What is mindfulness? It’s an intriguing term that we often hear thrown around and, because it’s now kind of hip to be mindful, you might think it is a fad that will pass. But au contraire readers…Mindfulness is powerful stuff, and it’s here to stay! So if it makes you happier and less stressed, why not join in the fun? Mindful means thoughtful or attentive, and mindfulness refers to the active process of being open and aware of the current moment without judgment. It can occur for a few seconds, perhaps as you pause to take a deep breathe and sigh when stressed, or it can be a more intentional process such as meditating (see number 6).
Mindfulness can bring you an immediate sense of calmness.
This stress reduction technique is a powerful tool to connect your mind with your body, which in turn will allow you to have more control over how you feel: your outlook to the future, interpretations of the past, and contentedness with the present.
You can eat a very healthy, whole foods, plant-based diet, exercise daily, breath clean air and have positive, satisfying relationships, but if you’re a bundle of nonstop frenetic stress you may be a whole lot less healthy than the couch potato next door who lives in a Zen state eating French fries. Why? Because becoming more mindful induces a relaxation response that calms the body and counteracts the stress response. This results in real physiological changes. Regular meditation or mindfulness practices have the power to reduce headaches, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve sleep and boost your immune system, according to current research studies.
Mindfulness is not quackery, fringe medicine or even the least bit controversial. I was fortunate to have the opportunity in 1989 to learn meditation firsthand from a now-well-respected leader in this field, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., when I was a student at University of Massachusetts Medical School. He took a few interested students to his meditation room during lunch, where we learned to meditate by focusing on the breath. At the time it felt a little “New Agey,” but I embraced it and learned a great deal from this fascinating man.
So here are 10 thing you can do today to find mindfulness in your daily life and reap all the benefits, which I bet you will begin to notice on day 1.
1. Wake up to a new day listening to chirping birds or melodic harps, not the nuclear meltdown alarm. Allow yourself to become aware of the new day gradually. Do NOT grab your phone and start checking texts, emails, Facebook, etc. Just stay in bed and make a mental note about how you feel today. Are you feeling recharged and ready to go/give/serve? Or are you feeling depleted with not enough sleep, in need of love and attention? Be mindful of where you are at and accept that. It’s OK.
2. Take the next two minutes to breathe mindfully while still in bed. Andrew Weil, M.D., created the following breathing practice that is simple and mindful. The counting helps to keep you in the moment. With slow intentional breathing, breath in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, then slowly exhale through pursed lips for a count of 8. Repeat four to eight times in a row. In addition to doing this before getting out of bed, I use this when stuck in traffic, while waiting in line, before bed, etc. It’s simple and short, but the rewards of a regular breathing practice are tremendous. Try it and you will see.
3. Set an intention for the day. Setting an overall purpose while you are getting ready to go out into the world guides you down the path of your desires with awareness. Write it down and put in your pocket to remind yourself throughout the day. “I love myself and accept where I am at right now.” or “I will try to pause before responding to Mike today at work.” or “I will eat and drink with attention to the process so I don’t eat anything I don’t really want to be eating.”
4. Be grateful. While driving to work or school, list five things for which you are grateful. It’s helpful to write these down in a grateful journal because it is uplifting to remember all the moments of gratefulness that will collect and can otherwise be forgotten. Re-reading them brings in more peace and positivity. What are you grateful for NOW in your life? Maybe the unconditional love your dog offered you this morning? A warm hug from your child/spouse/friend/wherever you can get one—and get them because the energy contained in hugs is very powerful! Do you love your bedroom comforter? The leaves changing in your neighborhood? The muffin you just ate?
5. Eat Mindfully. Instead of multitasking when you eat—we all do it: eating while driving, texting or watching TV—try eating and only eating. Sit down. First pause before starting to appreciate the appearance of the food on the plate and be grateful for where it came from—the farmers who grew the plants, the cooks who prepared it. Take your first bite and taste it while you are chewing. And taste it while you are swallowing; a lot of our taste comes during the swallow phase. Feel the texture, the temperature, the crunchiness or smoothness of the food. Appreciate the flavors—is it salty, sweet, savory? Is there lime in there? Or cilantro? Then repeat. This will slow you down and you will feel full faster than if you mindlessly shovel food in your mouth while preoccupied. Stop eating when you are almost full, because there is a delay in the signal that goes from the food filling up your stomach to the brain knowing you have eaten enough.
