Too much of a stretch for the letter J?
Don’t care! Poetic license!
J is for the author and psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the book Full Catastrophe Living and a huge proponent of mindfulness (no, it doesn’t really start with a j, silent or otherwise).
Although I haven’t actually finished reading the book yet (it’s a monster!), I am becoming more and more interested in the idea of mindfulness. Or more than idea, really– the science of mindfulness. (It’s a science that literally has it’s own journal, peer-reviewed and PubMed-indexed. Dang.) It’s another one of those things that keeps coming up over and over and over again… and the universe only has to put something in my face so many times before I actually take notice.
Would I have admitted to mindfulness being a legitimate science even 6 months ago? Absolutely not. The excellent thing about being an actual scientist (despite my work place’s unwillingness to call me one– only scientists can be trusted with a per diem!) is that I’m totally cool with allowing the evidence to change my mind. With regard to mindfulness, my mind is just about completely changed.
And I’m not the only scientist who feels that way. As I was contemplating mindfulness as a topic for the letter J (because… J… right…), I came across this Humans of New York (HONY) post.
Mindfulness, inner voice, meditation, introspection– it’s all kind of the same thing. The new age mumbo jumbo that has always intrigued me, yet turned me away because… well, because I am a scientist, darn it! And I thought I was supposed to be against all that!
According to this guy though, lots of scientists are into mindfulness and the like. And I am certainly convinced of that after attending the HMO Research Network (HMORN) conference back at the beginning of May. I saw several oral and poster presentations presenting hard evidence* suggesting that mindfulness practices improve physiological measures of health in patients with diabetes, heart disease, and several psychological conditions. It’s certainly not a panacea, as nothing is, but to think about the power our minds have over our bodies is amazing. To see evidence of it? Even more so.
For example, people with diabetes could literally reduce their hemoglobin A1c by 1 – 2% over the course of an 8 week mindfulness practice. If you’re familiar with glycemic control in the context of diabetes, that will undoubtedly impress you. That’s a number that takes considerable time and effort to change, and it’s a really good measure of diabetes management.
Because I’m always quoting Mumford and Sons:
In these bodies you will live, in these bodies you will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.
— Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons
Isn’t that it? Mindfulness? Investing in yourself… love here meaning time and energy; a moment for yourself.
I know, I sound like I drank the Kool-Aid and that’s that. Not the case, I assure you.
For months my therapist has been gently suggesting meditation and breathing and such… mindfulness practices. Every time, I nodded my head like a good girl, an agreeable girl, but in my head, I thought he might be Looney Toons… at least a little too “new age” for my liking.
He knew I’d come around though. And I did. Good call, Dr. C!
HMORN piqued my interest for seriously and I started reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book. Then, all at once, we had a grand rounds on mindfulness and I had a therapy appointment where once more Dr. C tried to convince me in his nonchalant way that mindfulness is where it’s at… the confluence of all these events was somewhat striking and it wasn’t until then that I realized I didn’t have to be good at mindfulness right away and that I could ease into it.
Doing something I’m not good at?! Ugh! That’s not how I prefer to operate, but at least it seemed slightly less daunting.
So I started doing 4-7-8 breathing… all the time. In the middle of the day, when I’m feeling stressed, first thing in the morning, and before I go to sleep. It’s so easy, even a skeptical nerd like me can do it. I just close my eyes, breath in for 4 counts, hold it for 7, then exhale for 8… times three in a row… several times a day. I don’t know why it works, but it does. When I open my eyes again, I feel like I’m coming back from somewhere else. Every time. Try it!
Here’s a video from the real deal (i.e. not me) Dr. Andrew Weil. My favorite part is in the beginning when he is describing the yogic way you’re supposed to breath and says, “no idea what that means in terms of Western physiology, but they’re the ones who invented it, so we should do what they say.”
I like that– just because you don’t know why it works, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
I don’t envision myself sitting on a pillow for hours at a time in a quest for nirvana, but I certainly don’t think it would hurt to take baby steps toward a more mindful style of living. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindful-based stress reduction seems to be a good start!
*I say hard evidence here to mean something that is measurable, but relatively un-bias-able. There are, of course, all sorts of validated self-report questionnaires that can be used to measure outcomes of mindfulness practices, but I always wonder about how “real” that is… likely because it’s not my field, not my comfort zone. But in the studies I’m discussing here, people were actually drawing blood and making laboratory-based measurements of different compounds. That’s what I mean by “hard” evidence.
Not in the prison way.
And since we’re talking about mindfulness, let’s briefly touch on the complete opposite for a moment– mindlessness. Or, as I like to call it, The Bachelorette. A couple of my Marshfield friends got me into it this season and I’m hooked, it’s like checking out completely for two hours and liking it. And it makes Mondays so much better! Plus: girls night, every Monday! Tonight we even had oatmeal cream pies (mmmm… Little Debbie). Anyway, Marcus and Brian… right?! RIGHT?! I wish I could say Josh on account of being at the letter J, but… I just can’t. Enough now.