Mindful Much?Posted: September 4, 2014
It’s so interesting how the concept of mindfulness is springing up everywhere… and for a good reason. Mindfulness is so beneficial in so many ways; it helps us slow down, focus our attention, be present in the moment, tune into what is happening in our bodies and accept what is without judgement. It involves quieting our mind’s chatter (ruminations over past actions/behaviors, and worries about what tomorrow holds), and taking a “time-in” to connect with ourselves by observing how our body is responding in that moment, and savoring or acknowledging what is.
Mindfulness can be cultivated over time with practice and has tremendous benefits for our mind, body, spirit and relationships with others! The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley lists many benefits that result from practicing mindfulness. To list a few, they report mindfulness:
- boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness,
- improves our ability to focus affecting our memory and attention skills,
- reduces anger, anxiety, stress and depression,
- reduces symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
- increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions–may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse,
- increases compassion, and self-compassion as well.
See their full list of benefits on their Mindfulness page.
Mindful.org is an online community dedicated to sharing the best of mindfulness-based practices, and is part of the “Mindful Initiative”, celebrating all things mindful in daily life. Additionally, mindfulness training, research and practice centers are popping up all around the country. Some centers are affiliated with universities such as The Center for Mindfulness at UCSD, and UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, while others are private practices where mindfulness trained professionals, such as therapists and life coaches, offer classes, workshops and retreats to get you started on incorporating mindfulness into your life. Businesses, schools, and the general public are now being targeted for specific applications such as stress reduction, eating, parenting, exercising, and relationships to name a few. The bottom line is that mindfulness is good for you and everything you do– from just basic existing to existing with flair, vitality and purpose. Furthermore, mindfulness encourages and increases our ability for compassion… which improves our connections with others and ultimately our life satisfaction.
Below I offer a couple of Mindfulness applications that can help you focus, attend to the here and now and cultivate compassion all at the same time. Try one out for yourself and let me know what resonated with you. Not everyone can quiet their chatting mind quickly… for most people it takes time and practice to cultivate mindfulness, and if it seems like it is not working one day for you, try it on another day, it may work then. The applications listed below are the basics that can get you started…
Mindful Breathing Meditation
Mindful breathing is one way to regulate our body’s response to stress and calm us down. This is one main component of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program created by Jon Kabat-Zin and taught in many institutions around the world. The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego is one of my favorite places for mindfulness training.
Steps for Mindful Breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your feet grounded on the floor, and try to have your back straight. You can also do this meditation laying down.
- Close your eyes, or focus on something that allows you to drop your head to a low gaze, and take 3 deep breaths.
- On the inhale, take in the air through your nose as you count silently to 4. Feel the air rushing into your body as your chest and lungs begin to expand.
- On the exhale, let the air (or carbon dioxide) out through your mouth as you count silently to 6 or 8. Feel your chest contract and your belly rise as you let the air out.
- After 3 deep breaths this way, return to a normal breathing pattern but continue to focus on your breath feeling the sensations associated with the process.
- Notice how your body feels as you are taking in the air and the renewal that is happening in your body.
- Notice how your body feels as you let air out, disposing with the waste of what is no longer needed.
- Focus on your breath for 3-5 minutes. Many people are able to increase that time up to 20 minutes or more. Think of it as a way to connect with your body on the most basic level and reconnect with calmness.
- If/when your mind wanders (and for most of us, it does a lot), and you are no longer attending to your breath, acknowledge what you are thinking about something, and gently bring your focus back to your breath at your belly.
- Set a timer for your meditation goal, and one it goes off, return to your normal state, but notice if you feel like your heart has opened up. For many, that is the result we feel after this type of meditation.
Mindful Eating-savoring Meditation
Slowing down to eat has great benefits for our bodies and minds alike. Many people don’t think twice about when and where they are eating, and how they are eating. Many of us just shovel food into our mouths without thinking twice. Some people stand to eat, while others mindlessly watch TV and eat. According to an article, “The Surprising Benefits of Mindful Eating,” by Dr. Susan Albers some benefits found with mindful eating include:
- reduces overeating and binge eating,
- improves weight loss and reduce your body mass index (BMI)
- helps ability to cope with chronic eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia, and reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body, and
- improves the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.
Steps for Mindful Eating:
So how do you eat mindfully? By just slowing down the whole process of eating, step by step.
- Select a piece of food that you desire. Try a few strawberries or a slice of orange; a piece of cheese or even chocolate– whatever your body is asking for.
- Notice the unique characteristics of the food; the color, the smell, the texture, the shape, the density, the flavor.
- Savor each unique characteristic as much as you can with each of your senses; is the color deeper in one area than another? does the texture change, does the flavor change from once you put it in your mouth, to when you finish chewing?
- Put the food into your mouth and put your spoon or fork down.
- Chew each bite of food completely and swallow before embarking on another bite. Some suggest to chew each bite at least 20 times.
- Take a moment to rest in between bites to savor even more.
- Notice how your body is responding to the nourishment. Depending on how much you have eaten, are you feeling fuller?
- This next step does step out of the power of “now”, but offers opportunities to show gratitude. Before you embark on another bite, think about everyone who was involved in getting that particular food to your door, to your table. Send gratitude to the farmers who may have cultivated the food you are eating. Those who tended to the food, who prepared the food for baking, eating, etc., who cooked the food if applicable, who enabled you to buy the food. The list can be very long depending on what type of food you are mindfully eating and savoring.
- As you take your next bite, start the process over again, and this time again sense the food with as many senses as you can as you are eating it. The more you sense, the more you can savor and reflect back on with gratitude.
- Repeat taking time with each step– selecting the bite, observing the food, sensing the food, chewing and swallowing, and giving thanks. Soon, you will realize that you may not be as hungry as you thought… with a little time, our bodies catch up with our brain and overeating could be a think of the past!
Let me know what you think of these meditations and applications for mindfulness. More information can be found in the Resources section of this website. Just think what life would be like if we lived our days being mindful. If you would like some guidance stepping into Mindfulness, send me an email and we’ll get you started!