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Mindfulness makes for better living

Staff writer

Shannon Hoffer believes in mindfulness. She lives it. When she is mindful, she is anchored to the present.

“Growing up in Marion I connected to the present moment by participating in sports and playing piano, flute, and singing,” Hoffer said. “I love the way music makes me feel, good or bad.”

Some say mindfulness is the latest self-help fad. Others say it has broad appeal and rich history as part of the Buddhism tradition.

Basically, mindfulness is the training of the brain to stay in the present moment. It has become an attractive technique in a high-stress, multi-task-oriented culture. Perhaps most attractive of all, it’s free and easy for anyone to do at home.

Hoffer, a critical care nurse at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, uses yoga, simple meditation, music, and nature “to invoke the realm of mindfulness.”

“When I sing or play sports or do yoga my mind is attached to what my body is doing. My breath and the awareness of inhales and exhales helps seal the connection between the mind and the body,” Hoffer said. “You see, the body is always connected to the present, it’s the mind that can wander and travel to so many places. This can cause fear, anxiety, stress, and depression.”

Mindful meditation techniques include focusing on one’s breathing, or even imagining a cloud that floats away carrying a negative, nagging thought.

In fact, as more people turn to mindful meditation to help manage health issues, the Journal of the American Medical Association examined 47 studies to determine whether this ancient Eastern practice can produce measurable health benefits. It found that mindfulness practices have a moderate but consistent beneficial effect on anxiety, depression and pain across multiple studies.

Mindfulness techniques can’t cure cancer, but they can help cancer victims cope, the JAMA analysis found. It also found that in many studies mindfulness meditation wasn’t any more effective than medication or exercise. There also was little evidence to say that meditation helps with substance abuse, sleep or weight issues.

Michelle Raine, a psychologist who practices individual and group therapy at Prairie View in Newton, said mindfulness can be effective as part of a larger therapeutic program such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

In therapy, mindfulness is an acceptance tool used to help patients more easily identify what in their world can be changed and what cannot. Becoming present to our emotions allow us to more realistically regulate them, including acting to change one’s situation, Raine said.

“It’s helping people to ask for what their needs are, and speaking up without being overly aggressive or passive,” Raine said. “Mindfulness is somewhat of a cornerstone in the work that we do. It allows one to be more aware of when he or she is having maladaptive thoughts, to be more attentive to important emotions, to gain insight into behaviors, to learn when to use various skills as well as to evaluate the skills’ effectiveness. We must have this self-awareness to facilitate change.

Also, practicing mindfulness regularly allows patients to gain an increased sense of calmness and acceptance.

When you are able to observe and accept the moment (both internally with emotions and thoughts as well as in your environment), you have a sense of peace that anyone would benefit from in the fast pace of today,” Raine said.

Being truly mindful leads to a truer understanding of ourselves, Hoffer said.

“Mindfulness can be a very honest look at one’s self, thoughts, and behaviors,” Hoffer said. “You learn what the body does or does not like to eat or drink. You may discover who your true friends are. Maybe you become aware of a trait or behavior that is self-destructive that could be damaging you and your family.”

However, because therapy or even meditation isn’t required to be mindful, Hoffer said that many hobbies anchor folks to the present moment and aid in their psychological well-being, including fixing cars, hunting, golfing, baking, and painting.

“From there,” Hoffer said, “you can have the knowledge of what makes you happy!”

Last modified Jan. 22, 2015

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