Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening “in the moment.” It is noticing what is going on both inside and outside oneself, and how the two are related—how what happens to us influences our thoughts and emotions, and how what we feel determines how we perceive and respond to what is going on around us. Being mindful of our thoughts and emotions as they occur can help us respond more clearly to life’s challenges, rather than react reflexively.
Mind-Body Medicine (MBM) is a field of medicine that utilizes the connection between mind and body to improve overall health and well-being. Mindfulness is a major component of mind-body medicine, and many MBM practices can, in turn, help develop mindfulness.
How are Mindfulness and Mind-Body Medicine Practiced?
Examples of MBM practices for both children and adults include, among others:
- Guided Imagery
- Autogenic Training
- Mindful Eating
With children, songs, games, and other fun activities can also be used to foster mindfulness and self-awareness. Because children have such wonderful imaginations, many mind-body activities can often come easily to them. Moreover, children naturally incorporate some mindfulness in their play—whether they are mindfully listening as the seeker in Marco Polo, or practicing focused stillness in a game of hide-and-seek. And when mindfulness skills are taught in fun, engaging ways, we can tap into this inherent ability, allowing the practices to develop just as naturally.
How Does It Work?
The Stress Response
When we are stressed—i.e., as a parent dealing with a colicky baby, or a child struggling with troublesome friendships—our bodies make a stress hormone called cortisol. Over time, cortisol can have negative effects on our bodies, from decreased concentration and memory, to anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, sugar cravings, decreased immune function, and more. Mindfulness and mind-body techniques give us tools to decrease stress and prevent or recover from the negative effects of cortisol. Some of these tools work to decrease stress in the moment by acting on the breath or nervous system, allowing our bodies and minds to relax and regroup. Other practices help over time by teaching us to be more aware of ourselves and what really matters to us in each moment.
Reflection & Processing
A key component to the benefit of Mindfulness over time is the act of reflection. Thinking about how a particular mindfulness activity made one feel is crucial to recognizing the change in emotional or physical sensations that took place and, thus, the power of the mindfulness activity. Children, teens, and adults alike can reflect on their experiences in their own ways. And, if mindfulness is practiced in a group setting, hearing others reflect on their experiences can help both a child and an adult process their own experiences in a new light.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Just as physical exercise can build muscle, practicing mindfulness and MBM can make lasting changes in the brain. Research has shown that experienced meditators can produce heightened activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for focus and compassion–they are able to pay attention and feel empathy more readily and easily—implying that regular mindfulness practice can produce lasting changes in both what we do and who we are.
What is it good for?
Mindfulness and mind-body techniques have been shown to positively affect:
- Day-to-day stress
- Anxiety and Depression
- Executive function and focus
- Stress of living with chronic disease
- Pain control
- Focus in sports & other activities
- Immune function
- Sleep disturbances
- Burnout prevention
- Relationship maintenance
- Paying attention to what’s important in life