Demystifying Mindfulness

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Elizabeth Krusen is a certified health coach and meditation instructor with extensive training on mindfulness. She offers free 15-minute consultations to recommend the best approach for you or your family to start on the path to a more mindful life.

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is awareness, paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgment. We become impartial observers of our minds and environment.

Can you explain what that means?
A good analogy is what athletes term “being in the zone”: their mind and body are aligned and completely focused on the task at hand; they are engaged in the moment, free from distractions internal and external. As a result, the quality of their performance and enjoyment are enhanced. 

How does this apply to my daily life?
When we are mindful, we are able to live in the present fully and completely. Whether this means watching a sunset, snuggling with a loved one, cooking dinner, washing hands, eating a meal. When we are fully engaged in an experience, we appreciate each moment; as a result, ordinary events become extraordinary, and we are more peaceful and joyful. 

We are also able to less reactive - to create space between stimulus and response so we are able to respond rather than react. For example, rather than flying off the handle at our toddler changing for the fourth time before school, we are able to take a step back and understand that this is her way of asserting her independence. When we are in a disagreement with our spouse, we are able to pause and look at things from his point of view. When we are cut off in traffic, we are able to breath and realize that retaliating will have no positive outcome. 

What are the health benefits of being mindful?
The benefits of mindfulness are extensive and the list continues to grow. Studies have proven its effectiveness in decreasing pain, ADHD, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, addiction and disease; while increasing, attention, peace, joy, and overall wellbeing.  

I understand that diet and exercise are important- do I need mindfulness too?
Diet, exercise and mindfulness are interdependent parts of the wellness trifecta: mind, body and spirit. It is very important to nurture your body with healthy foods and movement, but attending to the spirit - the heart and soul - is an equally important component. Mindfulness can be viewed as a practice that gets to the root of your true identity. When our mind is calm and clear and our body healthy and strong, we are better able to examine and understand who we really are; we are much more likely not only to set meaningful goals, but also to lead a life that aligns with those intentions. In this way, we are more likely to be successful with diet and exercise when we are mindful, and the opposite is also true.  

The world is a competitive place - how does mindfulness factor into this environment? 
As stated above, being mindful is similar to “being in the zone”. Physiologically, when our brain is taxed with stress, multitasking and over-stimulation, our prefrontal cortex - the command center of our brain - is unable to function; in studies IQ scores are shown to drop as much as 20 points when the brain is taxed in these ways, in environments that mimic modern society. As a result, people resort to pills and therapy, and addiction is rampant. Mindfulness allows us to literally re-wire the brain and reshape its gray matter. It is a healthy and lasting alternative to replace the stress response with the relaxation response and enhance focus, efficiency and performance but also find more peace and joy.

I suffer from anxiety. Hoe does mindfulness help with that?
Anxiety does not exist in the present moment but is the result of the mind trying to control the future or undo the past. The more we engage in the present moment and understand the patterns of our mind, of our anxiety, the more we are able to create new thought and behavior patterns; anxiety does not go away but our relationship with it changes so we are able to better manage it.

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Meditation refers to the act of contemplation, specifically of concentrating on the spirit, which can be understood as the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character relating to the soul. There are many forms of meditation and mindfulness is one of them.