MINDFULNESS AND INNER BEAUTY

A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.

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MINDFULNESS FOR SENIORS

You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….

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MINDFULNESS FOR KIDS AND THEIR ADULTS

Recent surveys describe an alarming level of stress in the United States. Anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicide are increasing – not just in adults, but also in children and youth. Public health officials and educators are looking for ways to limit the harm caused by the fast pace of modern life and the endless stream of disturbing news. Mindfulness practice has emerged as an important tool that can benefit children, teachers and parents.


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness consists of intentionally maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, body sensations and surrounding environment with openness, acceptance and curiosity. It’s simple – but not easy.


What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a portable tool for effectively coping with stress. Research shows mindfulness improves attention, impulse control, emotional resilience and memory. It strengthens the “mental muscle” to bring attention and focus back to the task at hand, whether it is a child dealing with test anxiety, a teacher dealing with guns in schools or a parent dealing with their own chronic disease. Mindfulness can help us catch the downward spiral of worry, rumination, awfulizing and catastrophizing, preventing or reducing recurrent bouts of anxiety, panic, depression and substance abuse.   

Mindfulness helps us accept and even forgive ourselves for harmful habits and actions and, in the process, cultivate empathy, forgiveness and compassion for others who are on this same life journey, doing the best they can. By mindfully paying attention to our emotions, we learn how fleeting they are and learn to see how we cling to pleasant emotions we like and resist or deny unpleasant emotions we don’t like. Relaxation is a common side benefit of mindfulness practice, though mindful attention can also be brought to activity and movement.


Mindfulness Benefits for Children

A child’s autonomic nervous system responds to the stress of a math test in the same way it responds to actual physical danger. Children need tools to decrease the fight-or-flight stress response and increase the rest-and-digest relaxation response. Like adults, children also need to balance their goal-oriented, achievement-focused doing mode with their calm, peaceful, quiet being mode. By helping them cope with stress, mindfulness helps many children reduce distractibility and hyperactivity, learn better, score higher on tests and reach their full potential. Children get more grounded, slow down, relax their bodies, quiet their minds and open their hearts. They learn to regulate their unskillful physical,

mental and emotional reactivity and become more skillfully responsive at school and at home. At-risk children with disabilities and those living in poverty or unstable or violent homes, homeless shelters or juvenile detention centers can learn these conditions do not define them. They are not their life circumstances. They are not their diagnosis.


Mindfulness Benefits for Teachers

Roughly half a million U.S. teachers leave the profession each year due to chronic stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. Teachers feel tremendous pressure to do their best for their students in an age of classroom disrespect, school violence and unfriendly state legislative actions. Teachers who train to teach mindfulness in their classrooms notice a difference in their own stress management, resilience, self-awareness, emotion regulation and interpersonal communication skills. As they help children speak kindly and listen quietly, they deepen their own capacity for effective, compassionate communication. Especially gratifying (and humbling) for teachers are the moments when children remind them to slow down, take a breath, chill and just relax.


Mindfulness Benefits for Parents

Many parents have stress-related chronic conditions. Common among them are anxiety, depression, headache, sleep disturbance, pain conditions and digestive and inflammatory disorders. Most mindfulness skills kids learn in school are portable. Even very young children can learn mindful breathing to manage stress, anger, fear and sadness, increasing their emotional intelligence at an early age. This behavior can be a model for parents and siblings who can learn from and practice with the mindful child in the house. Inspired by their children’s progress toward becoming a mindful child, parents can be motivated to formally study and practice mindfulness as well, creating a mindful family. In classes I teach for adults, I often hear stories from parents whose children want to practice the home assignments along with them.


Heartfulness

In many Asian languages, the word for heart and mind are the same. Thus, it is said that mindfulness is also heartfulness. The growth of self-awareness that occurs with regular mindfulness practice helps children and adults touch and grow their warm interior feelings of love, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness, empathy and compassion. This is the basis for the Mindfulness-Based Kindness Curriculum for Preschoolers of the Center for Healthy Minds. Adults and children of all ages have the capacity to cultivate heartfulness and all its associated virtuous personality traits.


Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Adults)

Paying attention to the body and the breath are basic introductory mindfulness practices. We train the mind to pay attention by using the grounded dependability of the body. Even though our mind may be in some other place, our body is always here. Even though our mind may be in the past or future, the body is always in the present. Our body is always here and now. We train in feeling the physical sensations in the body, especially noticing the presence of opposite sensations, such as warmth and coolness, heaviness and lightness, comfort and discomfort.


As we gain confidence in experiencing the simultaneous presence of opposite physical sensations, we can transfer that skill to our thoughts and emotions. Children can experience the simultaneous presence of test anxiety and the joy of learning. Adults can experience the simultaneous presence of depression and gratitude for the love in their life.


I have made audio recordings for “Soft Belly Breathing” and “Body Scan.” Below are links to these introductory mindfulness practices. I have also provided links to resources created by Aetna, a major health insurer, as part of the Aetna Foundation’s public awareness campaign promoting mindfulness for children and throughout society. Mindfulness is a natural human capacity that kids, teachers and parents can cultivate – and it can change everything.


Sources and Resources


DR. JOHN PATTERSON

Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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