The Growing World of Mindfulness

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I love to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning. And I’m getting better at them…yeah, me! But one of the clues in today’s puzzle let me know that my personal and professional worlds are colliding. Actually, they already had; after all, I take myself with me wherever I go, but when the answer to a crossword puzzle clue is AMYGDALA…well, no further proof is necessary.

AMYGDALA is a word I teach when explaining basic brain science as a part of mindfulness sessions. It kind of goes something like this:

  • You know how when you were a little kid you always said, “You’re not the boss of me.” Well, congratulations; touch your forehead. You just met the boss of you. This is your prefrontal cortex. This is where you plan, organize, and learn new things.”
  • Now, point to the sides of your head behind your ears. This is another part of your brain, and it’s actually on both sides of your head. The hippocampus–think hippo…really BIG; think campus…really BIG–are shaped kind of like a seahorse and are one of the memory centers of your brain. That’s where you remember stuff.
  • The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus LOVE to work together.
    • I need to write a report…and this is how I’ll do it.
    • I want to talk mom and dad (or my boss) into believing this is a really good idea, and this is what I’ll say.
  • Now, point again to the sides of your head behind your ears. Here are these little things on each side of your brain that kind of look like little almonds. They’re called the amygdala. Those are the reactive centers of your brain….

And then the blah, blah, blah. In this very simplified version of brain science, the kind kindergarten kids will understand, I explain how I first used brain science to remember how to spell the word amygdala. And I explain how I compare the fight-flight-freeze reactions of the amygdala to what you do when the school’s fire alarm starts wailing. (Drop whatever else you’re doing and just keep yourself safe.)

When I first started teaching mindfulness and self-care, I would say that more than just a few acquaintances thought I had lost my mind. They didn’t get it. Why in the world would I try to teach something that very few people seemed to understand? Who even needed mindfulness? And, wasn’t it only for hippy, whoo-whoo type people? The simple answer to all of these questions was NO.

Science has taught us that the benefits of a mindfulness practice can improve overall health and well-being. Mindfulness can help decrease emotional reactivity and improve empathy for self and others. The practice can also help decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and negative thinking patterns, while, at the same time, help improve sleep quality, focus, or attention. Lastly, reductions in blood pressure, heart and brain problems, and various imflammations all add up to benefits that are worth the effort.

Mindfulness is simple, secular, and scientifically supported. And, now, it even helps me complete the New York Times crossword puzzle! I’m pretty sure it simply doesn’t get much better than that!

Happy puzzling to you!

Dr. W


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