Congressman suggests mindfulness can renew American spirit

Congressman Tim Ryan. // Courtesy
Congressman Tim Ryan. // Courtesy
Congressman Tim Ryan. // Courtesy

Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) said he began practicing mindfulness when he realized the days he meditated and took things slowly were the same days that he performed better at his job. He then went on a five-day retreat to learn how to connect his mind and body.

“I had this experience that my mind and my body where in the same place they were synchronized … I thought to myself you can train your mind to be in the zone,” he said.

Since then, Ryan has advocated for the benefits of mindfulness. He spoke about how it can renew the American spirit at an event promoting his book “A Mindful Nation” held at the University of Miami’s Alumni Center Monday night.

His book comments on wars and other tragedies experienced by Americans that have hindered them from attempting to reach the American dream of success and prosperity. According to Ryan, mindfulness can teach individuals new ways to deal with their experiences.

“It’s about giving ordinary people the best chance to do extraordinary things,” he said. It teaches kids “how to focus, concentrate, be creative, be resilient, be knocked down and get back up.”

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the now and being mindful of the surrounding environment. It is a technique used to increase attention spans while decreasing stress levels.

“The way you act or behave with the decisions that you make when you have a very high level of stress is much different than when you have a low level of stress,” Ryan said in an interview with The Miami Hurricane. “Mindfulness is a way of not always getting rid of stress but it helps you relate to stress. … You can start to understand yourself better in why you make these decisions you make.”

Although Ryan joked and told stories to get the audience to laugh, he said mindfulness can have a serious impact in the world. Through the practice of mindfulness, he believes students can channel their stress into positive energy, which can prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed, as well as prevent suicides and violence.

For college students, Ryan said it is important to practice because it helps students learn how to focus at earlier stages of life, which can make them perform better as professionals.

“I learned that there’s so many people already practicing this that I wasn’t aware of,” freshman Ryan Severdija said. “I meditate daily. … It’s definitely made my life have more clarity.”

Last year, a mindfulness study was conducted by Amishi Jha, director of UM’s Contemplative Neuroscience. It revealed that mindfulness training has a significant impact on students. The study consisted of two sets of students over the semester with one set practicing mindfulness and the other not.

“We found that those in the control (who did not receive training) degraded in their attention over seven weeks of the semester, but those in the mindfulness training group improved their performance over time,” Jha said.

There are various ways to practice mindfulness. It is not costly and, most of the time, is free. Some suggestions Ryan gave included yoga, running and writing.

During his interview with The Miami Hurricane, Ryan said his favorite approach was sitting in solitude, which he did a lot when writing his book.

“I like quiet time in the morning,” Ryan said. “Everything is off and you just have quiet time and you are able to enjoy that moment. It changes the quality of the rest of the day.”