Family and Consumer Sciences
Hope for the New Year
Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are three fresh ways to help you feel more hopeful in the new year. This combination of mind and body activities serves as the basis of a program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s called mindfulness-based stress reduction. In Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, the rationale and approach used to develop MBSR are provided. He describes this book as a practical guide to common sense ways to cultivate mindfulness and its optimistic and transformative view of human nature. The eight-week MBSR course was first used in a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. There are now over 750 mindfulness-based programs based on the MBSR model offered throughout the United States and around the world. This approach has demonstrated value in the management of pain and stress in medical settings.
Becoming more mindful and practicing meditation and yoga are deceptively simple things to pursue. But they are powerful ways to improve the quality of life for humans in the 21st century. In our not too distant human history, most people spent a great deal of time staring at a fire and thinking about nothing. We face many sources of stress today in a world with little space for silence and just being human. Rather than humans being, we have become humans doing. And much of the time we’re humans simultaneously doing several things. Sources of stress about time, food, money, health and a never-ending list of worries can intrude on our human lives, slowly building to the point where we feel the need for a fresh start. Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are activities anyone can learn and practice throughout a lifetime.
Both meditation and mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Mindfulness is commonly defined as paying attention to what is happening in the present moment on purpose. It is not possible to multi-task and to be mindful at the same time. Paying attention to your physical presence and your surroundings or really observing a series of movements required to perform a daily activity (like brushing your teeth) are examples of ways to be mindful. Focusing on immediate details and becoming a practiced observer gives your mind a break from the chatter of thoughts. Mindfulness expands your perspective and helps you remember who you are.
Meditation can help you learn to be a more skilled manager of your mind. Have you ever noticed how your brain behaves? Do random thoughts cross your mind? Spending even a few minutes in meditation gives your mind a break from mindless chatter. Being able to “turn your mind off” can help you when spontaneous negative thoughts become regular. The inner critic lives in most of us and can appear without warning. When beginning a meditation session, an initial focus on breathing may be used to bring attention to the physical aspects of being. Sometimes a guided body scan is used to become grounded in one’s physical being and the sensations of being pulled by gravity, but supported by a floor or piece of furniture. In sitting meditation, you can use guided audio sessions, sit in silence or attend a class. Like most new activities, attending a class with a gifted instructor, helps you learn what works best for you.
To learn more about yoga, attending classes with a certified instructor is the best way to begin a practice. You might also find books about yoga to help you understand its history and different forms. Yoga can be described as mindful movement. An intentional practice reminds you of your physical being and reacquaints you with your body. In yoga you “inhabit” your body tuning in to different parts. This increased awareness of how your body moves, feels and reacts to situations can be immensely helpful in decreasing your discomfort when stress causes you to become tense in your shoulders or other areas. Yoga allows you to build strength, balance and flexibility through a regular practice that includes poses used for centuries.