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Smart: inside and out

October 18, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

If you're my age or older, you probably remember the scene in "A League of Her Own" in which Tom Hanks as manager of a World War II era women's baseball team yells at a sobbing player, "There's no crying in baseball!"?

I recently covered an event with a few other reporters, and at the end, the subjects of the report were receiving hugs from the other journalists. Everything inside me screamed, "There's no hugging in journalism!"?and I?ghosted before the risk of hugging got too close.

It wasn't because I didn't like the people. It's not that I don't like hugs; I'm actually very cuddly. It wasn't because I'm a cold fish. It was because actually I have big emotions, and I?feel it's part of my job to keep them in check. But maybe I went too far, to the extent of pretending I don't care.

Of course I care. Probably too much.

There was a time I wouldn't have even given a situation like this much thought.

But from there, I wanted to get better at dealing with all kinds of people.

There's all kinds of advice out there on how to get better. Mindfulness, I have learned, fixes your brain, reduces stress, and is the rare, research-proven technique that physically alters your brain.

They are using this a lot with veterans who have PTSD and traumatic brain injury; mindfulness is actually fixing their brains.

How??

Researchers from the University of British Columbia recently pooled data from more than 20 studies to understand how practicing mindfulness affects the brain. While the researchers found significant changes in eight brain regions, there are two regions that are of particular importance to us.

The hippocampus, which, among other things, is responsible for resilience in the face of setbacks and challenges. The hippocampus is readily damaged by stress, making it a need area for most people.

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is responsible for self-control. It enables you to resist distractions, to focus, and to avoid impulsivity in order to work efficiently and make great decisions. The ACC is also responsible for flexibility, and people who have problems in this brain area are known to stick to ineffective problem-solving strategies when they should be adjusting their approach.

Mindfulness is a simple, yet effective form of meditation that enables you to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness are more focused, even when they are not meditating. Mindfulness is an excellent technique to reduce stress because it allows you to stop feeling out of control, to stop jumping from one thought to the next, and to stop ruminating on negative thoughts. Overall, it's a great way to make it through your busy day in a calm and productive manner.

Just as doing curls increases muscle density in your biceps, practicing mindfulness increases the density of brain matter where it counts. Mindfulness is perhaps the only technique that can change your brain in this way, which produces a ripple of other positive effects. You don't have to do 60-80 minutes a day like I?do. I have a lot of repairs to make. You can reap the benefits of mindfulness in a few minutes a day.

Gandhi was once with a group of followers who inquired about his schedule. He told them, "I need to set aside at least one hour each day to meditate." They were vexed by this and told him, "There's no way you have that much time!" He responded, "Well, if that's the case, then I need to set aside two hours a day to meditate."

Like Gandhi, you'll soon find that mindfulness is one of very few things that are well worth your precious time, and the busier you are, the more important it is to have a clear mind if you want to be productive.

Mindfulness is the simple act of focusing all of your attention on the present. This requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment. This way, life doesn't pass you by.

You can do this by focusing on your breathing. Don't breathe in any particular way, but when you do, notice the small pauses between the in and out breaths and focus on noticing those. Try to be in a place with few distractions. You can start with 2-3 minutes and work up from there as you choose.

You can also go for a walk. Focus on each step. Feel your legs move and your feet hit the ground.

For any of these techniques, don't worry if other, distracted thoughts enter your head. Just have a word handy, "Thinking,"?notice that you're having thoughts, and turn off the never-ending stream of thoughts that normally dominate your attention.

Any moment when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or stuck on something is the perfect moment to practice mindfulness. Just stop what you're doing, let the thoughts go for a moment, and practice your favorite mindfulness technique (breathing, walking, or focusing on body sensaations. Mindfulness is starting to change the world, one mind at a time.

 
 
 

 

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