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Mindful Awareness to Build Resilience

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” -Thich Nhat Hanh


Take a deep breath. Then another. Feel the sensation of your breath filling your belly and your lungs. Pause. Now feel the sensation of your breath leaving your body. Don’t control it. Just allow things to be as they are. Do this two more times.


Now breathe and as you breathe, extend your awareness beyond your body. How many different sounds can you hear? Try to give each one the same space and awareness.

What sensations do you experience in your body? Emotions? Thoughts? What has changed? What remains the same?


This brief exercise is an example of a mindfulness meditation. For most of you, this is probably not the first meditation you have done. Whether in yoga class, through a spiritual practice, or simply as a means of relaxing, most people are familiar with mindfulness. It is a term that has become very popular nowadays. Where once it was relegated only to the realm of spirituality and religion, mindfulness is now a widely accepted practice, even in the scientific community.


Through a regular mindful practice, we learn not to be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on inside of us and around us. When we bring awareness to what we are directly experiencing through our senses or state of mind, thoughts and emotions, we are being mindful. Mindful breathing and other practices help to decrease anxiety by overriding the “fight, flight, or freeze” response set off by the amygdala. This gives control to the prefrontal cortex and the ability to think first before responding. In effect, the prefrontal cortex balances the amygdala response.


There is a growing body of research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain and prefrontal cortex. According to Dan Siegel, MD in the book the Mindful Brain, “mindfulness is about waking up and even reflecting on the mind itself.” By learning the practice of mindfulness, we are able to direct our attention and actively shape our own minds. Positive effects of mindfulness include: the ability to regulate emotions, heal from emotional problems, improve patterns of thinking, reduce negative mindsets and improve relationships. Mindfulness can also enhance the body’s functioning, including our immune response, stress reactivity and general sense of well-being.


While we all possess the ability to be mindful, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. There are many different avenues for building a daily practice: yoga, mindfulness practices, meditation or prayer. Fortunately, meditation practices are widely available. I have linked to some great resources below.


Resources and Sources

[This post was originally a part of our ongoing newsletter series—Leaning on Your Strengths with Eugenie Lewis]

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