In 2018, I headed to Richmond, Virginia and I steeled myself for what would be an exhausting week of an Ombuds conference.  All day meetings, evening catch ups, very little sleep.  It wasn’t a stretch to predict getting sick each year, right after the conference.  Something was different in my schedule this year, though.  I had signed up for a full day preconference workshop that wove conflict with mindfulness. Having never practiced mindfulness before or doing much yoga, I was skeptical at best.

Our instructor introduced the breaths we would be regularly taking throughout the day – deep breaths in through the nose, exhaling out of the mouth.  At first, it felt strange but I quickly lost my self-consciousness around it and embraced it.  Then he explained the science behind it:  by taking deep breaths and exhaling, you’re telling your body it is not in danger.  Conversely, short, shallow breaths warn of a fight/flight risk.  Imagine telling your body that every day, all day!  

I continued to practice this throughout the conference and never got sick.  I felt rejuvenated by my conference and my eyes were opened to the wisdom behind this mindfulness technique.  

Fast-forward to the unprecedented year of 2020:  a global pandemic, social unrest, devastating fires in the West, and a contentious election (sadly, I could go on, but for the sake of some sanity, will leave it there).  How are we all coping with all of this?  We know we need to be resilient, and according to Daniel Goleman in the Harvard Business Review, there are two ways to increase this skill:  reminding yourself to be more resilient or retraining your brain.  This article brought all of the benefits of mindfulness back to me from my conference.  His article Resilience for the Rest of Us highlights the actual science in our brains when we are able to retrain it.  As we are pushed and challenged every day during such challenging times, we can teach our brains to be aware of our surroundings while not reacting to them.  He cites work by Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a meditation expert and Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin.  

Here are the five easy steps:

  1. Sit comfortably in a quiet space where you’ll be alone for a few minutes and mute your phone.
  2. Keep your back relaxed but straight.
  3. Begin inhaling and exhaling, “staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation”.
  4. Keep breathing regularly and don’t judge whether you’re doing it “correctly”.
  5. Treat all distractions, noise at bay and continue to focus only on your breath.

The authors suggest practicing every day for 20-30 minutes to get the full benefits.  As we continue to navigate all of the unknowns of this year, consider these easy steps to increase your resilience. 

By: Lisa Neale, Associate Director, University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Ombuds Office