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Psychology Lecture Series Focuses on Mindfulness

April Hadley.

By Joseph Hileski- Collegiate Staff

During the talk of the last Psychology Speaker Series of the semester, local expert April Hadley spoke on the benefits of mindfulness.

Hadley is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction instructor and Co-Founder of The Grand Rapids Center For Mindfulness. In her lecture, she explained not only what mindfulness is and how beneficial establishing a daily practice of it can be, she also led the audience through some simple exercises so they could experience the benefits.

Hadley explained that people need tools to deal with the stresses of life and how “mindfulness is a powerful tool that anybody can use to both mitigate and relate to our stress differently.”

Showing the cover of a TIME magazine from a couple of years ago, announcing that there was a “mindful revolution” going on, she said, “that although it can seem like this is a new phenomenon, mindfulness has actually been around for about 2,500 years.”

Hadley said she teaches a program called “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” and that it has over 35 years of research behind it, and one of her favorite areas of study is contemplative neuroscience. She said the science “looks at practices which are contemplative in nature, like mindfulness, centering prayer, and compassion practices, and investigates how they impact the human brain on a neurological level.”

Hadley said, “Neuroscience is finding that quite literally anything you do repeatedly, anything at all, can influence and change the dynamics and shape of the human brain. And so the neurosciences are very hopeful right now because we used to think at one time that the brain you got was the brain you were stuck with.”

Hadley then presented easy exercises that show the audience simple ways that they can directly experience each of the four core benefits of mindfulness.

“The four core benefits are concentration, calmness and ease, clarity, and compassion,”  Hadley said. “Mindfulness has the quality of curiosity, an openness to our experience, whatever it is.”

Hadley then asked the audience “to just pause for one minute and not do anything.”

Hadley then set a timer and the audience was completely quiet and still for the next 60 seconds. She then asked what people noticed. One audience member made a statement about how much his mind wandered from one thing to another.

“There is a hidden benefit of mindfulness, of beginning again, and again, and again, bringing our attention back over and over,” Hadley said. “If you can take this and apply it to other areas of your life, it is the very thing that can transform everything in your life.”

Next she instructed the audience to move on from the bodily sensations and feeling of sitting in the chair to focusing on the sensation of the in and out of breathing, quietly saying, “In these moments of quiet when our attention wanders away, notice and begin again with this very breath.”

Then she guided the audience on to the next skill of calmness and relaxation. Hadley instructed, “to stand up and try to imagine standing in line, but instead of taking out your smartphone, close your eyes and drop your attention down and feel the physical sensations on the bottom of your feet, you can sway back and forth if you need to too better feel the sensation on the bottom of your feet.”

Hadley  said, “In this way we can lessen our anxiety and stress and relax.”

The audience was given time to practice this for 60 seconds.

Moving on to the third skill of clarity, she had the audience practice a way to develop more clarity by purposely focusing on the present moment. Before beginning, she explained,  “We can train our attention where we want it to go, like we did in the first practices of focusing on our breath or even the bottom of our feet. The wonderful thing is your experience of your breath and the bottom of your feet is always stuck in the present moment. It can’t go anywhere else. The present moment is a wonderful moment.”

“We do not live in the past and can’t fast forward to the future,” Hadley emphasized the importance of this. “… It is extremely beneficial for us to actually be in the present moment as much as possible because it’s the only time we’re truly alive.”

“These present moments are vital, precious, and they’re also unrepeatable,” she said. “We can never have the same moment twice, ever.”

“Researchers have found that in just eight weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation we can add grey matter to the prefrontal cortex of our brains, which controls our ability to regulate our emotions and make decisions, forming strong (neurological) connection there. So we can become less reactive and more responsive to life due to the practice of mindfulness meditation.” Hadley said.

“Studies have been done on compassion that show that when we treat ourselves compassionately we can trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin, that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, better known as the cuddle hormone.

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