What is mindfulness?
That depends on whom you ask! Here is a definition by John Kabat-Zin, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts. “Mindfulness is the opposite of being on autopilot.“
Specifically, mindfulness is:
- Paying attention on purpose
- In the moment
- While being nonjudgmental
The thing we are paying attention to is our own responses. It’s our sensations, thoughts, and feelings that emerge in any given situation. So we can mindfully drink a tea or mindfully discuss politics.
Mindfulness is not…
Mindfulness is not a religion. You do not have to believe or follow any rules to be mindful.
Mindfulness is not zoning out or emptying your mind of thoughts. It is being aware of the thoughts that pass by.
Mindfulness is not fixed or tense. It is fluid, allowing your awareness to take in whatever is happening at the present moment.
It is a form of meditation that has been studied extensively in North America.
Why should your child practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been shown to improve both physical and emotional ailments. It may seem strange, but mindfulness has been shown to:
- improve the immune system, sleep, and digestion,
- decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and illness duration and frequency,
- improve mental function and memory, and relationships,
- decrease depression, anxiety, anger, hostility, self-consciousness, and impulsiveness
- increase frequency and intensity of positive emotions like happiness, optimism, gratefulness,
- and increase life satisfaction and feelings of competence and self-confidence.
Plus, kids who practice mindfulness tend to do better at school. Many of these benefits may be linked to lower stress levels. And mindfulness does lower stress.
How does mindfulness decrease stress?
There is something interesting about focussing on the present moment. When we focus on ‘now’ it is extremely difficult to also be anxious about the future or depressed about the past. Scientific experiments have reinforced this theory.
While being mindful, people tend to slow down their breathing. And as you likely know, slow deep breaths stimulate our vagus nerve. This stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the system that reduces heart rate and blood pressure.
Being non-judgemental also helps us distance ourselves from the impact of our thoughts feelings. It is the difference between “I am stupid” and “I feel stupid right now.” It’s the difference between “I am angry” and “I have an angry feeling right now.” When we can distance ourselves from our thoughts and feelings, we are able to recognize the temporary nature of the situation. And this is calming.
Need more convincing?
Science has proven that experienced meditators physically impact their brains and their genes. Brain scans have shown that a thicker middle prefrontal region in mindfulness practitioners. That’s the area of the brain used in executive function. After eight hours of intensive practice, there was a reduction in the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
This week we look at some easy activities that help our kids develop mindfulness. This is a skill that will benefit your children throughout their entire lives.
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