Smarter, Happier, Healthier: Mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness boosts health and gives new meaning to living in the moment
by Arikka Von (MSC ’15)
Mindfulness behavior intervention is at the forefront of mental health care, and one of its advocates is Ellen Behrens, an assistant professor in Westminster’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. “We’re seeing great outcomes for clients with a variety of problems,” says Ellen, a licensed psychologist. “The beauty of mindfulness practice is that the outcomes are beneficial for anyone, even those of us feeling healthy at the moment.”
Ellen says the practice of mindfulness improves memory, decreases stress and anxiety, increases self-esteem, and boosts immune-system function.
What is mindfulness practice?
It is a present-moment sensory experience, being in a state of active, open attention on the present.
How do you do it?
Ellen says the best mindfulness practice is the one that works for you. She recommends choosing an activity that allows you to do two things:
- Stop: stop the routine, stop the grind, stop the desensitization, stop the numbing. “Disconnect from all those things unrelated to the present moment and current experience,” Ellen says.
- Observe: wake up to what is present. Observe your current experience in its fullness and richness. Ask yourself, “What is a feeling I’m having right now? What sensation is my body experiencing? What thoughts am I having? What is happening around me right now?”
“Do that without expectation, so no forced feelings or emotions,” Ellen says. “The idea is that mindfulness anchors you into our human experience.”
Having a mindfulness practice doesn’t have to take any extra time, add anything extra to your day, or cost a thing.
At a recent workshop on mindfulness held for Westminster staff, Ellen suggested simple ways to incorporate the practice into the workday.
Starting out, you might remember to do it once a day, then three times, and so on. It eventually becomes a habit and the way you live your life.
“Most people who have a mindfulness practice will tell you they are more efficient,” Ellen says.
Ellen practices what she preaches. She started working mindfulness into her daily routine four years ago when she returned to Westminster after a 20-year hiatus. Before she left, after completing her doctoral internship, Ellen taught as an adjunct at the college.
Ellen received her PhD from Michigan State University but stayed in Utah to pursue a successful career working with teenagers and families as a therapist, psychologist, clinical director, and consultant in residential programs. She also owns Canyon Research and Consulting. With a busy family life added to the mix, Ellen often thought back on her adjunct years at Westminster.
“Over the years, when I had moments of reflection, I’d say my dream was to go back to Westminster,” she says. “I loved the students, the culture, the faculty—I felt at home.”
Mindful of the opportunity to return to her dream job, Ellen started working on her own mindfulness practice. She’s mindful when running, praying, and spending time with her husband, children, and dogs. Ellen says she sleeps better, has more energy, and is just happier.
“I let go of striving,” she says. “I strive less and just enjoy what’s already here more. I try to celebrate what’s here right now.”
The Benefits of Mindfulness
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased resiliency
- Decreased rumination (compulsive worry)
- Improved self-esteem
- Increased activity of brain regions associated with emotion
- Reduced pain
- Improved immune-system functioning
A popular acronym for one simple way to practice mindfulness is STOP. Dr. Elisha Goldstein, co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles, developed the following mindfulness tips:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Take a breath. Take a few deep breaths, and steady your mind on your breath.
- Observe your body, your feelings, and your mind.
- Proceed with what’s most important for the moment.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.