John Russo/Corbis Outline
En español | It's a complicated world out there. People everywhere are figuring out how to stay balanced. I'm generally known as a happy person, but years ago I suffered from panic and anxiety. I've learned to manage the fear and pain. It's not easy, but with a few life tools, you can control the monkey mind. I'd say it's my life's mission.
In 2003, I established the Hawn Foundation to help children create greater brain health through mindfulness practices. Working with neuroscientists, we've shown that meditation offers a way to change brain chemistry. Through our MindUP program in schools, we've demonstrated that if students take two minutes for a brain break three times a day, optimism in the classroom goes up almost 80 percent. On the playground, aggression goes down about 30 percent.
Our curriculum offers techniques to manage emotions and behavior. One exercise is a gratitude circle, where kids go around saying what they're thankful for. Sounds simple, right? Well, at a school in Vancouver, British Columbia, a boy had been bullied. At gratitude circle, another kid said he was grateful for that child. The boy's mother told me it was the first time her son felt safe at school.
Mindfulness can help people of any age. That's because we become what we think. If you have a negative thought — "I can't stand my boss" — it perpetuates a negative worldview. But if you supplant each negative thought with three positive ones, you begin to restructure your brain. Research has proven that this practice can lift people out of depression. That's a powerful force.
This time in my life feels like a culmination of everything I've been practicing. I've meditated since the 1970s, but now I really see the results. People talk about the brain weakening as it ages. Mine feels stronger. Meditation thickens the cortex, where we make decisions, analyze, feel more connected to others and dream.
That's why it's essential to take time to breathe or spend a few minutes in nature away from phones and computers. You start to live for now, rather than for what's next or, worse, waiting for the end to come. Slow down. Enjoy this ride. It's all we've got.
4 Tips From Goldie
1. Try mindful meditation
Sit quietly. Soften your belly and take three deep breaths. Now breathe normally. Focus only on your breathing. When thoughts arise, let them go, like clouds passing in the sky. Be patient. Your heart rate will slow, and your stress will eventually melt away.
2. Reconnect with nature
Go outside, walk slowly and focus on the wonders of nature, as if seeing them for the first time. Even in your own neighborhood, examine the trees, the flowers, the grass — the absolute perfection surrounding us. This will wake up your brain and enliven your spirit.
Put on your favorite dance music, free up your body and dance with true abandonment! Don't judge your moves — and no mirrors allowed! You'll feel elevated, and your happiness quotient will rise.
4. Get ready for bed
Sleep, which is vital to brain health, doesn't come easy for many. One hour before bedtime, turn off the TV, especially the news. I like to listen to the sounds of a soft rain on my bedside iPod player. Let go of the trials of the day. Trust that tomorrow will be the best day you can make it.
—As told to David Hochman
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