Mind over Matter: Understanding Mindfulness, Part II

Mindfulness is the practice of careful, nonjudgmental attention to yourself and your world. It is founded on the principals of meditation where one intentionally focuses on the present moment. With practice, you can learn to be more alert, attentive and relaxed. Rather than maintaining focus on various aspects of your life by placing stress on yourself, mindfulness can help you become more centered by facilitating greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Mindful practice can lead to reduced anxiety and greater skill at “paying attention to paying attention.” This provides the time and space for you to stop and choose healthier behaviors rather than to simply react automatically. Studies of mindfulness have even revealed an increase in the size of parts of the brain that regulate emotions after a number of guided mindfulness sessions. Last week, we introduced you to Eric, a teenager working to use mindful techniques to control his anger. His mother found him in the shower fully clothed yelling because he was so mad. Eric asked his mother to leave him alone so he could practice his mindful breathing. Instead of hitting things and lashing out, Eric slowly composed himself. His body slowly relaxed and anger melted away. Learning Mindfulness Technique Adults typically can learn mindfulness concepts through formal instruction. On the other hand, children often learn best through more hands-on, playful and interactive activities. Using demonstration, imagery, music, illustrations, and enjoyable practice is usually most effective. Teens will be more open to these concepts when they feel they have relevance to their lives. This is especially true when they feel acceptance for who they truly are. There are numerous books and websites that explain how to engage with your world more mindfully. The concepts and techniques can be easy to understand and begin to use. However, it is only with ongoing practice and remembering to focus on the present that you reap its full benefits. As Lidia Zylowska, MD writes, “mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment and remembering to come back to the present moment when we become distracted.” The mainstay of mindful practice entails learning to focus on our breath or one of our five senses. This simple process can help you and your child with ADHD or anxiety begin to learn how to maintain attention on the intended or preferred target (i.e. a thought, a feeling or an action) rather than becoming distracted by something extraneous. Even practicing as little as 3 minutes a day can improve attention and mood. It has even been shown to increase the structure of the part of the brain involved in concentration and attention. Fitting Mindfulness into a busy scheduleSimple activities can enhance mindfulnessFor instance, you could turn off all electronics while transporting your child to an activity and have everyone take a short break (a stoplight last 30 to 90 seconds) to observe where they are or look for something never seen before. At the dinner table, announce a moment of silence to eat mindfully. Have everyone slow the rate at which they chew their food; pay attention to its texture, and flavor; and notice as it goes down the throat. While brushing teeth have your children pay attention to the feeling of the brush on their teeth and imagine their teeth getting smoother and cleaner. These seemingly small, inconsequential activities slowly accumulate, like drops in a bucket, strengthening your ability to control your thoughts, feelings and action. With time, you will find yourself and your children interacting in a more calm and thoughtful way. The STOP Technique Eric calmed himself in his bathroom by employing the STOP exercise. It helped him slow down and mindfully focus or connect with himself instead of “automatically” expressing his hurt as anger.

  • He Stopped himself.
  • He Took a breath (several deep breaths actually) and let himself relax.
  • He Observed his behavior, thoughts and feelings.
  • He decided how he really wanted to deal with his situation (how he wanted to proceed).
  • By practicing mindfulness he was beginning to take greater control over himself and his impulses. He was “staying in the now” when it was most effective. He didn’t dwell on his anger for what had just happened in the past and he didn’t fret about what could be done tomorrow. He focused on himself in the here and now. This kept him anchored in the present and guided him to a solution for handling himself more maturely and in a self-caring manner. To his and his mother’s surprise he was developing self-monitoring skills that were giving him control over himself. For more information on Mindfulness: Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean and Kerry Maclean Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda by Lauren Alderfer Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals by Lidia Zylowska, M.D