People often ask what lifestyle strategy has the biggest impact on wellbeing.  More often than not, the answer has something to do with mindfulness.   In my own life, developing a practice of mindfulness has improved the quality of my life more than any other single lifestyle change.    

Mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “comes from paying attention on purpose in the present moment as if your life depended on it and doing it without judging.”  You see it turns out that most of us pay very little attention to the actual moment we are living.  Instead we spend almost every waking moment thinking about what happened in the past and worrying about or planning the future.  It turns out living in the moment just doesn’t come naturally.  Equally challenging to living in the present moment is doing so without judging.  As Ellen Langer’s research on mindfulness notes, our minds are addicted to categorizing things as good or bad, painful or pleasurable, something we like or don’t like. 

The National Science Foundation estimates that your mind has 12,000-60,000 thoughts each and everyday.  You may believe that it is a blessing that you are not aware of each and every thought as it rises and falls in your consciousness.  But becoming more conscious of your daily thoughts is particularly important because of the strong connection between your mind and your body.   Because of this connection, learning to observe and manage your mind is an important skill.

In 1976, Herbert Benson published The Relaxation Response,  documenting his research on the body’s reaction to stress and more importantly a simple method to help the body relax.  The body normally can return to a state of equilibrium after a stressful event.   But the chronic stress of modern living often inhibits the body’s natural ability and this results in a variety of stress related diseases.  As it turns out, the simple method Benson identified to help our body relax has been used for thousands of years:  meditation.

Meditation is one technique for living more mindfully.  And as it turns out, meditation is one of the least expensive and most beneficial strategies you can add to your lifestyle.   Research on the benefits of meditating regularly is compelling and includes enhancements in longevity and emotional wellbeing as well as improved physical health.  Studies have specifically shown meditation:

  •  Mobilizes inner strength and self-understanding
  • Increases self confidence and sense of self
  • Facilitates clearer thinking and decision-making
  • Promotes creativity
  • Enhances sense of peace and wellbeing
  • Enhances empathy
  • Reduces stress and facilitates relaxation
  • Reduces anxiety, depression
  • Reduces blood pressure and risk of other forms of heart disease
  • Reduces symptoms associated with low serotonin levels (depression, obesity, insomnia   and headaches)
  • Provides relief for allergies, arthritis, indigestion, insomnia
  • Improves immune system
  • Improves level of attention and memory

Recent research utilizing imaging studies demonstrates that areas of the brain actually enlarge after practicing meditation for an average of 27 minutes a day for eight weeks.   More information on this study is in the Research Highlights section of the Spring 2011 newsletter under the "Newsletter" tab.

There are many resources available to help you learn more about mindfulness and meditation.  Attending a workshop on mindfulness or meditation is a great way to learn about and try using meditation.  Age Well Be Well is offering several mindfulness workshops this spring in Reading, Boston and Cape Cod.  You will also find recommendations on books and CDs that focus on teaching about mindfulness and meditation below.

Living mindfully is transformative and influences all aspects of health and wellbeing.  No matter where you are on the health and wellness continuum, mindfulness will provide tangible benefits and improve the quality of your life.