My mindfulness journey began as part of a mental health challenge. However, once I embraced the practice, I noticed the myriad of benefits nearly immediately. Meditation started improving physical symptoms that have plagued me for as long as I remember, and it wasn’t long before I turned to sitting quietly to remedy multiple ills.
Meditation might not look like the kind of activity that gets your muscles moving and your heart pumping. It looks like you’re peacefully sitting or lying there—but you’re affecting physiological processes, nevertheless. Here’s why mindfulness has become an integral part of my entire health care routine, and how you can also reap the benefits.
Finding joy in everyday activities
How many times do you wake up thinking, “Ugh? Another workday I have to muddle through somehow.” If you’re like many folks, it probably happens fairly often. How can anyone find joy in rush-hour traffic or Monday morning budget meetings?
Mindfulness helps you examine the purpose driving your behaviours and bring meaning to everyday chores. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, explains, it’s the practice of peeling back the onion layers and discovering what it means to be human. Income and expense graphs develop new meaning when you realize that your company’s profits reflect your ongoing job security and the potential for your team to earn higher pay and benefits.
The practice of mindfulness also helps you enjoy life’s mundane moments more. Take brushing and flossing your teeth—a chore you probably don’t relish—and try reflecting on it as self-care. You’re removing the oral bacteria that can cause inflammation around your heart and contribute to Type 2 diabetes. That realization may make your nightly pre-bedtime habit less burdensome and more delightful.
Mindfulness and health go hand in hand
Your mind and body are intimately entwined, and if one feels unhealthy, the other will follow. When you experience prolonged stress, you can mentally experience racing thoughts and panic, and these emotions can also spur physiological responses. Typically, your hypothalamus will tell your body to release cortisol, a hormone that’ll increase your heart rate and blood flow while tensing your muscles for battle.
This association between the body and the brain helps explain how mindfulness meditation reduces symptoms of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain disorders in practitioners.
When your nervous and muscular systems go into overdrive, pain is understandably the result. For instance, contemplate how your arms would feel after performing biceps curls for hours! On the other hand, sitting and clearing your mind stops the flood of hormones that can cause your trigger points to spasm, but the physical health benefits don’t only arise when you sit in a lotus pose.
Try incorporating the following meditative practices into your daily life and watch your overall well-being improve.
Do you struggle to manage your weight? If so, do you often find yourself grazing at your work desk or eating dinner in front of the television? Incorporating mindfulness into your meals can help you control your appetite and shed excess pounds without resorting to restrictive fad diets that’ll inevitably lead to a rebound effect.
Get started as you prepare your meal. As you blend the various ingredients, notice how the flavour and texture of each dish changes. Turn off distractions like the evening news, and put down your cell phone while you eat. Savour each bite, letting your tongue explore the taste and pausing to put your fork down between mouthfuls.
Tune into your body and take note of when you feel full. When you do, take a break, even if several forkfuls remain on your plate. This activity will reunite you with your body’s physiological reactions to food, which will help you lose weight effortlessly. You aren’t depriving yourself—you’re honouring your needs.
You might think that mindful movement means adopting a Yoga practice. That ancient system of exercise does marry the mind and body, but you can reap similar benefits from any physical activity—the trick is reflecting while you move.
If you love nothing more than your after-dinner walk, why not make it a mindful experience? You can perform a meditative walk by paying attention to each step as you lift and lower your legs. While doing so, ask yourself thoughtful questions. How does the ground feel beneath your feet? Can you sense your knees absorbing the impact? What birdsongs can you hear, and what aromas do you smell?
Many people practice mindfulness meditation before bedtime, but you can also do this upon awakening. I’ve found a way to use the practice to help me reprogram my brain from traumatic experiences and motivate me for the coming day. In the twilight time upon awakening, your mind enters a hypnopompic state, during which it accepts suggestions like a sponge. I take advantage of this opportunity to meditate.
For reprogramming purposes, I find it useful to listen to mindfulness meditation channels on YouTube. They’re the best free therapy I’ve discovered, and all you need is an internet connection to access them. You can find recordings designed for anything from overcoming social media addiction to manifesting your goals.
Mindfulness is a must for mental health
A recent meta-analysis of 39 studies concluded that mindfulness-based stress reduction alters affective and cognitive processes that underlie many mental disorders. Many therapists now implement these techniques into their practices to help patients recover.
- Personality disorders: People often “write off” those on the borderline, histrionic or narcissistic personality spectrum as untreatable. Yet, mindfulness is a powerhouse at treating conditions where the individual’s behaviour creates the problems that drive them to the counsellor’s couch. Meditation helps such individuals identify the underlying core content that drives them to self-harm, angry tirades or even criminal behaviour. Once they recognize their triggers and emotional buttons, they can choose healthier ways to express and meet their needs.
- Anxiety and depression: If you experience anxiety or depression, you probably ruminate. Worrying about what may happen or replaying immutable past events can make anyone feel worse, but mindfulness returns your focus to the here and now. It reminds you that whatever you fear the most isn’t happening at present. It also helps you process the emotions surrounding your experiences, so they can no longer drive you to the edge of despair.
Embrace wholistic health through mindfulness
Mindfulness benefits both your physical and mental health. Incorporating the practice into your daily life can help you more effectively manage chronic pain and psychological stress, and I’ve personally found that it gives me the psychic armour to defend myself against life’s slings and arrows.
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