What is mindfulness and why does it matter? Rooted in Buddhist tradition, the practice is believed to be over 2,500 years old. Mindfulness need not have any religious component, however. “Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. “It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives.”
Another way of thinking about mindfulness has to do with considering the mind as a muscle. Chances are you’ve spent time training the other various muscles in your body: your biceps, your quads, your pecs, etc. You know how good it feels when these muscles are working at peak performance. If not, you at least understand the purpose of exercising them in order to feel healthy and strong. Now what if you could train your mind the same way? What kinds of benefits might you experience? Increased focus, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, increased empathy and more cognitive flexibility, according to the American Psychological Association.
Let’s go over the reasons why. Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention defined as a meta-cognitive skill. In simple terms, this means, “cognition about one’s cognition that focuses on the monitoring and control of your thoughts.” Nowadays, we need this skillset because our awareness of the present moment is under attack. Distracting stimuli come at us from all directions: push notifications on our phones, Facebook updates, Twitter Direct Messages, video games, not to mention all the work and school obligations vying for our personal bandwidth. Answer this question truthfully. When was the last time you sat through anything, such as a movie or lecture, and didn’t have a conscious thought about something else you need to do or someone else you need to talk to?
Living in the moment through mindfulness re-centers us. It turns off other competing thoughts. It roots us in the present, allowing us to better focus our attention. According to mental health experts, Dr. Kirk Strosahl and Dr. Patricia Robinson, “Research indicates that brain training involving mindfulness practices can strengthen areas of the brain responsible for attention, emotional control, and problem solving… There is even emerging evidence that mindfulness-based brain training produces permanent structural changes in the brain.”
In addition to increased academic performance, mindfulness can have tremendously positive effects when it comes to our emotional outlook. Dr. Patricia C. Broderick’s work in Learning to BREATHE: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance, explores this phenomenon. She suggests there is a difference between knowing “about emotions and knowing your own emotions as they are experienced.” Learning to observe what’s happening in the present moment can help us get away from simply reacting to what’s happening to us. When we practice mindfulness it allows for the opportunity to develop resilience in the face of uncomfortable feelings that might otherwise provoke a negative response. Studies have shown adolescents who display this kind of emotional control are less prone to acting out through violence and/or abusing drugs.
For more information on why teaching mindfulness can help students learning, please visit: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/09/12/why-teaching-mindfulness-benefits-students-learning/
Featured Image taken from: https://www.uhs.umich.edu/mindfulness