Bill Conover, center, has been guiding mindfulness sessions at Beloit
since 2007. Photo by Greg Anderson.
Bill Conover says he’s a better listener than he was in the past. He’s also more productive and focused, and he now has the ability to ride life’s emotional rollercoasters with ease and balance.
Beloit’s Spiritual Life Program director credits these changes to a mindfulness-based stress reduction course he took in 2006 at UW Health (the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health).
“The chief thing, though, is that mindfulness really helps me to enjoy my life while it’s happening,” says Conover, who was referred to the course because of his anxiety.
To share his expertise on mindfulness with others at Beloit, Conover began offering weekly “drop-in mindfulness” sessions in 2007, which are now offered twice a week and attended by an average of seven to 12 students. In 2012, he started teaching the Mindfulness Workshop, a course in the psychology department.
Rooted in Buddhist practices, mindfulness gained popularity in the Western hemisphere in the latter part of the 20th century with the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Unlike other forms of meditation that focus on achieving relaxation, peace, or happiness, the goal of mindfulness is to train one’s mind to stay present and to live each moment more fully.
“What I’ve discovered is usually our minds are unsatisfied about something that’s happening. We want more of something or to get rid of something, and in mindfulness we practice accepting exactly what we have and then accepting exactly what that experience is in the moment and trying to respond to that with intelligence and care,” Conover says.
According to Conover, benefits of the practice include increased concentration, compassion, and emotional flexibility (the ability to stay calm and keep perspective), and he says these effects can be felt instantly.
Ideally, Conover says mindfulness should be practiced every day for 30 minutes, although even five minutes a day can prove beneficial. He practices every morning for 30 minutes in addition to practicing mindful running three or four times a week. (Mindful running involves synchronizing one’s attention with the physical sensations, posture, and form of the running stride.)
For beginners, though, Conover recommends setting a timer for one minute before gradually increasing the time. He also says a great beginner’s exercise is to take three mindful breaths every night before you go to sleep and every morning before you get out of bed. These should be three fully aware breaths where you can feel yourself inhaling and exhaling.
Some may think they don’t have time to practice mindfulness every day. To this, Conover asks, “Is it worth racing through everything you have to do and not actually living? If you feel a lot of stress in your life, are you willing to take the time and effort to try something truly new to see if there might be a shift?”
Kye Ingram’15 decided to take Conover’s class because she wanted to experience some of the positive effects she has heard others say they have achieved through meditation and mindfulness.
“Mindfulness taught me how to love myself on a different level … it showed me how to get in tune with my emotions and really understand what I was feeling,” Ingram says. “Mindfulness also impacted my life because it taught me how to have patience and tolerance for things that I couldn’t change and to accept it and move on without judgment of myself or the situation.”
Students have become such proponents of mindfulness that they launched a mindfulness club this spring.
Supporters of mindfulness, however, extend far beyond Beloit.
Mindfulness is practiced by the U.S. Marine Corps and by some veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, according to Conover, the Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District is working to bring mindfulness into its K-12 classrooms, an initiative in which he was recently involved. Some prisons have even formed mindfulness groups, and high-tech Silicon Valley companies are offering sessions at work.
“I think it’s awesome,” Conover says. “I would bet that a company that teaches and encourages mindfulness practice for 20 minutes out of a workday would get more work out of their employees.”
Besides the other benefits, mindfulness can also help those who suffer from ailments such as depression, psoriasis, and eating disorders.
While mindfulness is not meant to cure anything, Conover says it can help people suffer less.
“There’s a big difference between being cured and feeling healed and whole,” he says. “Mindfulness offers the chance of living with life’s pains without getting as caught up in them. Mindfulness is about learning to live your life as it actually is.”
For more information:
- Do some reading. Conover recommends Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- Read a different view of mindfulness by Beloiter and medical reporter Dan Hurley'79 from the New York Times Magazine: "Breathing in vs. Spacing Out."
- Click here to listen to a recording of Conover leading a mindfulness session
Practice being mindful:
- Find a quiet, comfortable, secure room.
- Situate yourself in a steady position on a cushion or in a strong back chair.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your breathing and experience all the sensations that come with it, such as the coolness in the nostrils and the feeling of letting go.
- Shift your attention back to your breathing whenever a thought or feeling arises.