I recently had the privilege of presenting on the topic of “Mindfulness in Behavioral Health” to an audience of local physicians. I also believe it is a beneficial learning experience for readers of this column.

The definition of mindfulness, as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of mindfulness-based stress Reduction (MBSR), is “the process of observing the body and mind intentionally, of letting your experiences unfold moment by moment and accepting them as they are.” Mindfulness can also be described as a “psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment,” which one can develop through the practice of meditation and other trainings.

When exploring and considering starting a mindfulness practice, one can choose one or two paths: formal and informal. Formal practices may include sitting meditation, breath awareness, walking meditation, yoga, guided imagery and body scans. Formal mindfulness involves setting specific time aside during the day and being disciplined about the practice.

Informal practices could include washing dishes, parenting, gardening, talking and listening and driving. These are more day-to-day activities which we tend to do automatically, without much thought. There are many researched physical benefits to adopting mindfulness including improving sleep, enhancing the immune system, reducing inflammation, reducing blood pressure and improving digestive microbiome. Some mental benefits also include reducing anxiety, improving depression, enhancing social engagement, improving emotional regulation and increasing competence, positivity and creativity.

Mindfulness can positively impact the autonomic nervous system by allowing one to shift from an anxious, fight or flight state (sympathetic) into a calm state (parasympathetic). This is accomplished through breath awareness and regulation, along with the ability to stay present and focused in the moment.

There are several therapeutic methods that incorporate mindfulness such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and polyvagal therapy. Locally, there are several therapists who are trained in one or more of these applications and could be of assistance to anyone seeking to bring mindfulness into their mental health recovery.

Today, more interest is being shown in mindfulness. There are many resources available from smartphone apps such as CALM, ABIDE and HEADSPACE, to local meditation classes and yoga studios. Mindfulness can be practiced by all faiths, with centering prayer, being a centuries old Christian tradition. It is free and accessible anytime, anywhere, and has no adverse side effect. Consider making mindfulness part of your self-care routine. If you don’t practice self-care, this is a perfect opportunity for you to start.

Williams is a licensed professional clinical counselor at the Psychiatric Center of Northwest Ohio, an affiliate of Blanchard Valley Health System. If you have a mental health question, please send it to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay 45839.