Mindful Mondays in GGC's Center for Teaching Excellence

Spring 2020: Mondays, January 13 - May 18

Note that due to GGC's modified operations, Mindful Mondays will be cancelled for the rest of the semester.

Do you typically feel like you’re being pulled in a dozen different directions at once, with no time or energy to find your balance? Make a small (but potentially rewarding) investment in yourself this year and join us in the Center for Teaching Excellence for Mindful Mondays. These weekly mindfulness sessions are intended to give you a chance to just sit still and breathe for a while – to relax, de-stress, and re-center yourself.

Why would I want to start meditating?

Some of the scientifically proven benefits of regular mindfulness meditation include:

  • Decreased stress (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005; Speca, Carlson, Goodey, & Angen, 2000)
  • Decreased anxiety (Hoge, Bui, Marques, Metcalf, Morris, Robinaugh, Worthington, Pollack, & Simon, 2013; Arias, Steinberg, Banga, & Trestman, 2006; Miller, Fletcher, & Kabat-Zinn, 1995)
  • Decreased depression (Kuyken, Hayes, Barrett, Byng, Dalgleish, Kessler, Lewis, Watkins, Brejcha, Cardy, Causley, Cowderoy, Evans, Gradinger, Kaur, Lanham, Morant, Richards, Shah, Sutton, Vicary, Weaver, Wilks, Williams, Taylor, & Byford, 2015; Ramel, Goldin, Carmona, & McQuaid, 2004)
  • Increased focus and attention (Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak, & Ostergren, 2011; Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010; Slagter, Lutz, Greischar, Francis, Nieuwenhuis, Davis, & Davidson, 2007; Jha, Krompinger, & Baime, 2005)
  • Increased introspective ability (Sze, Gyurak, Yuan, & Levenson, 2010)
  • Increased positive emotion (Frederickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008)
  • Increased body satisfaction (Albertson, Neff, & Dill-Shackleford, 2014)
  • Reduced implicit age and race bias (Lueke & Gibson, 2014)
  • Increased emotional intelligence and social connection (Frederickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008; Hutcherson, Seppala, & Gross, 2008)
  • Increased ability to regulate emotions (Jazaieri, Jinpa, McGonigal, Rosenberg, Finkelstein, Simon-Thomas, Cullen, Doty, Gross, & Goldin, 2012)
  • Increased empathy and compassion (Weng, Fox, Shackman, Stodola, Caldwell, Olson, Rogers, & Davidson, 2013; Jazaieri, Jinpa, McGonigal, Rosenberg, Finkelstein, Simon-Thomas, Cullen, Doty, Gross, & Goldin, 2012)
  • Increased creativity (Zedelius & Schooler, 2015)
  • Improved memory (Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010)
  • Increased multitasking ability (Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak, & Ostergren, 2011)
  • Increased immune function (Pace, Negi, Adame, Cole, Sivilli, Brown, Issa, & Raison, 2008; Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosenkranz, Muller, Santorelli, Urbanowski, Harrington, Bonus, & Sheridan, 2003)
  • Decreased inflammation at the cellular level (Malarkey, Jarjoura, & Klatt, 2012; Rosenkranz, Davidson, MacCoon, Sheridan, Kalin, & Lutz, 2012)

Long-term meditation has been linked to:

  • Increased thickness in the cortex, an area that is important for general cognitive function (Lazar, Kerr, Wasserman, Gray, Greve, Treadway, McGarvey, Quinn, Dusek, Benson, Rauch, Moore, & Fischl, 2005)
  • Increased gray matter in the left hippocampus, an area involved in learning and memory (Holzel, Carmody, Vangel, Congleton, Yerramsetti, Gard, & Lazar, 2011)
  • Increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex and right hippocampus, areas involved in emotional regulation, positive emotions, and response control (Luders, Toga, Lepore, & Gaser, 2008)
  • Denser matter in the brain stem, an area that is linked to cardiorespiratory control (Vestergaard-Poulsen, van Beek, Skewes, Bjarkam, Stubberup, Bertelsen, & Reopstorff, 2009)

In order to see any of these benefits, however, you must practice mindfulness, meaning that it must occur regularly and often. Most of the findings mentioned above were reported from studies on the practice of mindfulness over a period of five to eight weeks or more.

