Mindfulness Conference Returns for 4th Year

Steve Hailey, whom Mumford mentored as an athlete at Boston College, shares a relaxed moment with his old coach and friend. Photograph by Erik Jacobs

It’s called the Mindfulness Institute of the Roanoke Valley, dedicated as the website (mindfulroanoke.org) declares to “promote the science and practice of mindfulness throughout our community.” Its director and chairperson is Laurie Seidel, who is the Nurse Educator for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Carilion Clinic.

Seidel also holds faculty positions at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Jefferson College of Health Sciences.  The vice chair of the Institute’s board is Ted Edlich, who before he retired as the CEO at TAP had launched the first annual Mindfulness Conference in the valley.

Now the 4th annual Mindfulness Conference takes place on September 27 at Mill Mountain Theatre; it’s an all-day event beginning at 8:30am. (See mindfulroanoke.org for a link for tickets).

The special guest speaker and facilitator is George Mumford, a well known sports psychology figure and guru of sorts for Hall of Fame basketball coach Phil Jackson, who applied the mindfulness techniques he learned from Mumford on his way to winning 11 NBA titles. Mumford has also written a book on the subject as it relates to athletes – and anyone else. His website is mindfulathlete.org.

What is mindfulness? “The awareness that develops as we begin to pay attention on purpose to what is happening in the present moment,” says Seidel. That is we do not let the everyday distractions of life, worse perhaps in today’s digital world, get in the way. She calls mindfulness “a way of being in the world with curiosity, self-acceptance and without judgement.”

Edlich says the concept of mindfulness is not new and has been around “in the west for 40-50 years. It’s new in the sense that it’s been given a very strong scientific basis.” Edlich says it came from eastern societies; some may recognize Christian or Buddhist aspects to it. “Time fully there in the present moment,” he calls it. It can even be tracked to certain parts of the brain. Focusing on the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or perhaps looking too far ahead “is really a special, special skill.”

There are formal mindfulness practices and then “daily action” says Seidel, going about your busy day imbuing it with “moments of awareness.” It’s a practice she exposes nursing students to during her teaching roles with mindfulness workshops. Anyone can weave mindfulness into their daily lives with simple routines – by “hitting the pause button in your day.”

A technique called STOP is one example: Simply stop what you are doing for a moment,   Take a moment to drop into a natural breathing rhythm and become aware of the present, Observe what is happening within you at that moment, and then proceed with greater confidence, concentration and clarity.  There is a meditative quality to it at times. “How many times are you really present in the act of driving?” says Edlich, something many people can relate to. “Your head is in a totally different place.”

The STOP technique can also be used for anger management and to reduce anxiety he adds. Seidel has won an in-house award at Carilion Clinic for researching how Mindfulness can reduce stress levels.

Edlich got involved with mindfulness about a decade ago in part to help him through some of the financial stress TAP was going through for a while, and now says “the agency is stronger than ever.”

As for the conference on September 27, Edlich says attendees will enjoy hearing George Mumford, a former athlete himself (he roomed with ABA-NBA great Julius Erving in college) who taught sports figures like Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and others.

Mumford also taught stress reduction techniques to prison inmates and has used mindfulness for pain management as well. “He will be teaching us his revolutionary mindfulness skills,” says Seidel; “everyone could enjoy and benefit from being at this conference.”

Gene Marrano