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How mindfulness helps this top congressman stay calm in DC

After going on a mindfulness retreat in 2008, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan has become a vocal advocate in DC for the practice. Speaking with Business insider, Ryan explains the benefits mindfulness can have for veterans, schoolchildren and average Americans. Following is a transcript of the video.

Rep. Tim Ryan: We live in a time in the United States where everybody is busy, whether you’re a congressman or you’re a single mum with a couple of kids that’s working a swing shift. We’re all scrambling now and living under a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety.

The practice of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment. While your mind may try to go to the past or the future, you try to discipline your mind and to increase your awareness of the present moment, what’s going on around you, but also what’s going on inside of you, so you can better understand your own habits, your own emotional states.

And the benefits are remarkable and being proven more and more each day by the research. They reduce stress, increase focus, keep you healthier because it boosts your immune system, make better decisions.

In 2008, Tim Ryan signed up for a mindfulness retreat, hoping to get a break from his exhausting schedule as a three-term congressman in Ohio.

It really is a profound experience to start to see what happens when you don’t have your cell phone, you’re not writing letters or doing anything for work, and some of these retreats you don’t even talk over the course of a few days.

You think of a gallon milk jug with sand and water in it. You shake it up and you can’t really see, it’s blurry, but you set it on the table and over time all the sand will settle to the bottom. That’s kind of what happens to your own mind, it’s just your mind begins to settle. And you don’t even realise how much the voice in your head is constantly going and how tiring that can be.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Michael Jordan and all of these people, many CEOs across the country are using these kinds of practices because they’re very simple but very, very powerful.

Ryan realised that a space for contemplative practice was missing, not just on Capitol Hill, but also in his community. So he set out to change that. Now there is a Quiet Time Caucus every Monday that he often leads before Congress votes, and he has raised over $US3.6 million in funding for mindfulness research and programs.

Veterans are getting off sometimes eight or ten medications because they started to do some of these practices that have helped them deal with their post-traumatic stress in a healthier way. So that reduces the cost at the VA for what we have to pay in medication, but it also gets these vets their life back.

It’s been great for schoolkids, they live in violent homes, violent neighbourhoods. Practices like mindfulness help them get out of the fight or flight response and be able to access parts of their brain that allow them to make better decisions, allow them to focus and pay attention and it increases their cognitive abilities.

The best advice I can give is just to start. Set an alarm for five minutes and just turn the TV off and turn the radio off, and turn every electronic device you have off and just literally spend five minutes in quiet, in silence. By just doing it a few minutes everyday that you will start to respond to things as opposed to react to things, and just get a little bit more space between something happening to you and how you react to it.

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