Washington was making Rep. Tim Ryan sick … until he found mindfulness

Ohio Democrat touts emotional, cognitive, health benefits of meditative practice

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A mindful Congress?

Following a mindfulness conference in New York last October, Mr. Ryan was walking to a restaurant; when it started to rain, he ducked under an awning, within earshot of two sisters who also had attended the conference.

“Was that a congressman I just met? And he’s writing a book about mindfulness?” said one sister.

“Yeah,” said the other.

“Will he still be a congressman after writing that book?” said the first sister.

“It’s common for elected officials to talk about physical things — budgets, guns, potholes,” Mr. Hanson said. “It’s not very common to talk about the psychological and mental factors that are involved in things going well or badly in public policy. It’s as if it’s somehow too weak or New Age, too fringe or California. Tim is shining a spotlight on this, and that’s brave.”

Mr. Ryan doesn’t see his mindfulness advocacy as particularly courageous. He sees it as a no-brainer — something that can help cure what ails both our overstressed bodies and the body politic.

“If we can shave a fraction of the health care costs of chronic stress, we’re talking about real savings,” he said. “Heart disease. Type 2 diabetes. Politically, this cuts across the aisle. You hear one side talk about being compassionate towards kids and investing in education. We also hear about saving money and deficits and individual responsibility.

“Well, what more can you give to a human being than to teach them how to be responsible for their own health by reducing their stress level, increasing their focus and boosting their immune system?”

A few years ago, Mr. Kabat-Zinn sent copies of his book on mindfulness, “Coming to Our Senses,” to every member of Congress. Only Mr. Ryan read it.

Recently, however, one of Mr. Ryan’s colleagues approached him in his office — praising his book, and noting that while he wasn’t yet meditating every day, he wasn’t checking his BlackBerry during weekend days while spending time with his children.

“That’s a home run as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Ryan said. “What do we do all the time? Digest negative information, from Syria and Iran to veterans and suicides to the economy. Then there’s all the political fighting on the news. Why wouldn’t members of Congress be stressed out and have active amygdalas? And these are the same people that need to be saying, ‘O.K., what’s the long-term vision for the country?’

“We don’t need to move to the left or to the right. We all need to go a little deeper.”

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