Mindfulness:  What’s the big deal?

Dr. Teri Davis

The word mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days. Doctors and therapists talk about it. Neuroscientists and behavior researchers talk about it. Teachers and Fortune 500 executives bring it into classrooms and boardrooms.

What is it? Mindfulness is a way of paying attention and it is an inner state that is the result of paying attention in that way; paying attention on purpose to the present moment. This may sound quite simple but when we have an intention to pay attention to our present moment experience we soon notice that our minds have minds of their own. No sooner have we settled into paying attention to something like the physical sensations of our breathing than we notice that our minds have drifted to something else—maybe a memory, an image, an inner dialogue or maybe a plan for some future action. Our minds aren’t naturally drawn to this precise moment unless something really important is going on. Although the way I see it, there’s nothing more important than breathing.

Mindfulness is often referred to as a practice. It is a learned set of skills that can be cultivated over time by practicing. Practicing what? Practicing paying attention to the direct experience of our lives unfolding moment by moment. And people often start by paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing because the breath is remarkably portable and we can only breathe in the present moment. So we pay attention on purpose to the precise physical sensations of breathing and when we notice that our minds have wandered away, we bring our attention back to the breath. And we do this hundreds of times. Every time we get distracted and notice it and bring our attention back to this moment, we increase our capacity for mindfulness. We make it easier to do it again, to simply return our awareness to our lives as they are unfolding here in the present moment.

The brain is an organ of experience; it is molded and shaped by every experience we have. And the more often we have a particular experience, the easier it is to have it again. We become good at what we practice; if we practice judgment and irritation, we get good at anger and avoidance; if we practice calmly abiding in the present moment instead of trying desperately to make it be other than it is, we get good at acceptance and equanimity. Neuroscientists report the neuroplasticity of our brains, how they change structurally and functionally over the entire span of our lives. Practicing mindfulness is a way to use our minds to change our brains and these changes in our brains bring about changes in our minds.

Present moment awareness is a state of mind. With repeated experience states can become traits. Scientific research shows mindful traits to be beneficial for the mind, the body and relationships. Some of these benefits are as follows:

The Mind: increased sense of wellbeing, deeper sense of purpose, equanimity or balance, increased resilience to stress

The Body: brain growth and changes, normalizing of blood pressure and heart rate, improved immune functioning

Relationships: enhanced relational health with increased empathy and enhanced capacity to be open to the internal states of ourselves and others and to respond in a more accepting and loving way

Learn about the mind, the brain and mindfulness in an upcoming class taught by Dr. Teri Davis. Experience various mindful awareness practices and cultivate your own attentional skills. Use your mind to change your brain to change your mind. Dr. Davis is a naturopathic physician and has been teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for six years.

A four week class will be held in the Sonoran Room at the MountainView Clubhouse from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Tuesdays starting October 7 and continuing on October 14, 21 and 28. Class size is limited. For more information contact Dr. Davis at 520-404-6685.

To register for the classes contact Betty Hughes at 520-818-0177 or [email protected].