Spring Is a Good Time for Mindfulness

by Ann Brand

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is present-moment awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the researcher responsible for bringing mindfulness practice into Western medicine, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness practice is now part of many disciplines including health care, education, mental health, and business.

Mindfulness practice is a mental training. Using the power of our brain’s plasticity, we can shape our brains in positive ways. The more frequently we practice, the stronger the attention muscles in our brain become. The more we practice paying attention in this particular way, both through formal practice and mindfulness in everyday life, the better able we are to be present.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Because of advances in neuroscience, scientists are able to see how mindfulness practices work to change our brain and lead to benefits in physical health, stress reduction, attention, learning and memory, positive emotions, empathy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness practice can help us manage our stress and bring calm, clarity, and peace into our daily lives.

Why is the changing of seasons a good time to focus on mindfulness?
Any time of year is a wonderful time to cultivate our capacity to be mindful. That said, spring offers us the waking up of nature from the quiet sleep of winter. Nature is always in the present moment, and we can use the warm air on our skin, the singing of the birds, and the budding of the trees as anchors to the present moment. This supports us in the practice of being present and showing up to our life as it unfolds instead of the story in our head we are telling about our life.

Nature can be a helpful support to our mindfulness practice in the spring. Here are five things we can use to help us rest in the present moment:

  1. Feel the warm spring sun on your skin.
  2. Savor the taste of spring harvest from the garden.
  3. Breathe in the smells of spring—snow melting, damp earth, spring flowers.
  4. Listen to the sounds of spring-migrating birds, water flowing, kids playing outside.
  5. Open up our awareness as we walk outside, noticing when we get caught up in our thoughts and bringing our attention back to the sensations in our body as we walk.

Mindfulness practice helps us see that no matter how many times we are distracted from the present moment, we can begin again, just like nature starts over each spring in Wisconsin.

 

Ann Brand, PhD, is a mindfulness meditation teacher and lecturer at UW–Stout in the School of Education. She teaches mindfulness classes in Eau Claire at The Center and can be reached at annbrand365@gmail.com.

Meditate Your Heart Healthy

Meditation has been a practice for centuries in the east, and while it’s just gaining popularity in other parts of the world now, research shows that the ancient Yogis were on to something way before their time. Meditation can train the brain to feel more compassion and happiness. A new study out of UW-Madison states that meditating monks showed more activity in the regions of the brain that involved processing empathy when given brain scans while testing emotional cues. So bring more happiness to yourself and others by practicing meditation regularly. It could do the world a whole lot of good.

Renewing Our Connection with Our Highest Sense of Self

By Kenton Whitman | We live in a world that urges us to focus on the external – on the flashing images of a television screen, on the new wonders provided by our technology, on an ever-increasing ability to communicate with people all over the globe. This world brings us many benefits, yet sometimes it can feel like all of that technology is overwhelming, and the world is moving by us so quickly that we can never catch up. Our connection with Self can be lost in the chaos, leaving us with feelings of isolation, confusion, stress, or anxiety.

Two years ago, I embarked on a mission to create a self-development school unlike any other — a program where people could devote themselves to a course of study that would completely transform their approach to Living. Out of that mission grew the Metamorphosis program and the PR/EP program — 11-month intensive training programs that help students develop their fullest emotional, spiritual, and physical potential. These training programs have just opened to the public. Here are some of the training methods used in the programs — training methods that you can use to enhance your own experience of Living.

Opening Your Senses

As we age, our senses tend to take in less and less of the world. It’s not so much about our senses growing duller, but about forgetting how to use them. It’s not difficult to re-train our senses, and the rewards can be astounding–when our senses open up, the world becomes rich with sensation, and every moment is full of beauty and mystery.

To open your senses, sit down and close your eyes, paying attention to one sense at a time. With each sense, take the time to pay attention to the complete spectrum of your perception. With touch, notice the air moving over your face and the pressure of your clothes on your flesh. With hearing, allow your focus to expand outward so that you’re aware of every sound as it blends into a symphony. When you open your eyes to pay attention to your vision, let your vision expand so that you notice the full range of your peripheral vision – a part of our vision that we usually ignore. Taste and smell can likewise be explored with focused attention.

Exercising Without Working Out

We all want to be in the best shape possible, but it can be challenging to find the time or energy for formal workouts. Luckily, there’s another option. It’s called ‘play’. When we develop a playful attitude toward movement, we can make a game of finding the most challenging or interesting way to move through our environment. This might mean sitting on a balance ball or squatting at our desk, climbing trees, parking at the far end of the parking lot, or carrying shopping baskets instead of pushing a cart. If you’re watching a movie at home, try yoga poses or stand on one foot instead of sitting on the couch. You can also give some old childhood favorites a try, from slides to swings to playground equipment. If you take this philosophy far enough, it begins to mimic the ideas of Parkour or wild-running, where participants see the entire world as their jungle-gym.

Developing Patience

This is one of the lost arts of our modern culture. The ability to sit quietly for hours at a time is almost impossible for many of us — we feel that we have too much to do, our minds race in circles, and we soon grow agitated. Yet, rehabilitating our sense of patience can be one of the most rewarding skills we can learn.

At first, sitting quietly or doing nothing can seem like torture. Our minds are used to running on fast-forward, and refuse to be still. Eventually, however, our internal pace slows, and we find that our mind clears, our senses open, and the world takes on an entirely different flavor. Learning patience in nature can be especially rewarding. If we sit quietly for long enough, the disturbance our presence creates in the woods evaporates, and soon animals begin to re-enter the scene. In this way we can experience close encounters with birds, mammals, and insects that would never be available to us when we’re moving at our usual frenetic pace.

One simple exercise is to sit someplace where you will be gifted with a ‘reward’ for your patience. Sitting near bird feeders is a great place to begin. Even a small amount of time spent in stillness, and the bravest of birds (usually the chickadees) will start to venture near, and you’ll be rewarded with the experience of getting up-close-and-personal with some of nature’s most delightful wild animals.

Reconnecting With Nature

Our connection with nature can sometimes feel severed in our world of steel, plastic, and noise. Reconnecting with nature can be as simple as going to a park and sitting on a bench as we watch the squirrels. Even small amounts of time in nature serve to rejuvenate us, calming our minds and helping us to see life issues more clearly.

If we desire a deeper connection with nature, we can learn primitive skills that allow us to engage with nature more intimately. This might mean learning how to set up a tent and camp; or it might mean learning how to make fire without matches or how to feast on edible wild plants; or it could mean learning how to blend and flow in the woods so that we can encounter wild animals and observe the quiet rhythms of nature.

Time for Learning the Art of Living

There are many paths to personal development, and we can approach the journey as a part-time hobby or as the primary focus of our lives. Giving time to yourself and encouraging others to fulfill their own potential makes the world richer for all of us — the more attention we pay to our inner growth, the more we become compassionate, passionate beings. The Chippewa Valley is blessed with a rich offering of teachers, groups, and opportunities for renewing your relationship with your Self and your world. It can seem greedy to take time for ourselves, but devoting yourself to committed self-development is like tending a large garden — you harvest more than you could ever eat yourself, and have plenty to give away to those in need.

Kenton Whitman is a writer, personal trainer, martial arts instructor, life coach, and primitive skills/nature awareness teacher out of Menomonie, WI. His Metamorphosis and PR/EP training programs are now being made available to the public. Visit www.kandrcreative.com to learn more.