Friday, 22 March 2013

New York Times News: In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds

On March 22nd 2013, The New York Times published an article in the Business>Your Money section titled: In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds.

Here are some of the more interesting quotes:
"Elementary school students practice it. Doctors practice it — and their patients. Prisoners practice it. There’s mindful eating that promises a healthier way of eating. And scans show mindfulness may change the way our brains function and help us improve attention, reduce stress hormones and even bounce back faster from negative information.
“Intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally” is the way that Janice Marturano explains it. Ms. Marturano is a former deputy general counsel and vice president for public responsibility at General Mills, and helped start its Mindful Leadership Forum in 2004. She left a few years ago to start the nonprofit Institute for Mindful Leadership.
What it’s not, she said, is only about reducing stress. Or about emptying our minds of all thoughts. Or about religion. 
“The way it’s presented in the media, people begin to believe it’s a magic pill,” said Christy Matta, author of the book “The Stress Response” (2012, New Harbinger Publications). “I’ll clear my mind and I’ll be peaceful and stress-free. If that’s what people think, they’ll be disappointed.”
Rather, she said, “it takes time and sustained practice to experience the benefits.”
And, she said, if you go into it with the idea of reducing stress, you’re working against the very thing you’re trying to attain, because you’re aiming toward a goal.
Mindfulness, “is about being present,” she said. “You have to do it just to do it. You can’t strive for things.” 

While being aware of your feelings may be nice when drinking a lovely cup of tea or relaxing in a garden, Ms. Matta said, part of mindfulness is also uncomfortable feelings — not trying to change or judge them, but being aware of them. And that may not feel so pleasant. 
...Linda Lantieri, director of the nonprofit group the Inner Resilience Program.
She and others have found that practicing mindfulness can increase attention and focus, and help children respond to stress in a calmer manner, but it also “needs to be part of learning concrete emotional and social skills,” she said. 
There are some good books that offer guidance. Ms. Matta mentioned her own, of course, and “Full Catastrophe Living,” (Delacorte Press, 1990) by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Professor Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is considered one of the foremost experts on the subject.  

But everyone I spoke to said that you need to take a course and perhaps go on a retreat to fully experience and gain value from mindfulness. I realize that the people I talked to tended to teach courses, so maybe they’re a little biased. But it also makes sense to me.
Ms. Marturano, who delivered a presentation on mindfulness at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, compared it to exercise. You can watch a video of how to play tennis or read a book and perhaps even learn to play at a basic level that way. But to get better, you need a teacher. 
...I can see why other people are drawn to it, given that we’re living in a such a fractured, information-overloaded world. We’re looking so far ahead to the next thing, we miss what’s going on in the present.
Mindfulness may not be the answer to every ill. But it may be the answer to some. And I’ll settle for that."

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