6. Find time to start a meditation practice. Meditation is the act of sitting or lying still for a set period of time while staying in the present moment by focusing on the breath. Here is one technique to try: Find a comfortable posture that you can hold for a few minutes. Start with five minutes and increase as you can. Close your eyes. Start by focusing on your slowing breath: in and out. Imagine you are sitting by the side of a beautiful stream on a grassy knoll. Your breathing is represented by the grassy knoll and you want to keep your focus at the edge of the stream. Whenever a thought enters your mind, place no judgment on the thought; just allow it to enter the stream and drift away. It is normal to have thoughts while meditating, just allow them to drift away, one thought at a time and return your focus to the side of the stream—your breath. In and out.
7. Find your flow. Turn your exercise routine into a mindful practice. This is easy with yoga; mindfulness defines the practice as postures are held and transitioned with the breath as a guide. Additionally, walking in the woods with your dog while breathing with your step and focusing on the birds and the wind through the trees can be a mindful practice. And the rhythmic activity of jogging or a repetitive workout machine can be morphed into a mindful activity by chanting an intention to yourself, or just focusing on your breath and letting all other thoughts go. Even while walking up the stairs at work, you can make an effort to be aware of yourself in this moment and breath with an openness on each step you climb, attaining a higher level of self awareness. Finding your flow can also be getting lost in a guitar solo, creating a painting, lying on the beach, knitting a sweater, carving wood—the possibilities are limitless!
8. Grounding, the process (yes, it’s a process now!) of connecting with the earth helps to bring you to a state of mindfulness. Placing your bare feet on the ground, on the earth, dirt, grass or sand, allows energy to pass between your body and the mass of the earth. It also might help with depression, anxiety and insomnia. Being in a boat on the water, rocking with the waves, also makes you more in tune with nature. Watching a natural event (a sunset, a moon rise, finding constellations, following a rainbow or watching the clouds pass by) connects you with the earth and the universe, offering perspective and bringing you into the moment.
9. Note what you are feeling and get in tune with it right now. And right now…and right now. As you go through your day, be aware of how you feel and be ok with your feelings. It’s ok to feel anxious or nervous or intimidated or angry. Or excited or happy! You don’t necessarily have to share your emotions with your co-workers if it is not appropriate, but acknowledging how you feel and accepting this as a normal human emotion will help you to live the moment more fully.
10. Use essential oils to help instill calm and relaxation. Lavender, for example, is very calming and has the ability to quiet the mind and offer emotional regulation, while promoting a sense of overall relaxation. Essential oils can be used in an oil diffuser, inhaled or applied directly. You also can mix them with a carrier oil (such as almond oil) and apply directly to pulse points on your skin, or add them to the bath. Essential oils are especially useful during times of stress, when going to sleep or before meditation.
Relax and enjoy….
Sandra Musial, M.D., is a pediatrician who believes that the foundation of a healthy life starts with healthy food. Growing up, she was inspired by her father, who had a keen interest in nutrition. She earned a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences and then went on to get her M.D. from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. After training as a pediatrician, Sandy worked in private practice for 13 years, where she focused on children’s health and wellness, as well as breastfeeding. She then joined Hasbro Primary Care as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Brown University, teaching the pediatric residents and medical students. Working with an increasing number of undernourished obese children, she was motivated to train at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition® to earn a certificate in Health Coaching. Though she has witnessed the healing power of allopathic medicine, she has also seen its limitations, especially with regard to disease prevention through healthy nutrition. Sandy helps others find their optimal health by exploring the various facets of health and wellness, and making changes toward a healthier whole life. Sandy enjoys gardening, yoga, knitting and sweater alchemy. For more information visit www.healthcoachconnect.com