Staying in the Moment

mindfulness expert Ann Brand sounds off on its many benefits

Haley Wright, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Ann Brand, Ph.D., UW-Stout lecturer
Ann Brand, Ph.D., UW-Stout lecturer

Many of us rush through our days mindlessly going from one place to another as part of a routine, without enjoying the experiences we partake in, and totally unaware of the remarkable things happening right in front of us. Then something happens – an accident, for example – and we are forced to slow down and think about all we have missed by simply being out of tune to our experiences and surroundings.

One solution to finding a way to connect ourselves to our experiences as they occur in the moment is by engaging in the practice of mindfulness. According to Ann Brand, Ph.D., a UW-Stout lecturer of psychology, mindfulness is “present-moment awareness.” Brand first learned about mindfulness in the early 2000s, and started practicing personally in 2010.

“I came across a study demonstrating that mindfulness practice can change the parts of our brain important in regulating our emotion in beneficial ways. I was amazed that a behavioral practice could change the structure of our brain and was intrigued. But I am an academic at heart, and while I appreciated that this practice was beneficial for some, I didn't think it was available to me,” she said. “I didn’t start practicing mindfulness regularly until my mother passed away in 2010. It allowed me to be with my grief without being overwhelmed, and brought calm and clarity at a very difficult time.”

Learning how to engage in mindfulness means finding a particular way of paying attention to our experiences. Brand says it involves many different practices and tools that support us in noticing when we are not paying attention to the present moment and choosing to direct our attention back to what is actually happening in a kind, non-judgmental way.

“Formal practice includes concentration practices like mindfulness of the breath, or mindfulness of the body, but we can integrate mindfulness practices into our daily life, for example noticing how we are listening to someone speaking to us or eating our food with awareness of the full experience,” she said.

Brand said the more you engage in mindfulness, the better you become at it, and that mindfulness is best cultivated with a daily practice. A good place to start is to literally to stop and smell the coffee – to pay attention to the details and think about nothing else as you enjoy your first cup of coffee in the morning, noticing the smell, the taste, the feeling of the steam on your face as you drink it, and the warmth of the cup in your hand.

“Because of advances in neuroscience, scientists are able to see how mindfulness practices work to change our brain and lead to benefits in physical health, stress reduction, attention, learning, memory, positive emotions, empathy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal relationships,” Brand said. “Mindfulness practice can help us manage our stress and bring calm, clarity, and peace into our daily lives. It doesn’t change what is happening in our lives, but it helps us change how we relate to our experience.”

There are numerous opportunities to learn about mindfulness from Dr. Brand throughout the Chippewa Valley this spring. She’ll be presenting at the Chippewa Valley WellFest at The Lismore as a keynote speaker on Friday, Feb, 29. She will be teaching two classes at The Center in Eau Claire starting in March; Mindful Mondays (a class which offers an opportunity for people to come together to practice mindfulness and ask questions) and Cultivating a Mindful Life (a six-week introductory course in mindfulness practice beginning March 30). Brand will also be presenting as a keynote speaker for the Early Childhood Education Conference at UW-Stout on April 23.

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