Health & Fitness

‘Mindful’ conference draws big crowd

Not many conferences feature a moment of meditation, yoga poses and a communal big, deep breath.

But this was “A Mindful Miami” conference, where the focus was on how consciousness in the present can improve health, academics and even the criminal justice system.

The second annual event took place Saturday at the University of Miami in Coral Gables with local experts who shared anecdotes and best practices.

“Mindfulness, at its soul, helps us to be better people,” said David Lawrence Jr., president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and former Miami Herald publisher.

Practicing mindfulness means focusing on experiences as they happen but without passing judgment. It’s the act of simply being aware of what’s happening in the present — often with a focus on breathing techniques — and has roots in Buddhism.

The practice has grown among Miami-Dade County’s doctors, lawyers, educators and child advocates.

At the University of Miami, law students sit still and listen to classical music to calm them down before a big exam. At Kristi House Child Advocacy Center, young sex-trafficking victims are being taught the technique to aid their recovery. And at the Academy of International Education charter school in Miami Springs, principal Vera Hirsh said the most rambunctious middle school boys often choose to sit in a quiet corner — and snuggle with a teddy bear — to soothe themselves.

It’s a practice that, research shows, can reduce levels of depression and anxiety while increasing altruistic behavior, said Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of UM’s Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.

He’s seen it work first-hand in emergency rooms dealing with heart attack patients, Goldschmidt said.

“You tell them a few magic words: Don’t worry. You are in the right place. We know exactly what to do. You are going to feel better in just a few moments,” he said.

Those phrases sometimes works better than medication does, Goldschmidt added.

He shared some tips to get on the path to mindfulness: eating well and exercising often. He also stressed the importance of sleep, when stem cells go to work repairing damage done throughout the day.

“It’s essential for you to give yourself a break at night,” he said.

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