An Open Mind to Mindfulness

By Maura Sheedy – 12th Grade, Oakland Catholic High School

Many of us want to increase our self-awareness, attention span, outlook on life, and overall well-being while reducing anxiety and stress. However, many of us do not know where to begin to make changes in these particular areas of our life. Practicing mindfulness is an easy way to solve all of these issues and more.

Dr. Richard King, an alumnus and professor at University of Pittsburgh, has been giving mindfulness workshops at Pittsburgh area libraries, one of which I attended. He also is the founder of mindfulpgh.org. When he was in high school, he became interested in yoga, religion, and philosophy. This led him pursue a psychology degree in college and specialize in learning. He eventually came to be interested in the subject of mindfulness after hearing a lot of research and studies about it. He now practices mindfulness in his own home with his family and is passionate about spreading the practice to others.

Dr. King describes mindfulness as having awareness of yourself, specifically your emotions, feelings, and sensations. By having such awareness of yourself, you are a better-equipped receptor of others and their needs. He explained that our attention is like a flashlight; you can only spotlight your attention on a particular thing at a time. Mindfulness forces you to pay attention and notice each and every detail about that one thing, accept it, and be aware of it. It is a challenge to learn how to focus on only one thing for a certain amount of time since our brains are accustomed to jumping to different thoughts, but practicing mindfulness for more time will make it easier to stay focused and control impulses.  The practice encourages being in the present rather than worrying about the future or what has already happened.

Mindfulness has also been known to reduce many types of mental illnesses. Almost all regular practitioners of mindfulness have higher levels of chemicals that promote hope and happiness and lower levels of chemicals associated with anxiety, stress, and depression. Dr. King believes as mindfulness practices are being implemented in more schools, mental health will be improved in all age groups.  This is most likely because mindfulness reduces your amygdala, a type of nuclei in the brain, making the brain better equipped to deal with concentration and decision-making. Your insula, a part of the brain that deals with attention, grows and enables you to pay attention longer. Brain connections also get stronger as the prefrontal cortex, where planning and complex thoughts happen, enlarges.

Dr. King taught me two practices to try. The first practice, known as “body scan,” focuses on each part of your body – from toes to scalp – noticing all of the sensations in each specific part of your body while breathing deeply. We only focused on one specific part at a time before moving to the next body part. Later, we did another exercise where we breathed deeply for about seven minutes, focusing entirely on our breath. During our inhale and exhale breaths, he suggested either saying “inhale” or “exhale” to yourself or counting on each breath up to ten and then repeating. I found the process soothing and relaxing, and I had never felt so aware of my body and all that it does for me. There are many additional exercises like these that are easy to practice alone or with others and surprisingly easy to do in the comfort of your own home. The benefits from this practice are truly endless and I encourage you to try the practice for yourself.

By completing a mindfulness training workshop and keeping a mindfulness journal for seven days in which you record what you notice for practicing mindfulness for a week, you are eligible to obtain a digital badge through pghcityoflearning.com. If you would to know more about mindfulness, you can check out mindfulpgh.org to see other local events on mindfulness available.


Maura Sheedy 1Maura Sheedy is a rising senior at Oakland Catholic High School who lives in Thornburg.  She previously has been a part of Young Writers Institute.  She considers random things she has seen on the Internet to be her muse for her writing. She enjoys lacrosse, cheer, dance, and blogging.

 

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