VP Client Blog

Making Mindfulness Accessible

Over the past several decades mindfulness has gone from something associated mainly with the ancient practice of meditation, to a buzzword making its way to the general public, and now, to a more secular, widely recognized and commonly used practice to manage physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. With Mental Health Awareness month upon us after a year that brought unprecedented challenges across the globe, it is a topic that is more relevant than ever before. And in many cases the volume on uncertainty, worry, anxiety, fear, burnout, grief, depression, and overwhelm has been turned up in the wake of the pandemic and its many life disruptions. Not to mention how prolonged quarantine has deprived us of our usual social and self-care antidotes, childcare, recreation and exercise reprieves, and so much more. 


In a time when our inner dialogs have become louder than ever, it’s no wonder our Live Services team has been having more conversations with members about mindfulness. Why? Because mindfulness is an important foundational practice to understand during times like these. It can help to turn down the volume of incessant worry and can help across many areas of wellbeing including: 

  • helping to relieve stress,  
  • lowering blood pressure, 
  • reducing chronic pain,
  • improving sleep, focus and work productivity,
  • improving emotional regulation,
  • helping a person form deep connections with others,
  • support and enhance the treatment of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (source).

In fact, professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health, attitudes, and behaviors, and helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine (source).


So, What Is Mindfulness?  

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present, also described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad (source). It can be intentionally practiced by tuning in to the breath, body, thoughts, sounds, or the world around you, although it is just as easily practiced and accessed as you go about your daily life and activities (source).


What Mindfulness Is Not 

First, it is important to acknowledge that mindfulness is not a substitute for professional treatment and care of mental health conditions. As appropriate, our Coaches and Guides refer to healthcare providers, Employee Assistance Plans, or other relevant, available resources offered by Virgin Pulse or employer-sponsored benefits.  Mindfulness is, however, a powerful complement to these approaches. A University of Oxford study found that mindfulness plus cognitive therapy reduced episodes of depression by 50% in chronically depressed patients who were not helped by any other means (source). But there can be some misconceptions about what mindfulness is and what it is supposed to accomplish.   


Dispelling Common Misconceptions 

Misconception: “Mindfulness isn’t working because I am not able stop my thoughts and emotions.”  

Truth: Simply put, getting lost in thought, noticing it, and returning to your chosen meditation object— breath, sound, body sensation, or something else—is how it’s done (source). There is no end to mindfulness, no point where you reach mastery. It is the lifelong, ongoing practice of returning your attention over and over again.   


Misconception: “I’m bad at mindfulness because my mind just won’t stop wandering.”  

Truth: Our minds will always want to swing from thought to thought just like a monkey swings from branch to branch. This is sometimes referred to as “monkey brain”. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention back to the present over and over and over (…and over) no matter how often it tries to swing away. Bring some compassion and humor to the process. Instead of: “Bad monkey! Get back here!” Try: “You silly little monkey! I know you want to swing and play right now. And I see you, I hear you. But right now, it’s time to come here and be still.”  


Misconception: “I can’t do mindfulness because I don’t have the right personality (or the time!) to do a 30-minute seated, silent meditation.  

Truth: Mindfulness isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. There are many ways to practice and reap the benefits of mindfulness such as:  

  • Walking meditation, mindful eating, mindful listening, yoga, repeating a mantra, counting breaths, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and a gratitude practice are all possibilities. 
  • Short pauses throughout the day to “recalibrate”. The breath is useful here because it’s always accessible to us. Square breathing, sometimes known as 4x4 breathing, is one that our Coaches and Guides use often with members. Here’s a Small Steps Guide for habit formation on Breathing that Coaches and Guides often share with members for an overview and actionable suggestions around breathing exercises.  
  • Guided Meditations. There are endless resources for guided meditations. Coaches and Guides often provide members additional evidence-based options, vetted and pre-approved by our clinical review 


Bringing it to Life 

Here is an in-depth look at the knowledge and real-life application a coach might explore with a member in a coaching conversation.  


Try this:  

Imagine that your mind is a ship out at sea. The wind and the waves are your thoughts. Your breath is the anchor. Tune into that breath. You may even want to bring your hand to belly as you physically notice the breath moving in and out of your body. As you breathe, you will notice your mind wander, your ship being carried away by ruminations on the past, thoughts about the future, or just what you’re going to make for dinner tonight. Acknowledge those thoughts without judgment. (We wouldn’t judge a wave or the wind, right? They are just doing what they naturally do: shift, meander, move.).  No matter how far or for how long you have been carried away, simply bring your attention back to the breath, to the anchor, the present moment.  


Try this:  

Choose an everyday activity, brushing your teeth, for example. Instead of being lost in thought and operating on autopilot, engage all your senses and be present to the full experience. What color is the toothpaste? What does it smell like? Feel the bristles massaging your gums and polishing your teeth. Notice your arm moving back and forth. Acknowledge gratitude for the clean water swishing around in your mouth. Fully immerse yourself in the experience.  


From our friends at Headspace, an authorized VP Partner: Our minds seem to be set up to go into autopilot for those actions that we repeat over and over. And when we look at certain actions, like eating, or even our relationships with the people closest to us, it’s possible that these, too, might become a matter of routine. The practice of bringing our attention back to things anew, as though every time was the first time (the ‘beginner’s mind’ as it’s sometimes known), is as useful for keeping our teeth squeaky clean, as it is for giving our friends and loved ones the full attention they deserve. (source) 


Mindfulness is about finding what fits for you. Our Coaches and Guides empower members to experiment and find an approach that suits their lifestyle, personality, culture, and/or values. Coaching members on mindfulness can improve their overall health and wellbeing and empower them with one more tool to progress toward their vision of a thriving life.  

But don’t just take it from us. Here’s what one coaching participant had to say about his coach’s guidance on mindfulness, "This is a total game changer. I had a total misconception of what meditation was and was supposed to accomplish. It’s so cool that you're the coach I was paired with since you have so much experience with this. I'm leaving with a golden nugget of information. I'm so excited to revisit a meditation practice with new eyes."   



About the Author  

Elizabeth “Bits” Bakalyar is a former second grade teacher who specialized in social-emotional health and teaching mindfulness. She moved on to obtain a degree in Integrative and Healing Therapies: Health Coaching from the University of Minnesota. She is also a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach and has been “Changing Lives for Good” with Virgin Pulse for 5 years.  



Learn more about VP Live 

VP Live Coaching features a whole person approach that blends lifestyle optimization with specialization in an industry-leading 22 conditions, providing total population health management that helps the healthy stay healthy, improves clinical outcomes, and reduces costs associated with chronic conditions. Members access coaching resources directly through their app and once paired with a coach, they identify their goals for a thriving life and work together to progress toward their vision and achieve their targeted outcomes. To learn more about VP Live, reach out to your Client Success team. 

Also part of the VP Live product suite, Next-Steps Consult helps members get the most out of their wellbeing program. It is a concierge-style conversation between member and Health Guide, focused on determining a member’s first or next step in their wellbeing journey and personalized guidance of all that Virgin Pulse and employer benefits have to offer. Our Health Guides uncover the best route for a member based on their health status, motivators and obstacles, with deep knowledge of client programs and resources.   


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