An estimated 60 Ardmore professionals sat in the auditorium of Emmanuel Baptist Church rolling a dark chocolate Hershey’s kiss in their mouths. Each person, with their eyes closed, focused on the way the chocolate felt — the bottom round and the pointed top sometimes scraping the roof of their mouths.
As they followed the doctor’s instructions, everyone grew more relaxed as they practiced being mindful.
Dr. R. Murali Krishna, of Oklahoma City, was the keynote speaker at the Overcome Obstacles to Advocate Conference Wednesday morning. Krishna focused on teaching the crowd the importance of mindfulness in every day life — insisting that the connection between mind, body and spirit can be controlled by each individual.
“Mindfulness is a brain skill just like vision or memorizing,” he said. “If you find a way to focus on the present, your sense of happiness and contentment improves, and overtime your overall health.”
Krishna explained that when your brain is focused on many things, cells in your body divide at a more rapid rate. Eventually, cells can’t divide anymore and die. The death of cells, he said, is what causes us to age. Krishna’s research suggests that if humans can become connected to something so much so that it is the only thing the brain focuses on, these cell divisions happen at a slower rate.
“Our lifestyle, the state of our mind, compassion, gratitude, love, all have an affect on how fast or slow we age,” Krishna said. “Ninety to 95 percent of all humanity is not mindful. They’re mindless. Try to be in the present, not in the past or the future. Only then are you being mindful.”
Mindfulness doesn’t just impact overall happiness and the span of someone’s life, he said, but also will help heal physical ailments. The genes that fight inflammation in the body become less active when someone practices mindfulness regularly. Krishna even went so far as to say that mindfulness can help reverse heart disease, because it can reduce inflammation around the heart.
In order to practice mindfulness, one must focus solely on one thing, like Krishna’s chocolate. During the presentation, conference goers were encouraged to first open the candy and focus on the way the wrapper unfolded from around the chocolate — taking special note of the colors in the wrapper and each individual crinkle in the foil. Once open, Krishna drew attention to the unique shape and feel of the individual Hershey’s Kiss in everyone’s hand. The circular bottom, pointed top, and smooth sides were all honed in on. Then participants sniffed the chocolate and focused on the smell before putting it in their mouth, without biting it, and focused on every detail of that experience as the chocolate slowly melted.
The experience left many in the audience smiling and looking relaxed.
“While you are practicing this, your mind will have distractions,” he said. “The mind is like a monkey, it wanders, but you must quickly bring it back and focus.”
For those who don’t like chocolate, Krishna demonstrated how to hone in on, and be ultra aware, of your own breathing. He showed the audience how to close their eyes and be aware of the way each breath felt coming into, inside and leaving their body.
Krishna’s speech kicked off the conference hosted by the Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative and Partners in Education. Teachers, law enforcement, health professionals and business owners were all in attendance as everyone learned more about behavioral health.
After the keynote address, conference attendees were split into different break out groups based on their interests.
One such breakout session, taught by Dr. Randy Moss, focused on how those in law enforcement can and should address trauma or emotional and physical assault victims. He said that these victims aren’t always the ones who come forward and accuse others of crimes, but are often those who commit crimes themselves.
“Ninety percent of adolescents have trauma in their background and that impacts their decisions,” Moss said. “We need to be conscious of these traumas in sentencing these people, and how we deal with them in general.”
The conference had 14 different classes to choose from over the course of the three breakout sessions — all with the goal of expanding behavioral health awareness in Ardmore.
“We want to have a trauma-informed community,” said Ashley Godwin, director of the Ardmore Behavior Health Collaborative. “A lot of the issues we are facing in our area are from adverse child experiences and there is a positive correlation between childhood experiences and substance abuse, obesity and heart disease. We want to raise awareness about these health issues.”
The Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative is leading the way in spreading awareness of behavioral health issues, not just in the area, but across the nation. The Collaborative is funded entirely by local grants and operates on partnerships.
The conference lasted from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.