PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Mindfulness has become a popular subject.

From actors to athletes to corporations looking to save money on healthcare, more and more people are giving it a try.

It’s about teaching yourself to live in the moment and noticing what’s around you without all the distractions.

One of the biggest proponents of mindfulness is a congressman from Youngstown who meditates twice a day and gets others on Capitol Hill to join him.

“Even my friends will tease me on the House floor. ‘Here’s the Zen Congressman,’” said Congressman Tim Ryan, a Democrat, who has started something called “The Quiet Time Caucus.”

It’s mostly staffers getting together to meditate each week, but Ryan says some members of Congress have sheepishly shown interest, too.

“Inevitably, they’ll walk away and one of them will come back and say, ‘You know I’m really stressed out,’ Quietly, they’re looking over their shoulder, ‘What is that stuff you’re doing?’” he said.

The congressman has written a book about the stuff he’s doing. Congressman Ryan says we’re so distracted all the time that we’re missing out on life and the present moment.

A former high school and college athlete, Ryan was drawn to mindfulness years ago when he learned coach Phil Jackson was using it with the Chicago Bulls and winning NBA titles.

“Now, the Seattle Seahawks have whole mindfulness based program,” said Congressman Ryan. “The Marines have a program they call Mind Fitness.”

Congressman Ryan is also a big believer in having meditation in schools.

At Lafayette Elementary in Washington, D.C., students call Linda Ryden “The Peace Teacher.” Each week, she leads them in a mindfulness class.

“At first, the kids thought it was weird, and after just a couple of weeks, they were really into it,” said Ryden.

Since she started it four years ago, she says the kids can better deal with anger, and the school no longer has a need for a detention room.

“We just don’t really have the problem with fighting and kids getting into trouble that we used to have,” said Ryden. “It’s really changed everything.”

At Carnegie Mellon University, Psychology Professor David Creswell has been studying mindfulness for years.

He describes it this way:

“Just noticing what’s there for you, moment by moment. If that’s focusing on your breathing, that’s great. If it’s noticing how you’re reacting to a difficult situation, that’s great, too. But, the important thing is to begin to notice.”

His latest experiment involved recruiting unemployed people in the Pittsburgh area.

“We wanted to find the most stressed-out folks here in the community,” said Creswell.

They came to a spiritual center in the North Hills for a retreat, and were divided into two groups.

One had three days of mindful meditation, while the other had a relaxation program without any mindfulness.

The results were impressive and definitely not the same with the two groups.

He showed KDKA-TV’s David Highfield how brain scans of the mindfulness group looked different afterwards. There was a noticeable the change in an area that helps us manage emotions and stress, but there was no change in the brain scans from members of the other group.

So what should you do to become more mindful?

Highfield tried a mindfulness-based stress reduction class offered by UPMC’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

Carol Greco, a clinical psychologist, led the group in a relaxing tone.

She told everyone to focus on their breathing and guide their brain back if they begin thinking of something else.

It’s not easy, but Greco said if you keep at it, it can affect your everyday life in a positive ways.

For instance, it allows you to pause for a second and decide how to react before immediately responding to something.

“Somebody cuts me off, I might be like, “Umm, what’s their problem?’ But, I wouldn’t get myself all stressed out,” said Greco. “So, we have with that pause, we have a lot more choices.”

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