Mindfulness has become a buzzword these days, and with good reason — it can literally change your life in an instant.
Mindfulness simply means living and observing the present moment; a state of actively, openly and intentionally focusing on the now. Being mindful allows you to experience your life as it happens, rather than as a collection of memories or future concerns.
Mindfulness, like meditation, allows us to seek solitude from our outside environment so that it doesn’t affect our internal landscape.
So often, we experience stress because we aren’t fully living in the present. When we are replaying a tape in our head of something that happened last week or worrying about a conversation we have the next day, we feel powerless…because we are! There is nothing you can do about last week or tomorrow. Feeling powerless is the cornerstone of stress. You do, however, have complete control of this very moment, right now.
Mindfulness also allows us to fully experience and appreciate what is happening inside of us: mentally, emotionally, and physically. It allows us to respond appropriately rather than react impulsively or negatively.
Since the body and mind are inextricably connected, every time we have a thought, we set off a cascade of physical reactions in our nervous system that influence every cell in our body. Our cells are constantly responding to our thoughts. This is why you have a very physical reaction to stressors or other emotion-evoking experiences.
We have amazing potential to heal and transform ourselves through our thoughts, perceptions, and choices. The body is a magnificent network of intelligence, capable of far more than current medical science can explain.
The following five mindfulness techniques will help you begin to cultivate your mind-body connection and live more fully in the present moment.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools for restoring balance to our mind and body. In meditation, you experience a state of restful awareness in which your body is resting deeply while your mind is awake though quiet.
In the silence of awareness, the mind lets go of old patterns of thinking and feeling and learns to create new, more effective and relaxed patterns.
Scientific research on meditation is accelerating with the growing awareness of it’s numerous benefits, including a decrease in hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and addictive behaviors. A groundbreaking study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people feel calmer but also produced changes in various areas of the brain, including growth in the areas associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation.
Meditation brings us home to the peace and power of the present moment and has potential to induce profound relaxation that can potentially dissolve fatigue and acute or chronic stress. The most powerful benefits of meditation come from having a regular, daily practice.
Start by setting aside some time (even 2 minutes will work) every day, ideally at the same time, to sit comfortably without distraction. Close your eyes and observe your breathing. You can count breaths if that works better. Accept that your mind will wander! There are also many wonderful meditation apps out there. Some favorites are Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace.
The most optimal state for your body to metabolize food is when you’re relaxed. Have you ever eaten in a rush in a matter of minutes only to have a belly ache, possibly other digestive discomfort and to feel hungry again an hour later? You’ve experienced the consequences of eating with a lack of mindfulness.
Research continually shows that those who sit down for their meals, chew their food thoroughly, take breaks in between bites and take time to appreciate their food not only eat less but are also more likely at or close to their ideal weight.
Try taking the first few minutes of each meal to sit and breathe deeply for a minute. Think about where your food came from, all the effort it to get to your plate and express gratitude for your meal. Even if the rest of your mealtime is rushed or compromised, starting out this way can have a huge impact on your satiety.
Not only does exercise keep the body young, but it also keeps the mind vital and promotes emotional wellbeing. In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Harvard University professor John Ratey, M.D. describes research showing that physical activity sparks biological changes that increase the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and perform other cognitive tasks. Exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of stress and lift depression.
I often see people at the gym reading a book on the treadmill. Not only is this dangerous, but I would argue that they aren’t using their exercise time optimally. Some people just want to read while they walk on the treadmill. But you certainly aren’t going to change your body composition or have any breakthroughs this way.
Find one activity that you can do mindfully, fully engaged at least once a week. Maybe it’s walking or yoga. Commit to being there and nowhere else. I often tell clients that they should work out intensely (to whatever capacity they can) at least twice a week to the point where the activity requires their full mental participation. You will notice a huge difference in the quality of those workouts, I assure you.
Restful sleep is key to having health and vital energy. Yet sleep is so often neglected and under-emphasized. Some even boast about how little sleep they can function on. In reality, over time, inadequate sleep disrupts the body’s innate balance, weakens the immune system, contributes to weight gain and depression, and speeds up the aging process.
How can mindfulness help you sleep? Have you ever laid in bed at night, unable to fall asleep because you were thinking about some other place and time? Again, we’re back to the past/future phenomenon.
Try journaling before bed to release any worries or fears that are lingering in your mind. Try doing a few minutes of deep breathing or a guided meditation as you lay in bed. Keep your bedtime routine consistent, and avoid technology 30 minutes before bed time.
When we tune in mindfully, we are able to identify toxic thoughts, feelings and emotions that are keeping us stuck.
This might be unprocessed anger, hurt or disappointment, all of which contribute to toxicity in our bodies. What are you holding onto that is no longer serving you?
Try repeating some affirmations to yourself in the mirror in the morning at night. Say, “I am willing to release these negative patterns/thoughts/behaviors that are keeping me stuck.”
The most effective way to move past difficult emotions is to acknowledge them. If you can accept their presence, it’s much easier to let them go.
You can also write down worries, fears, anxieties on a piece of paper and put them away somewhere like a box, the garbage or even in the fireplace!
I often reference the quote that “all we have to do to change our life is change our mind.” What a powerful, profound statement. When you bring yourself back to the present moment, whether at work, when eating, while working out or while lying in bed, you will see that doing so empowers you and literally changes your life.