On October 26, 2016, a dozen STC/SM members and guests convened at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) for Jeanette Brooks’ presentation on mindfulness. Geoffrey Walchak, a WCC technical communication student, wrote about her presentation for us, and Pat Martz, STC/SM blog editor, edited it.
What Is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness,” Brooks told us, “is increasing awareness while paying attention without judgment.” “Without judgment” is the most important part because as soon as we start to assign value (or non-value) to things or people, it pulls us out of the present moment and into ruminating—worrying about the future, or dwelling on the past; while this is happening, the present moment is occurring and you are missing it.
“But don’t get too consumed by the present,” she warned us. She went on to explain how someone can be both the observer and the actor simultaneously. To pay attention without judgment is like being a witness to what happens to yourself, objectively observing everything as it happens. In time, practitioners can engage in action mindfully. That is to say, practitioners never completely let go of objective observation.
Brain Changes in Mindfulness
The scientific evidence of the benefits of meditation are overwhelmingly positive. Several areas of the brain get larger with mindfulness:
- the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain reserved for executive function;
- the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with happiness;
- the hippocampus, which is the seat of memory and spatial relationships;
- the temporoparietal junction, which is the center for compassion and moral decisions.
However, the amygdala shrinks, allowing its connection to the prefrontal cortex to get weaker, which allows the brain to concentrate better in stressful fight-or-flight situations.
These brain changes decrease stress and increase the ability to pay attention, which are extremely useful skills in the workplace.
Mindfulness Through Meditation
Such mindfulness is made possible, in part, by practicing meditation. Meditation is a great tool to improve the “mindfulness muscle,” as Brooks put it. She led us through two meditation exercises, Belly Breathing and Body Scan.
Belly Breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms body and mind. For seven minutes, Brooks guided us into a deep relaxation while we each put a hand on both our stomachs and our hearts. If one is belly breathing correctly with their hands like this, the hand on their stomach would rise and fall with each breath, while the hand on the chest lay still.
“Practice is the golden ticket,” Brooks said, “but the challenge is that most come into meditation as a beginner.”
Brooks closed with a seven-minute meditation called Body Scan. First, we relax deeply using belly breathing. Once we were relaxed, we focused our attention on our feet and consciously relaxed any tense muscles there. Next we focused on the legs, then hips, and so on, until we reached our neck and our face; Brooks told us that this is a good exercise to employ if we had trouble sleeping.
After these guided meditations, most of us were deeply relaxed and refreshed, and ready for the drive home.
Thank you, Geoffrey, for allowing us to edit and publish your work. Thank you, Lisa Veasey, longtime STC/SM member and Instructor of English and Writing at WCC, for engaging your students and encouraging them to participate in the larger world of technical communication.