Mindfullness – how can it support your health?
Mindfulness is loving all the details of our lives, and awareness is the natural thing that happens: life begins to open up, and you realize that you're always standing at the center of the world.Pema Chodron
Well it’s been over a year since we shifted from our normal every day to day life to a state of upheaval and change and at times I still struggle with feeling ungrounded and unsteady. Like so many others, life is made up daily reminders that don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy such as – oh ya gotta grab your mask as soon as you leave your house, keep social distanced, avoid visiting others (let alone hugging others), can’t travel right now and wash your hands a billion times a day all in an effort to stay healthy and avoid passing this crazy virus on to others. My business has reduced and shifted (like so many others), but this shift has forced me to find different ways to connect and work with people, which I am very grateful for.
This year I will be exploring another aspect of my own self care – delving into the subject of mindfulness. For years I have been talking about mindful intentions when it came to eating and moving, but I personally haven’t spent the time to explore the spiritual, emotional and mental side of it, until now. Let’s start a conversation about what mindfulness is and how we may be able to tap into the expansive power it can add to our daily lives.
I believe an aspect of Mindfulness lives within our own spirituality, culture or religion, however some of what I will explore in this post will come from Buddhist teachings that have resonated with me over many years. I won’t be talking about this subject based upon my own scholastic knowledge, as I too am on a journey into how mindfulness can support my own mental health, so to help I will be referring to a few of the amazing teachers who tackle mindfulness with grace, compassion and humaness (which I know is not really a word, but you get the gist).
First of all, Mindfulness...what does that term even mean?
I don’t know if I can really isolate a specific definition for MINDFULNESS as the term means many things for many people, but it is definitely a mental state of being, a focus of awareness, a presence of what is around us and a cultivated practice that is often followed daily or throughout ones life.
A mindful practice may be cerebral for some and ethereal for others and it may be influenced by someones background and spiritual beliefs. I have listened to buddhist monks, therapists, doctors, scholars and yoga teachers talk about “mindfulness” from slightly differently perspectives, but all share a common ground which is to support the body, mind and spirit, connecting to a deeper level of being.
With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.Thich Nhat Hanh
Why is mindfulness so important for our health?
There have been so many articles written about the health benefits of mindfulness on our body, mind and spiritual health, that include improved sleep, better ability to deal with stressful situations, better focus etc., but I think the most important benefit is its ability to reduce stress, and we all could use that! Positive psychology describes 23 benefits of having a mindfulness practice and best thing of all is we can tap into it at any time, any where and it’s free to do.
Although mindfulness is a state of being, it takes time to cultivate this practice and doesn’t come easy for everyone. Mindfulness can exist within many aspects of our daily life – how we exercise, eat, breathe, walk and for some pray. If you have never tried creating a mindful practice start simple, begin with one element that resonates with you or tap into many of the resources available on line, within your community, within your church or religion or via a webinar or podcast. Explore what mindfulness can offer you.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.Psychology Today
Mindfulness in your toolbox
Now I think more than ever we have all been thrown into a position of discomfort or unsteadiness and that presents an opportunity to take the time to work on our own health and wellness. Use this idea of mindfulness as a tool or an exploration to help support your whole body’s health.
So on my journey into mindfulness, I came across a podcast on Spotify called Practicing Human with Cory Muscara and he has helped me to stop and think every day, even if it’s just for a moment, about how I can cultivate my own practice. He offers ideas and thoughts (see some of the them below) that stem from his experience living with monks as well as being an instructor of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Cory talks about feeling the sensations of our breath rather than thinking about our breath (which is what I talk about in my mindful breathing video below) and he talks about the importance of acknowledging what comes up with our thoughts and trying to go back to feeling the breath again. So if a thought or emotion comes up repetitively, stay with your thought for a while then get back to feeling (not thinking about) the breath. I think this is the essence of the practice of mindfulness.
Here are a few hints from Cory Muscara, Practicing Human to help support your mindfulness practice:
To connect to CORY check out his podcast on Spotify PRACTICING HUMAN. (Thanks Cory!)
Mindful breathing - how is this important to our health?
So let’s talk a little about mindfulness and our breath – because in my mind we can’t really connect to one without the other. When we bring mindfulness to our breath we bring intentionality and focus that will help to deepen it. Take a second and close your eyes and slowly, focusing only on your breath, inhale and exhale a few times…take note of what’s going on.
- Is your mind trailing away to your to do list for the day?
- Is it harder to breathe in than out?
- Does your breath get stuck somewhere in your torso?
- Are your shoulders elevating and your neck feeling tension?
- How does mindful breathing make you feel?
These are some the questions that may come up as you explore your breath mindfully…here’s the key, stay with those questions and explore the answers as difficult as that may be. In the end you will come out feeling better than you did and if you can’t answer the difficult questions that arise seek the help from a practitioner like a psychotherapist to help you navigate your way to better health.
Here is a video to help you connect to your mindful breath
Cindy is the owner and creator of My Fit Over 50 and Pilates with Cindy. Much of the information above has come from years of research and her own personal journey towards living a more mindful life.