Can mindfulness really enhance your health and well-being? Nearly 4.3 million U.S. adults think so. That’s how many engage in ‘mindful practices.’
Popular media refers to mindfulness as any generic process of paying attention in life (mindfully doing the laundry). True mindfulness is more precisely defined as “being fully aware of one’s own mind, body, and surroundings by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment non-judgmentally and without attachment.”
Mindfulness as a practice to improve health originated with research by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. He demystified the traditional Buddhist form of meditation and founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Today, MBSR is used in hospitals, wellness centers, senior centers, inner city schools, colleges, elite sports programs, and rehabilitation clinics around the world.
The MBSR Program helps people learn to be non-reactive to stress, pain or other triggers, and to decentralize it from the focus of their lives. This results in a cascade of hormonal effects that take the body out of high-alert mode. When the body and mind are relaxed, immune function is enhanced and healing can take place.
An 8-week MBSR program is led by a certified teacher experienced in related practices, such as mindful eating, breath awareness, gentle movement, and walking. Programs can also be designed for specific concerns such as post-traumatic stress, grief, addiction, cancer or back pain. In addition to a mini-retreat, small, weekly classes meet for 90 minutes. The course is designed to help participants establish an at-home practice that becomes habitual. Habit is what makes for long-term results.
While in-person programs are ideal, there also are excellent online programs. Make sure to verify that the instructor is certified in MBSR.