Do you feel like you’re sometimes driving through life on auto pilot? Or does a busy mind keep you awake at night? Do you feel more connected to technology than people? It’s possible that a mindfulness check is in order.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice of being completely aware of what’s happening in the present—of all that’s going on inside and all that’s happening around you. Studies suggest that focusing on the present can have a positive impact on health and well-being. These practices may help people manage stress, cope better with serious illness and reduce anxiety and depression. Many people who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax, a greater enthusiasm for life and improved self-esteem. And who doesn’t want that?
MIND & THE BRAIN
A major benefit of mindfulness is that it encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts, your actions and your body. For example, mindfulness can help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It’s common for people to watch TV in the evening and snack without really paying attention to how much they are eating. But with mindful eating, you eat when you’re hungry, focus on each bite, enjoy your food more and stop when you’re full.
Mindfulness involves training our attention to stay in the present moment, rather than following our thoughts into the past or future. Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self. The same way we do certain exercises to strengthen our body’s muscles, with mindfulness we train the brain’s muscle—attention.
MIND & THE HEART
In a study of mindfulness-based stress reduction and high blood pressure, “those who learned mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who learned progressive muscle relaxation, suggesting that mindfulness could help people at risk for heart disease by bringing blood pressure down.”
In another study, people with heart disease were randomly assigned to either an online program to help them practice meditation or to a waitlist for the program while undergoing normal treatment for heart disease. Those who took the mindfulness program showed significant improvements on the six-minute walking test (a measure of cardiovascular capacity) and slower heart rates than those in the waitlist group. So don’t underestimate the power your mind has over your heart!
MIND & CONSISTENCY
Although most U.S. adults have initiated an exercise program at some time, only a fraction are able to maintain consistent exercise. In another study, “subjects who were successful at maintaining exercise tended to score higher on measures of mindfulness and acceptance, and lower on measures of suppression.” Therefore, exercisers with greater mindfulness are less reactive and respond with a more balanced approach to threats to their exercise regimen which in turn promotes increased exercise maintenance.
Being aware and mindful of your present health and fitness goals and ambitions while in and out of the gym is paramount to long-term success.
TIP: Deep breathing, visualization, prayer and meditation are all effective mindfulness techniques. Try them all together, or at different times, to explore how your mind best responds to calming and focusing on the present.
AIM: Start with sitting for just two minutes. Try it first thing each morning (or in moments where your mind feels overwhelmed). Don’t get caught up in the how. Check in with how you’re feeling. Count your breaths. Come back when you wander. Develop a loving attitude.