Mindfulness and Your Health
Spiritual well-being is an integral and essential aspect of everyday life, without which other facets of human life, including the biological, psychological and social factors, may not function appropriately. Mindfulness and health go hand in hand say researchers, and you don't have to become some sort of mystic to benefit from meditation.
Stress has a massive impact on our society. According to an article published by the Power of Positivity blog, mental health problems cost our econom billions of dollars a year, and seven million adults are so tense they’d qualify for a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. Many of the physical ailments that overwhelm our health services are also stress-related—whether we suffer from heart disease, headaches or high blood pressure, our fast-paced lives tend not to be good for us. We want to be happy and well, but despite all the technology of our modern world, not many people find real peace. This is where turning to a strategy developed in a much earlier age can help. Mindfulness meditation has been around for more than 2000 years, and there is a growing body of scientific research showing that mindfulness can make a real difference to people’s quality of life.
There's a lingering stereotype about people who practice meditation or some form of mindfulness. In the eyes of too many people, mindfulness practitioners are entering some sort of mystic or religious space. They believe that if you close your eyes or recite an audible or silent mantra, you are praying or engaging in some sort of religious or spiritual activity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mysticism is very different from meditation. Typical meditation, and I’m not talking about meditation derived from spiritual practices, I’m talking about basic meditation, is all about becoming aware of your body and your mind in the present moment. Mysticism is about awareness that is beyond you—reaching out to some sort of greater truth that can extend back in time or forward into the future. When you're being mindful, you don't care about the past. Therefore, meditation is helpful to a lot of people who are trying to overcome some sort of trauma—like a chronic illness.
Whatever the case may be, when you practice meditation, you let go of the past. You're no longer going through your mental closet and unraveling very painful or traumatic memories only to put them back into the closet again, and then repeat the process over and over. You take a break from that. You really do. When you practice mindfulness, you are focused on one thing and one thing alone: the present moment. The same applies to worries. If you are a worrier, meditation may be the solution you're looking for. Instead of obsessing and wasting emotional and mental resources thinking about stuff that has yet to happen, you focus on what is. You realize that the air coming out of your nostrils is real right here, right now. Nothing else.
What we need to retain from this post is that mindfulness training/meditation can protect us from depression, reduce our stress levels, help us manage chronic pain and let go of compulsive behaviors like smoking and over-eating, and even enable us to cope better with a serious illness. Mindfulness can boost our immune systems and induce changes in our brains that are linked to better moods. The results of this level of deep thinking are dramatic—people who have battled with health problems for years find relief through accepting and working with their condition in a new way, dropping the desperate struggle to make things different from how they are.
Mindfulness training makes it possible for a different kind of healing to take place, creating an open space of awareness from which we can start choosing to live well, as best we can, even with a serious illness. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to the present moment, rather than fretting about the past or future—observing thoughts, feelings and events with a gentle curiosity. As we develop our practice, we don’t get so caught up in the maelstrom of activity inside our heads and out in the world. We start to see that “thoughts are not facts,” and that we can relate differently to our minds—observing our negative thinking patterns with kindness.
Now that we have seen how important mindfulness is for our well-being, you might ask how exactly does someone learn to be mindful? How does one essentially re-train the brain? Just about everyone these days is faced with intense demands on their time and their metal resilience as we all attempt to balance work, family, friends, and our health. And that’s what led me to write this blog and help you learn how you too can practice mindfulness. For me, the key has been to make lasting changes in my life by infusing the ordinary moments of my life with the practice of mindfulness and meditation. While I only have 15 minutes to meditate, I have 16 or more hours each day that I can use for integrating the practice of mindfulness into the moment-to-moment flow of my life. Over time and practicing the art of mindfulness, I have discovered that some of the best way to settle my mind is to just rest, eat, and walk mindfully.
Resting means exactly that, to stop what I am doing in order to relax. When I’m physically tired after an exhausting day at work or a tough dialysis treatment, I sit down on my comfy chair and rest. Similarly, to rest the mind, all I do is sit down and allow my mind to relax. One way to rest the mind is to use an image. Imagine a butterfly resting gently on a flower moving slowly in the breeze. In the same way, the mind rests gently on the breath. Another way to calm your mind is to simply tell yourself that, “There is nowhere to go and nothing to do for this one moment, except to rest.” Resting is an instinct—we all know how to do it. The idea here is to turn resting from an instinct to a skill.
Eat mindfully means take time to enjoy the time you have to eat and savor the tastes and smells. When you scoff down your meal on autopilot while distracted by the television, computer, or constant conversation, you miss out on the delicious taste and smell of your food. You're also less likely to feel satisfied and nourished, because you “missed out” on the fact that you ate. Don't attempt to do fifty other things when you sit down to a meal. Simply focus all your attention on what is in front of you.
Walk mindfully. When you are out walking, take time to notice how your body moves, how it flows, and observe what is going on around you -- the sights, sounds and life unfolding. You may be amazed to find a whole new world you hadn't even noticed before.
You do not always have to be running around to get things accomplished. Often, your mind and body need to recharge so you can be productive when you do have to work. Allow yourself to have this resting period and think of it as a necessary part of living a good life in the long run The practice of “just being in the moment: has two features in common: they all involve some degree of mental stillness and attention to the present moment. Because of that, they all lead to the basic meditative state, in which the mind is alert and relaxed at the same time, so it will calm down and be in a state where it is both calm and clear. By synergizing our daily lives with mindfulness, we can learn to be more connected to the world around us.
Allow yourself to do nothing and just be. Mindfulness is a life-long journey so why not start now?
** Images by Pexels and Adobe PS