iMindfulness; A Way to Better Health in the Digital Age

Ways to transform a young person’s devotion to their mobile device into something more meaningful.

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

As a long-time practitioner of meditation, centering prayer and mindfulness, I have taken the liberty of coining the word iMindfulness.  There is a good reason for my new term.  As the younger generation recently has been tagged iGen, it seems only right that the meditation practice they are being exposed to in a variety of activities be similarly branded.  Just to clarify, I am being a bit sardonic. But I still want to lay claim to the word.

There has been much hand-wringing by older folks who belong to The Silent Generation, their later cohort Baby Boomers, and even from some Generation Xers about the youngsters who will inherit the planet.  While we range from curmudgeons who brag that they ‘don’t even know how to turn on a computer’ to those who look up from there smartphones less than teenagers, there is one thing we seem to have in common.  We are fully engaged in relieving our anxiety about aging and mortality by complaining to our young replacements that we lived in better times and that they are going about life in the wrong way. This is an old tradition called Intergenerational Carping.  The Silent Generation was told that comic books would ruin their brains.  Boomers were similarly warned about TV. So, despite the fact that griping can sometimes be one of my default activities, I would like to align myself with our beneficiaries.

Kids are better off than we think.  The ongoing Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey conducted every two years by the federal government proves this to be true across categories.  Young people watch television less, use addictive substances less, fight less, have unprotected sex less, and smoke cigarettes less than we did.  Studies also show that they are smarter, more creative and better communicators than us.   They are not without problems though.  Childhood and adolescent obesity is on the rise. Teen depression and suicide rates are skyrocketing. And, often following the lead of their elders, kids spend too much time in front of smartphones and other handheld devices.  A recent study links increased screen time for teens to ADHD symptoms.  These things concern me.  I propose that Mindfulness and iMindfulness could be a way to overcome some of these problems.

Mindfulness and iMindfulness; Plug in to Recharge and Reboot

Mindfulness is a practice which teaches us how to live in the moment and without judgment. It broadens perspective and increases awareness of what is going on around us while enabling us to be more in tune with our thoughts and feelings. It allows us to slow down and helps us regulate or to be in better control of emotions and stress levels. It also introduces a level of reflection and self-awareness that people often don’t have when they’re scrolling through feeds online.

iMindfulness is simply digital mindfulness.  It uses the very devices which might be causing problems to lead young and older users into the Mindful Revolution and discover new secrets of health and happiness. There is certainly a growing body of evidence suggesting clear benefits.  Headspace and Smiling Mind are two online sites and apps which are great for kids while 10% Happier is popular with adults.   There are many others from which to choose.  This much is certain.  We are not going to put down our mobile devices anytime soon.  So why not use them to improve and maintain our neurological and psychological well-being! Because that is just what a regular mindfulness practice does. It is a fine way to recharge and reboot in an overstimulated world.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom” ~ Victor Frankl

Breathing; Good Habits are that Easy

Journalist, author, and ABC Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris  encourages the use of mindfulness meditation.  His practice started by simply watching his breath and meditating.  By doing so, he stopped using drugs and resolved the conflict between meditation and his mega-busy competitive career.  In his book and podcasts, he asserts that you can be a busy and ambitious person while still gaining all of the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness.  It only takes ten minutes a day to reduce stress, increase your focus and increase happiness.  This is a pretty simple good habit to build because you don’t have to give up anything in its place.  All you have to do is begin your daily online adventure by opening up Headspace (or other mindfulness apps) and give yourself a positive boost to wellness. With that, you are on your way to becoming iMindful.

Mindfulness uses the breath (inhaling and exhaling) as an object of concentration.  When you focus on breathing you quickly become aware of your Monkey Mind which tends to jump from one thing to another. This simple attentiveness brings you back to the present moment and the richness of here and now.  Concentrating on breathing is a good antidote for restlessness, anxiety, and even anger while helping you to relax.  There is an immediate benefit to your physical and mental state.

Here is how to start as outlined by Diana Winston of Greater Good Science Center:

  • Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.
  • Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.
  • Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
  • Be kind to your wandering mind. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
  • Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
  • Check in before you check out. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.

Though mindfulness meditation is not a habit that is goal oriented there are certain other gains achieved rather quickly by a regular ten minute practice.  Chief among these are that you will no longer be so attracted to being distracted.  Your inner and outer spaces become more interesting than your cyber-adventures.   Kristin Neff, Ph.D. a leading researcher reported that even informal mindfulness practice was shown to be quite powerful in increasing self-compassion. Research does show that mindfulness is dose-dependent.  Like exercise, the more you do it the better the outcome. Every little bit helps.

Using iMindfulness to Decrease Cyber Negatives and Increase Happiness

It has been pretty well established that too much screen time can be linked to some rather scary mental and physical health problems.  There are over-zealous researchers like psychologist Jean Twenge who might lead us to believe that almost every fabric of society is at risk due to mobile devices in the hands of Millennials and iGens.  The jury is still out on many of these studies.  But there is good science which confirms that mindfulness has benefits that can counter or reverse the damage done by our cyber devices.  Forbes recently identified six of these major benefits:

1. Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety

In a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study, 93 individuals with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to an 8-week group intervention with mindfulness-based stress reduction.  The group members had a significant reduction in anxiety.

2. Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias

In a 2015 Central Michigan University study by Professor Adam Lueke, participants listened to either a mindfulness or a control audio. In this study, mindfulness meditation caused an increase in state mindfulness and a decrease in implicit race and age bias.

3. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy May Prevent And Treat Depression

Professor Willem Kuyken, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Oxford conducted a study which found that Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helped to prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication did

4. Mindfulness Increases Body Satisfaction 

Women who engaged in mindfulness meditation were shown in a study by researchers Ellen R. Albertson, Kristin D. Neff and Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, to experience a reduction in body dissatisfaction, body shame and contingent self-worth based on appearance, as well as greater gains in self-compassion and body appreciation

5. Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition

In a 2010 study published in Consciousness and Cognition Journal, researchers assigned 24 people in the intervention group. They received four sessions of mindfulness meditation training. The control had 25 people, and this group listened to an audiobook. Results showed that both the mindfulness meditation training group and the control group showed improved mood, but only meditation training reduced fatigue and anxiety and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory , and executive functioning. Researchers concluded, “Our findings suggest that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”

6. Mindfulness Meditation Helps The Brain Reduce Distractions

Training the mind to focus and concentrate is becoming more critical than ever in this 24/7 world where our attention is being pulled in 100 different directions at once. In a Harvard study, researchers reported that “brain cells use particular frequencies, or waves, to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. One frequency, the alpha rhythm, is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight , and sound in the brain’s outermost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.”

In this study, participants went through an eight-week mindfulness training program. At the conclusion of the eight-week program, those who completed the mindfulness meditation training “made faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm” than those in the control group. 

Start Your iMindfulness Practice Today

Not so many years ago, we had to seek out mentors and teachers of meditation.  I have sent clients to places like Snowmass, Colorado and on numerous rather expensive week long (and longer) retreats.  But now it’s easy to learn the basics of mindfulness meditation through iMindfulness.  There are both fee based and free courses, apps, YouTube Videos, podcasts and eBooks available to anyone who is interested .  The only challenge is deciding to make it a daily habit.  And, I have found through my own practice that this challenge is minimal when just tacking it on to our already established habit of checking social media, playing games or answering messages. You should soon find, as I have that you will be more aware of yourself and your surroundings.  You will be more in control of your emotions during offline activities too.  You might surprise yourself and enjoy life more fully.

Posted by Robert Jones

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