, I started to take time for myself and made more of an effort to practice some form of mindfulness at least once a day.
Interest pertaining to the beneficial effects of mindfulness practice are immense and many studies have been conducted throughout various populations to measure its positive results in people across the lifespan. Recent studies indicate that as little as 12 minutes of meditation a day, over an 8-week period, is enough to create changes in the brain. Mindfulness has shown to reduce levels of the hormone cortisol (which raises blood pressure and the levels of stress).
I have been attempting a mindful lifestyle for almost a month now. I can say that I have experienced a dramatic drop in my anxiety level. I have found that I have more patience as well as a more positive outlook towards life as I have stopped my mind from dwelling on the negative. I understand that I have the ability to change situations solely based upon the way I think. I pay attention to the present moment and become aware of the good that’s always there, waiting to be seen.