Learn how to manage your emotions and improve your physical health with mindfulness.
From fear to anger to sadness, many people around the world are having difficulty coping with this pandemic. Despite the massive amount of information that we are receiving about the coronavirus, we are really in the dark when it comes to knowing how all of this will play out. This combination of information overload and uncertainty causes us to fear the worst.
Over the past two decades, there has been considerable research pointing to the mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness. Of course, mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, but these benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. The physical health benefits of mindfulness are also quite profound, including most important at this time, increased functioning of your immune system.
So how can we start getting these benefits right away?
Set a time to practice daily
Think of mindfulness as an exercise for the mind. Just like physical exercise requires regular practice to see results, mindfulness must be practiced daily to experience the full benefits it has to offer. So start by choosing a time each day that you can commit to practicing for about ten minutes. There is no best time to practice. Just pick a time that will work for you (for example when you first wake up, before you eat lunch, or before bed) and set an alarm on your phone to remind you to practice at this time every day.
Use a guided mindful meditation
Formal mindfulness practice is done by meditating; however, mindful meditation is NOT clearing your mind, chanting, or even trying to relax. Mindful meditation is usually guided by a trained mindfulness instructor and involves bringing your attention to the present moment by refocusing back to the breath and/or the body every time the mind wanders away.
I think it helps to compare meditation to a bicep curl. Every time you bring your attention to your breath it’s like you are bringing your fist up towards your shoulder, and then when your mind wanders away it’s like your fist going back down. So the more times your mind wanders away, the more chances you get to build this mindfulness “muscle” with more repetitions of bringing your attention back to your breath.
Obviously you can’t really build a muscle in your mind, but mindfulness meditation strengthens neural pathways that create actual changes in your brain that can be seen in an MRI.
For an audio file of a guided mindful meditation called the Body Scan click here.
Incorporate mindfulness practices throughout your day
As a complement to your daily meditation practice, do informal mindfulness practices by simply bringing mindful awareness to any activity that you do. To practice mindful eating, a common informal mindfulness practice, grab a raisin or any other small piece of food and go through the following steps:
Using each of your five senses slowly examine this item.
- What does it feel like in your hand or when you touch it with your fingers?
- What colors and shapes do you see?
- Does it make any sound if you roll it around between your finger and thumb?
- What do you smell when you bring this item up to your nose?
- When you place it on your tongue how does it taste?
Resist the urge to just quickly eat this item like you normally do, and instead continue to bring your attention back to the present moment by focusing on one of your five senses.
When you do bite down, notice how it feels between your teeth, and how the taste changes after you bite into it.
Notice the changing texture and sensations in your mouth as you continue to chew, and then notice your urge to swallow and how the food feels as it moves down your throat when you do swallow it.
Then finally notice how your mouth feels and if any taste lingers after the food is gone.
Become aware of how and why these practices can best help you
To gain the most from the formal and informal mindfulness practices ask yourself the following questions after each exercise:
- What did you observe in your mind and body during this practice?
- How is this practice different from how you normally breathe, experience your body, eat, etc?
- How could this practice help you?
Take an 8-week mindfulness course, either in-person or online
The research studies proving the mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness are primarily done with people who have completed an 8-week mindfulness course. These courses provide the structure, support, accountability, and instruction that create the best outcomes. I am currently creating an online mindfulness course that will provide all of the benefits of the in-person courses, but can be accessed in the safety of your own home. To receive updates about this course please click here.