Mental health: The mindful way

Sabine Lou in Nature:

LotusWhen Lokesh Joshi was studying glycobiology as a postdoc at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, he had mentors who helped to guide his research — and others who trained him in the practice of mindfulness. For up to 45 minutes each morning, in accordance with his teachers' counsel, he would sit on the carpet in a corner of his apartment, close his eyes and focus on his breathing or on the functioning of his internal organs, second by second. “This helped me find my own point of stillness — what I call grounding,” he explains. After regularly practising this morning routine, Joshi found that he could think more clearly, and that he felt better. He no longer had sweaty palms when he was about to give a talk at a conference, for example, nor did he feel anxious or defensive when a manuscript got rejected or needed major revisions. “It helped me take a step back and not react too quickly to my emotions,” he says. And on days that he did not engage in mindfulness practice, he could tell the difference — his stress levels would ratchet up and his ability to concentrate would decrease.

Now vice-president for research at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, Joshi continues to practise mindfulness on a daily basis, during his 1.5-kilometre walk to and from his office. He thinks that it is a crucial soft skill for researchers, and he values it so strongly that he organized and spoke at a university conference on the subject in October. The university has also launched a lecture series and free drop-in classes on the art. Mindfulness has long been in use in the corporate, entrepreneurial and other sectors. It is more than a new-age buzzword, said speakers at the conference. “In academic circles, there is fear about mindfulness because people believe it could stop you from thinking,” says Gelong Thubten, a Tibetan Buddhist monk at the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery near Langholm, UK, who conducted mindfulness sessions during the conference. “But we are not trying to get rid of thoughts — it is the mind that you are training. We are looking at the container, not the content.”

More here.