Mindfulness For Your Health
Mindfulness for Your Health
The Benefits of Living Moment by Moment
Paying attention to what’s going on right this second can be hard. We often spend more time thinking about what’s coming up in the future. Or dwelling on things in the past we can’t change. We can miss out on experiencing the present.
It’s possible to train yourself to focus on the present moment. You become aware of what’s going on inside and around you—your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment. You observe these moments without judgment. This is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness has its roots in meditation. Meditation is a practice that aims to increase awareness of the mind and concentration.
In recent years, mindfulness has become a household term. Mindfulness programs are now commonly found in schools, workplaces, and hospitals.
Mindfulness can involve a sitting meditation that’s practiced in a quiet space. In this practice, you focus on your breathing or sensations in your body. If your mind wanders—like thoughts popping in about things you need to do—you try to return your mind to the present moment.
But mindfulness doesn’t have to be done sitting still or in silence. You can integrate the practice into things you do every day, like walking or eating. You can also be mindful while interacting with others.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness
Studies suggest that focusing on the present can have a positive impact on health and well-being.
Mindfulness-based treatments have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. There’s also evidence that mindfulness can lower blood pressure and improve sleep. It may even help people cope with pain.
One of the first mindfulness-based therapies was used for depression. Many studies have shown that it can be effective for some people.
Mindfulness appears to help with depression in two ways. First, it helps you develop the ability to stay grounded in the present.
With depression, your attention can get hijacked into the past or future. You spend time focusing on past negative experiences or worrying about things to come.
Second, mindfulness can help you “de-center” from such thoughts. It’s like being able to sit on the riverbank and watch thoughts floating by like leaves on a stream. Developing the skill of mindfulness can help stop you from being pulled into any one thought and carried down the stream. People often experience thoughts like, ‘nothing ever works out for me,’ or ‘it’s always going to be this way. Over time, and with practice, you can develop the ability to stand back from these painful thought patterns.
Researchers are now studying whether mindfulness training can help with a variety of other conditions, including PTSD, eating disorders, and addiction.
Developing Healthy Habits
Being mindful may also help you make healthier choices. You can bring mindfulness to your eating habits. Studies suggest that it can help reduce binge eating and emotional eating. Paying closer attention to your body can help you notice signals that you’re full and help you better enjoy your food.
This body awareness seems to be one part of how mindfulness helps people adopt healthier habits. If you’ve just eaten a jelly donut, you may be more likely to notice an unpleasant sugar crash, & remembering how your body reacts to certain foods can help you to make better food choices in the future. Some foods will give you energy while others can make you feel sluggish. Keeping a journal to record this is important.
This goes for positive feelings too. With physical activity, just about everybody feels better afterwards. So, with mindfulness training we’re aware of it improving our mood, and then we can use that reward to actually train ourselves.
Mindfulness may also help with setting a goal. We can place our mind on being more active or eating more fruits and vegetables. And if we place our intention there, it may be more likely that we’re going to carry through and make it happen.
Learning To Be Mindful
If you want to practice mindfulness, there are many online programs and apps. But they’re not all created equal. Experts suggest looking for resources from medical schools and universities. Check to see if they’re evidence-based.
If you end up having difficulty with an app, though, don’t take it personally or think that you’re somehow bad at mindfulness, or it’s not meant for you. You can also try finding a teacher or someone with the skills to guide you in mindfulness training.
And just like any skill, mindfulness takes practice. Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
Mental training can take time and dedication. Aim for a few minutes of mindfulness each day to start.
A body scan meditation can be a good way to connect with your body. It helps make you aware of how your body feels as you mentally scan from head to toe.
Start in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Take several deep breaths. Then, notice your feet. How do they feel?
Let your scan travel up your body—legs, stomach, arms, hands, neck, and finally, head. Notice any sensations or discomfort. Try not to change or judge these feelings—you’re simply checking in. Doing body scans on a regular basis can help increase mindfulness.
Tips on Being Mindful
Becoming more mindful requires practice. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Take some deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose to a count of 4, hold for 1 second and then exhale through the mouth to a count of 5. Repeat often.
- Enjoy a stroll. As you walk, pay attention to your breath and the sights and sounds around you. If thoughts and worries enter your mind, note them but then return to the present.
- Practice mindful eating. Be aware of taste, textures, and flavors in each bite. Listen to when your body is hungry and full.
- Do a body scan. Bring your attention to how each part of your body is feeling. This can help you connect with your body.
- Find mindfulness resources including online programs and teacher-guided practices.
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