By Trainer/Instructor Kevin Murnane
Personally, I have just come off a very busy time in my life. In June I received by graduate degree in mental health counseling. For most of the year prior to that I was juggling school (reading, papers, presentations, etc), work (teaching fitness classes and working with clients privately one-on-one), and commuting to the Bronx four days a week for my internship assignment, counseling children at a special education pre-school as part of my graduate study, and trying to devote what extra time I could to be with my husband, who I barely ever saw during the week.
Needless to say, there were many moments when I was STRESSED OUT!
I explained all of this to my coworker and told her about some of the self-care techniques I used to help me get through that hectic time. Of course, there are the usual tips: exercising regularly (check out this blog post by my other good friend and coworker, Morgana, for ways to keep your workout routine safe and balanced), getting enough sleep, eating well, etc. But something that really helped me was practicing MINDFULNESS and BREATHING.
What is mindfulness?
With roots in Buddhist theory, mindfulness is the intentional, accepting, and nonjudgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring at the present moment. Mindfulness practice guides you, through training in breathing and meditation techniques, to learn how to purposefully control your attention. Through this attention, you can learn to increase openness and decrease strong reactions to stress and anxiety. Mindfulness techniques have been adopted by psychologists as effective supplements for cognitive behavioral therapy, most notably by Dr. Marsha Linehan in developing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), with mindfulness as a core foundation for skills training in learning increased emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness in treatment for people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The techniques have proven to be effective for treatment of other issues as well, including depression, substance and alcohol dependence, and eating disorders, among others.
I believe the practice of mindfulness is beneficial for everyone. What I love about mindfulness is that it focuses attention on the connection between body and mind, and it encourages deep breathing as a way to calm you down. It seems simple, but research is showing that slowing down your breath can actually alter your brain structure in a positive way. Scientific studies, using advanced brain imaging techniques, have measured people’s brain waves during deep breathing exercises, and they saw an increase in alpha, theta, and delta waves, which all have a decreased frequency compared to the beta waves that we operate with normally. In fact, the alpha state is considered the ideal state for learning, while people are more open, relaxed, and receptive when in the theta state, and delta waves are associated with deep sleep. Increasing these waves can increase concentration, focus, and make you more relaxed. Think of it as good MENTAL hygiene.
Below, I listed the resources that I shared with my coworker about getting started with a practice in mindfulness:
Mindfulness Mobile Apps for Smart Phones
- Stop, Breathe, and Think
- Mindfulness Training App
- Headspace (first 10 sessions are free)
- Relax Melodies (you can mix & match different soothing sounds in order to relax)
Free Mindfulness Meditation Online
All of the smart phone applications are free or fairly inexpensive and there is a plethora of literature out there about these practices if you’re curious to learn more. Of course we know that breathing is vital for our survival, but now you have the knowledge and tools to practice deeper breathing that is actually good for you and your brain!