Mindfulness as the Next Public Health Revolution
Decades ago it was not smoking and physical exercise. Now it's mental training.
Posted May 16, 2019
If history is any guide, it is not only possible, but likely, for an entire generation of people to be misinformed about certain crucial aspects of our health. In the 1940s and 1950s, there were plenty of commercials with doctors smoking cigarettes in their offices. Camel was the best cigarette brand among doctors. Likewise, there were significantly fewer gyms, as the benefits of physical exercise were not as well known, and many respected doctors did not know physical exercise was essential to a healthy lifestyle. It wasn't uncommon for people who ran regularly to be ostracized by their friends, family, or communities.
Aside from physical exercise, abstaining from smoking, and others such as brushing your teeth, having protected sex, and eating well, are examples of a certain type of generational blindness; humans in given time periods simply weren't aware that the aforementioned habits were central to a healthy, happy, and long life.
If we heed the mindfulness research, it's becoming abundantly clear that mindfulness meditation as a deliberate form of mental training is poised to be the next public health revolution. Yes, it has been catching on over the last two decades, but still has a long way to go. Fortunately, although most schools do not teach children mindfulness meditation, many are starting to. Many mindfulness apps such as Waking up and Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm, and 10% happier, are going viral.
The mind is all we have to experience our world; it is the filter for everything we perceive and do. Its quality ultimately determines that of our lives. Mindfulness meditation, a deliberate form of mental training, enables us to use our attention in ways that enhance our personal and professional relationships. It also fosters flexibility, creativity, and equanimity. It opens doors we would not have detected otherwise. It gives us more direct control over our most precious resource, our attention.
We go to gym to prevent illness and maintain physical health. Unfortunately many only learn mindfulness after developing mental health issues. Mindfulness and mental training practices, just like going to the gym, work best to prevent, reduce, and curb health issues.
The recent mindfulness boom, not only in psychology, psychotherapy, science, education, but also pop culture and tech, has underscored how needlessly unsatisfied, distracted, anxious, depressed, and disgruntled we have become as humans. Many mental health issues can be traced back to regretting the past and dreading the future, when the only actual moment we ever have to feel joy and peace is now. Happiness lives in the present moment. Personally, I noticed that the more I practiced, the more flexibility and choice I had in responding to what used to feel so stressful before, such as being cut off in traffic or something not going as planned. Taking just 10-20 minutes daily, or even less, 5 minutes a few times a weekly to practice actually made me feel more productive, attentive, perceptive, centered, and happy in my day.
A little effort can go along way. You can join the revolution before the rest of the world catches on; mental training is just as important, if not more important, than physical exercise. A lot of the world, especially the Western world, just doesn't know it yet.