Enon Healthy Warrior reporters recently spoke with Tim Massaquoi, clinical director of The Ladipo Group and a former NFL player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and Buffalo Bills. They asked him about the health benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness involves people focusing on the present moment by using all their senses. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: How is mindfulness good for people to practice? How is it good for your mental health?
Mr. Massaquoi: Mindfulness allows us to tap in, slow down, and really be present. Someone I was working with last night said, “When I’m doing something, I’m thinking about the next thing I can do.” If you’re doing that, you’re taking away from the full experience. Practicing mindfulness helps you tap into the moment you’re in.
Q: Is mindfulness good for your physical health, too? If so, please explain.
Mr. Massaquoi: Your breathing is part of mindfulness practice. If I can slow my breathing down, I slow my heart rate down, and then I’m in a calm state. If I’m ever amped up or too excited, I regulate my breathing, which is good for blood flow and blood pressure.
Q: How do you keep your mind from wandering when you’re doing something?
Mr. Massaquoi: It is so hard to keep your mind from wandering. Even as an adult practicing mindfulness I have a hard time with that. I try to be intentional and thoughtful around what I want to do. What that does is it helps me to clear out distractions and focus on things I’m trying to get done. If you’re not aware, another thought creeps in and then you’re doing something else for 5-10 minutes. I try to be intentional and pull myself into the moment. If my mind starts to wander, I pull myself in and focus on one thing.
Q: When have you used mindfulness?
Mr. Massaquoi: Anytime I’m feeling anxious. When I’m feeling nervous, anytime my mind is scattered. I use mindfulness to help me get centered and focus on the task at hand. I’ll use it to help check my emotional state and shift to a better state.
Q. What can kids do to practice mindfulness? Can you suggest some ways for our readers to practice mindfulness?
Mr. Massaquoi: I have a short exercise we can practice. This one is called 4-4-4. I use it when I work with young people because it’s important to be able to regulate your breathing: Inhale slowly for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds and then exhale for four seconds. It helps to calm my body down and get me more centered.
Q: Have you used mindfulness with your patients?
Mr. Massaquoi: Yes, absolutely. Especially with my patients who struggle with anxiety.
Q: Do you have to be a good listener to be a therapist? How do you become a good listener?
Mr. Massaquoi: There’s this thing called active listening. It allows you to fully tap into what somebody’s saying. You’re not just listening with your ears. I notice changes in body language and voice that tell me that the topic is bothering you.