So mindfulness can (and really should) be considered a healthy practice, just like eating a balanced diet of non-processed foods, drinking enough water, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep; and just like these healthy practices, you will only see the benefits of mindfulness after putting it into practice for an extended period.

This does not mean that your mindfulness practice has to be a huge commitment, however; even a brief (10-minute) daily practice can result in more efficient cognition and better self-regulation. And, like exercise, once you start practicing regularly (and seeing the benefits in your own life), your mindfulness practice will stop feeling like something you should do and become something that you actually look forward to.

Ok, but what IS mindfulness?

Consider the following story (a classic parable from Zen Buddhism):

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and continued on his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted to touch women, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I left that woman at the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

This is how our minds generally work – we are hardly ever truly present in any given moment: there are so many demands on our time and attention – traffic, work, news, family – that we are always caught up in thoughts about the past or the future rather than simply being here in the present moment; this is what we call the Monkey Mind. Living in a constantly connected world only makes this worse.

By observing the Monkey Mind, you start to become aware of just how much it controls your experience – and you begin to realize that you don’t actually have to let it do so. Mindfulness is, to put it simply, taking a few moments for deliberate reflection on the current state of your mind.

So how exactly do you practice mindfulness?

Traditional mindfulness meditation involves focusing on a single object of attention – typically the breath, although it could also be a pebble, a candle flame, the sounds around you, the sensations in your body, a mantra that you repeat in your head, or an image that you hold in your mind. Our breath is probably the most convenient thing to focus on, however (after all, we take it with us wherever we go), so that’s what we will focus on in our sessions.

As we relax and focus on our breath, thoughts, sensations, and emotions will naturally arise. Rather than getting caught up in these distractions and following them down their respective rabbit holes, we simply acknowledge them and then return our focus to the breath. Although it sounds simple, this may seem like an impossible task when you first start meditating; once you start trying to focus on your breathing, your mind starts throwing all sorts of distractions at you - that's our old friend, the Monkey Mind.

Note that as we focus on the breath, we don't try to control our breathing, but to simply be aware of it. The same goes for our thoughts: as more distractions arise (and they inevitably will...), we don't resist them or try to force them away; we simply acknowledge them (in a gentle, non-judgmental way) and return our focus to the breath.

That’s really all there is to it.

So are you interested in trying this out for yourself? Then join us in the CTE for Mindful Mondays! We will have two sessions each Monday; one from 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m., and another from 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Each hour will be broken into two half-hour periods. In the first half-hour, a short introduction will be followed by a short meditation, which will be followed by a short period for reflection / comments / Q&A. In the second half-hour, a silent meditation (10 - 15 minutes) will be followed by a short period for reflection / comments / Q&A. These sessions are open to all GGC faculty and staff.

Schedule for the morning session:

  • 9:30 - 9:40 - introduction / instruction
  • 9:40 - 9:50 - guided meditation
  • 9:50 - 9:55 - silent meditation
  • 9:55 - 10:00 - reflection / comments / Q&A
  • 10:00 - 10:30 - silent meditation

Schedule for the afternoon session:

  • 1:30 - 1:40 - introduction / instruction
  • 1:40 - 1:50 - guided meditation
  • 1:50 - 1:55 - silent meditation
  • 1:55 - 2:00 - reflection / comments / Q&A
  • 2:00 - 2:30 - silent meditation

You do not have to stay for the full hour, or even for a full half hour - come for ten or fifteen minutes if you like, or for however long you are able to stay. If you have already participated in an introductory session and would like more time to meditate, however, you are welcome to come and sit through the entire session. Complete beginners are welcome, as are experienced practitioners.

Some mindfulness resources.

Sign up for the Mindfulness Mailing List for occasional emails on mindfulness / meditation information, events, and opportunities at GGC, in the Gwinnett / Atlanta area, or online.

If you have any questions about Mindful Mondays, please contact the CTE.