May 15 2017

An Introduction to Mindfulness


On Sunday, October 1st, ISHI will be offering it’s first workshop focused on mindfulness lead by Amy Jeanguenat. Though the concept of mindfulness has been gaining popularity in recent years, some of you may not yet be familiar with the term, so we’ve asked Amy to define mindfulness and its many benefits.





For those who may not have heard of it, can you briefly describe what mindfulness is and what practicing mindfulness entails?

Have you ever experienced arriving at work and you don’t even remember driving there, misplacing the same items everyday (e.g. phone, keys, glasses, wallet), short-tempered or defensive when you don’t mean to be, or eating when bored or distressed? These are some examples of being mindless. Mindfulness can be described as bringing awareness and intentionality to the present moments of our lives in such a way that we do not label a situation (e.g. as good or bad, fair or unfair, pretty or ugly, important or unnecessary, urgent or not urgent). It can create a pause to allow for a fresh perspective before our default responses, actions, and judgments take over our mind.

The practice of mindfulness can be used as a tool to counteract stress responses by providing mechanisms to train both the brain and the body. An example of a mindfulness technique is creating a pattern interrupt by concentrating on a focal point (such as the breath). Once you become aware of your mind wandering to thoughts, feelings, or sensations (which it will), you disengage from them and return your concentration back to the focal point. It sounds simple but can be extremely challenging to accomplish.  

Think of mindfulness as an exercise to train your brain similar to how you might train to play a sport. By practicing you develop muscles and techniques that can then be applied to situations outside of the practice such as during stressful moments at work or at home. Overtime one can start to take control of the agitated mind and let go of unbeneficial mental patterns. Practicing can be done as a type of silent meditation or during daily functions such as eating, standing, or walking.



What are the benefits of being mindful? Is there a certain type of person who would benefit most?

Practicing being mindful has both physiological and psychological benefits by in part changing hormone responses in the body. It can reduce blood pressure, slow hardening of arteries, boost the immune system, and increase positive emotional responses in the brain. These effects can translate into reduced anxiety, increased focus, more restful sleep, and deeper fulfillment. 

Unless you already have complete awareness of the present moment, all the time, you can benefit from the practice of mindfulness. It can be especially impactful for people who suffer from stress, lack peace of mind, or find their brains have constant chatter whereby their focus moves frequently between the past and the future.  Meditation can become very important in succeeding with the goal of being rooted in the present moment more often. With practice, mindfulness can also go much deeper to help with emotional regulation, create pauses to interrupt autopilot reactions, aid in self-acceptance, and create a connection to compassion and non-duality.



Though the techniques have existed for quite some time, mindfulness seems to have gotten a boost in popularity lately, especially in the workplace. Why do you think that is?

Relatively speaking mindfulness research is soaring to provide scientific evidence for the benefits that have been previously studied and passed down through wisdom teachings. It is with these evidence based techniques that large corporations like Google, Twitter, Aetna, and General Mills created mindfulness programs for their employees. With progressive companies setting an example of integrating meditation into workplace wellness programs, other companies and service industries are paying attention too. I find it sort of funny that Silicon Valley companies that create and thrive from tools that aid in distracting us from the present moment, are in part leading the way of embracing mindfulness and meditation at work. While unplugging can be so important, given our reliance on technology hopefully there will be transitions where technology ultimately does support human flourishing.



Can you elaborate on what an attendee may expect from attending your workshop?

This workshop will be an opportunity to dive into: introductory teachings of mindfulness, becoming aware of one’s relationship with stress to extract the benefits, learning tools and techniques to destress and consciously communicate, and suggestions to cultivate a practice once you leave the workshop. The workshop will be a fun mixture of educational information but also practicing techniques, self-reflection, and activities with partners or small groups. My goal is that attendees will leave feeling calmer, have tools to combat stress, and have confidence to continue building mindful muscles.



Launching Mindgen, LLC is quite a departure from your previous line of work. How did you become interested in mindfulness, and what led you to start your own company?

When I experienced chronic stress at work, I found it difficult to keep workplace pressures within the constraints of the office and often brought ‘work stress’ home with me. This affected my health, sleep patterns, and relationships. As a director, I also saw how employee stress affected turnover intention, absenteeism, poor communication, and decision making. When I started a daily practice of present moment awareness, I finally found a space to allow myself to be quiet. I learned how to have a constructive relationship with stress and see problems through a new lens with clearer and more creative solutions. Throughout this time my curiosity into mindfulness and meditation teachings kept growing and I felt a sense of responsibility to dive deeper and teach others techniques to reduce stress and pressure in their lives. Launching Mindgen, LLC gave me the flexibility to combine my passion for forensics with mindfulness development.

There are actually a lot of parallels between the forensic industry and the mindfulness industry. For instance, both are affected by pop-culture, have a need for more independent research, are working on standards development so there is more consistency, and struggle with the arguments that everyone who practices should be certified. Ultimately, being a forensic scientist allows me to be a better meditation teacher. By truly understanding the stress points related to the field, I can hone in on techniques to overcome workplace pressures. In addition, being a meditation teacher allows me to be a better forensic scientist as by practicing mindfulness I am more aware of my mind and body triggers related to stress. This awareness can help translate to better focus, decision making, and conscious communication. Being in both domains I see influences that can go much deeper than just stress reduction to aid in transformational culture changes needed in forensics. I am excited about the possibilities.