The Power of Mindfulness

By Alissa Eastham, Courier & Press, September 22, 2015 –

Racing home after a busy day at work, you may have noticed the runner turning down the street behind you. With the Evansville Half Marathon a little over a month away, many have been out in full force training to run 13.1 miles in October.

I’ve often heard it said that running a race of that distance is “mind over matter.” I’m discovering firsthand how true that can be as I incorporate mindfulness techniques into my increasingly longer runs.

Of course, you don’t have to be a runner to apply mindfulness to your life. Whether you are training for a half marathon or just trying to race through your day, parents and kids alike can benefit from incorporating mindfulness into their daily routines. Meditation and focus on breathing may be what many regard as mindfulness, but that is only one piece. Ultimately, mindfulness is being intentionally present in the moment. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes mindfulness as a state of awareness without judgment — training your attention to develop calmness and clarity.

ABC News recently reported that a study from UCLA found that behavior and test scores improved in second- and third-graders who practiced mindfulness skills twice a week for 30 minutes. Other studies have found greater control of emotions and lower suspension, expulsion, and dropout rates for students practicing mindfulness techniques. The APA also reports a greater sense of control, better memory, and less stress and anxiety for those practicing on a regular basis.

Just as a runner has to build strength and stamina to prepare her muscles for race day, adults and kids alike must practice mindfulness a little each day to reap benefits in moments most needed (i.e. an adult becoming stressed at work, a student experiencing anxiety at school, or a parent and teen getting frustrated with one another at home).

Mindfulness can be practiced virtually anywhere; even taking a moment at a red light to clear your mind can be a simple way to practice.

Meditation and focus on breathing is only one piece of mindfulness, but it’s a great place to start. First, get comfortable. You don’t have to sit in lotus pose on the floor with your legs crossed and palms up; you can sit on the couch or lay in bed.

Next, focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose. Notice your belly expand, filling with air, as you breathe in. Imagine your breath flowing up and out as you exhale. You may notice the difference in temperature on the tip of your nose as you breathe in and out. Notice any other sensations in your body. When you’re finished, you should feel more relaxed and peaceful.

Some parents choose to practice mindfulness for a few moments in the morning to have a calm start to the day. It can be practiced at any time — folding laundry, making dinner, even washing dishes. The trick is to keep your mind focused. If your mind wanders, acknowledge that you are no longer focused and redirect your thoughts back to the task at hand.

Once you have had some practice, teach your children how to be mindful and practice with them. Mindfulness Coach and Insight Timer are two apps that have an assortment of guided activities to help adults get started or improve their practice. Smiling Mind is an app that teaches children as young as 7 how to practice mindfulness. All of these are available at no cost.

Many other books, apps, and websites are available. Taking the time to be mindful in the midst of a busy life can help you catch your breath, whether you are training for a race or just racing through your day.