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It’s all in your mind

Devoting just 15 minutes a day to meditation can turn off negative thoughts and reduce stress

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JOE Flanders grew up in a family of medical professionals.

His dad’s a doctor, as are both his siblings, and his mother is a speech therapist.

So it’s understandable, he says, that his parents were somewhat perplexed when he announced he wanted to concentrate on being mindful.

"I think I may have been the black sheep for a while," he says with a laugh. "Everything is fine now, but at the time, they weren’t so sure."

Flanders said he firmly believes that if we spend 15 minutes a day being mindful, it can improve our lives.

"So often, we don’t pay attention to or notice the mental aspect of our experiences, but being mindful allows us to tune in and optimize our mental approach to our day-to-day experiences," he says.

And it’s not about being all "granola and the like." Being mindful, he says, "increases clarity, decreases stress and makes you healthier and happier overall."

Flanders, 34, is a really smart guy. He has a PhD in clinical psychology from McGill U niversity in Montreal, has completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin and is an assistant professor in the psychology department at McGill.

And he practises mindfulness and meditation and knows first-hand the positive effects it can have on one’s life.

"I began when I was an undergrad in Toronto and met someone inspiring, a Buddhist neuroscientist, who practised daily," Flanders says. "I was overloaded with school work and thought I would give it a try, that it could help."

 And he says that "the more I practised being still, really living in the moment, the more clarity I began to have, better able to cope."


All that clarity led him to open the first clinic of its kind in Montreal in 2011.


Mindspace clinic offers workshops and training in mindfulness (along with other psychological services and counselling).


And what’s exciting, says Flanders, is that science is really starting to pay attention.


"It’s becoming more mainstream and recognized in the medical community."


Flanders points out that doctors in the United States who take mindfulness as part of their practice get rebates on their liability insurance policies.


"That really speaks volume."


When we are fully present and living in the moment, we are better able to turn off the negative and toxic thoughts that we experience daily.


"For every positive thought we have, we also experience three to five negatives ones," he says. And most of us, sadly, run with the negative ones.


"Imagine that if we learn to deal with those self-critical, stress-inducing thoughts, that we could learn how to restore balance, to pay attention to this moment, how much better we could deal with things — to free up mind space. There is a real freedom and energy when you do that."


And it doesn’t always have to be negative thoughts, either; it can be distracting or misleading ones as well.


Flanders recently began working with a group of doctors in Montreal.


"Medicine is a highly stressful environment, as one can imagine," Flanders says. "Making many decisions in a stressfuelled environment is tough, not to mention the burden of expectation; there is a significant burnout rate."


According to a story in, "This sort of meditative exercise... is just one sign of the rising interest among physicians, medical schools and hospitals in using mindfulness practices to help alleviate doctors’ stress and reconnect them with their patients and their calling in medicine."


Studies have shown that even though meditation makes us feel calmer and less stressed, it has been documented that mindfulness actually changes the structure and the function of certain parts of the brain.


"Worry and rumination are terrible liabilities."


Being mindful can be a very useful tool with regard to weight loss as well.


"We must learn to change the behaviours and the patterns that lead many people to overeat."


Flanders worked with a patient who had gastric bypass surgery.


"With that type of surgery, you are more or less forced into increased restriction. There are all these things you are told not to eat, no drinking, no sweets. It becomes about everything we can’t have, and when we are forced with 50 or 60 choices a day, we become mentally burnt — it’s a depletion of mental resources — and head off to the nearest (fast-food restaurant) to deal with it."


Instead, learning to quiet the mind will help us tune in to our values, help with our decision-making, which can hopefully help us learn to make better choices.


And the beauty of the whole thing is that it can be done virtually anywhere, by anyone, at anytime. All you need is 15 quiet minutes."


Flanders says that even as adults we need a "time out" space, be it a room or a corner of a room to practise.


"Make it a routine, a part of your day just like you shower and brush your teeth."


A suggested, easy place to begin is by focusing on your breathing.


"Simple as that," Flanders says.


There you have it. Doctor’s orders.


Visit to access free audio mindfulness guides.


— Postmedia News

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