The word mindfulness is everywhere these days. From Mindful Minerals bath soaps to Good Earth’s Mindful Mints and Epic Burger’s “more mindful burger”, the commoditized cues to explore being mindful are all over the place. Though some critics fear this could be contributing to a kind of “McMindfulness” effect, the seemingly recent phenomenon of mindfulness may be much more than a simple fad.
Presence (not presents) Brings Prosperity
Grounded in centuries-old practices, mindfulness is a single term used to encapsulate a broader shared human experience of what it means to be purely present. It’s this idea that by bringing attention to the existing moment in a way that is nurturing, curious, and kind, we can begin to train a very important skill. This universal capacity is the ability to know what is happening within our whole being (mind:body:emotions:spirit) in any given moment.
Honing this skill through attention training begins to cultivate a connection to our deeper presence, our innate ways of knowing. Opening up this intuitive space allows for the examination of our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the safety of our own wisdom and care. In a way, we begin to befriend ourselves, becoming our own greatest asset.
As we rest deeper into this mindful awareness, we tap into our relaxation response and make room to witness habitual reactions and ways of being. We open doors to explore new ways of relating to others and ourselves, further inviting the freedom to make choices that can potentially help us, and the world around us, to flourish.
Rigorous research has been steadily accumulating, particularly over the past decade, in support of the application of mindfulness practices, like meditation, in several settings including healthcare, corporate life, education, US military training, and correctional facilities. Continuously emerging clinical and scientific studies are beginning to reveal the impact of mindfulness practices on our health at multiple levels of physiology, neuroanatomy, immunology, psychology, behavior, and more.
By alleviating the toll that stress can take, we know mind body activities like meditation may help to manage high blood pressure, decrease perceptions of chronic pain, support the treatment of auto-immune disorders like psoriasis, improve immunity, prevent the relapse of depression, improve functioning through chronic diseases like cancer, change addictive behaviors, and the list goes on. We are even beginning to discover the ability of these practices to positively affect the ways in which our genes are expressed and slow the rate of cellular aging. Not only do these practices have the ability to improve our own wellbeing, they can impact population health issues by reducing healthcare utilization, potentially saving costs and resources.
Dose of Reality
It’s easy to be carried away on the bandwagon, but like every potentially helpful intervention, mindfulness must be taken into context with the myriad of other interdependent factors influencing our health and wellbeing. At a personal level that includes a number of self-care practices, health-seeking behaviors, and safety measures. It extends into the interpersonal level through the development of supportive and meaningful relationships. From a broader perspective this includes institutional and systemic practices relating to our built and natural environments, workplaces, community dynamics, media, and policies regarding a wide range of issues.
As we know from a systems perspective, some of the most effective interventions can be those that exhibit a “top-down” approach. While broader ranging shifts in policies and institutional dynamics such as protecting our environment, improving access to clean water and healthy foods, making healthcare more accessible and affordable, or improving workplace environments and making wellness a priority in corporations, etc. are all excellent, high-impact endeavors, these are also interventions at levels that can often take a long time to change.
A Valuable Key to Prevention?
While policymakers and administrators continue to work on prioritizing and constructing optimal environments for the creation of health, adopting behaviors that support us personally may be an important step we each can make to extend the quantity and quality of our lives. At an individual level, considering how many interacting systems within your own being may be impacted by mindfulness, perhaps engaging in mind body practices that counteract the physiologic effects of stress, build resilience, and even may support the adoption of healthy behaviors while curbing the unhealthy ones, can be a synergistic “top-down” approach for your own holistic wellness.
By giving yourself permission to cultivate mindful awareness, you can impact your physical health, your mood, the functioning of your mind, and spirit. You can better understand the mental patterns and automatic habits that may be limiting you. You can begin opening yourself to the possibility for changes that support you and your loved ones, like maybe starting that new exercise regime, adding in a few more vegetables each day, or simply calling your grandmother more often to catch up.
And then maybe after 20-40 minutes of peace, you might just break open that tin of Divine Lotus Mindful Pleasures tea, sit back, and sip on the complex beauty of your life.
Rashmi S. Bismark
I'm a preventive medicine physician specialized in mindfulness, lifestyle, and community health. I'm a yoga teacher, an educator, a researcher, a devoted mom and expatriate wife, living a blessed global nomad life.