Reporting Michele Gillen
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MIAMI (CBS4) – From corporate boardrooms to NBA locker room, many are testing an emerging antidote to stress and it’s silently sweeping the nation. At the heart of the matter- is the human mind — and the mantra to unlock it may be just a breath away.
“We are all running so fast and so hard,” said Valerie York-Zimmerman, a mindful meditation instructor. “It’s very difficult to slow down.”
A growing wave of scientists say the answer and antidote is closer than you think.
“This is cutting edge science,” said Dr. Amishi Jha, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami.
Science that is rooted in a centuries-old movement – it’s called “mindful meditation,” a technique to live mindfully and its essence is to pay attention to the present moment.
“Yes, yes. Absolutely. It can be life transforming. It’s been for me and has for many people,” York-Zimmerman said.
In the golden light of sunset, meeting with students in a South Florida sanctuary — Valerie York- Zimmerman has been on the cutting edge of teaching mindfulness meditation.
“It’s about bringing this mindful awareness into our moment to moment experience throughout the day,” York-Zimmerman said.
It may sound simple, but it’s not. It’s a unique practice of meditation and a radical approach to life that’s blossomed since growing numbers of doctors found it dramatically helped patients living with chronic pain – for which no medicine or medication offered relief.
“In all instances what they found was that their approach to living with chronic pain, their quality of life, their ability to thrive in spite of it changed, because their relationship to pain changed,” York-Zimmerman said.
And, incredibly, that’s not all that may have changed. Studies reviewing the MRI’s of the brain of mediators are showing remarkable clues that the brain can be trained, and ultimately, even mimic and potentially look like the brain of a healthier, younger, person.
“The happy news is that we can actually track the impact of this type of training on the brain functioning. As well as the brain structure,” Jha said. “You look at their brains relative to people who haven’t been practicing mindfulness and there is a very specific set of regions that look healthier in the people that have been practicing.”
Dr. Jha says the reason the research is so exciting is that those same regions of brain, right behind the forehead are the ones that most deteriorate and degrade during aging.
The puzzle researchers are trying to unravel? How is it possible that calming the mind by being still and silent can affect the health of the brain and body?
“What our minds typically do is mental time travel,” Dr. Jha said. “So we’re usually thinking about the past and reliving experiences that have already occurred or we’re in sort of a future focused frenzy about what we’re going to do next.And so a lot of that space of being in the past or the future is tied to our experience of stress.”
And stress is increasingly linked to disease.
Those who practice – stop the time travel, by focusing on their breath.
“It’s the easiest way perhaps to connect yourself to the moment. The breath is the bridge,” York-Zimmerman said.
Added Dr. Jha: “The thing that surprised me the most is how short the time commitment is to be able to see brain changes. You can actually see structural changes in the brain in as short as eight weeks for doing something as simple as focusing on your breath for 30 minutes. And the benefits you see are very specific.”
One student of mindful meditation describes her experience this way: “It has this interesting effect of connecting you with others in a different way. Giving you compassion and making you feel connected to the world.”
Many students professionals in high stress jobs say they are attracted to the practice because they suspected there was a richer way to live life.
Taking the time, to stop time, pays off, for those who normally live by the clock.
Alexander Alembert is a long time meditation student, teacher and practitioner. A South Florida firefighter and interior designer, he sees mindful meditation as a survival tool that allows one to connect to their true essence, and live a richer life. He stops throughout his day, to pay “mindful attention” to his breath which connects him the moment. “Breath is the first act we take the moment we are born and the last act. Breath is the fuel of life,” says Alembert
“People report feeling less stressed, they report feeling like they can focus more at will,” Dr. Jha said.