Why is mindfulness important to my health?
The first thing you need to understand is the inescapable link between what’s happening in your mind and in your body. Imagine walking into a busy shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, it’s hot, it’s busy and people are shoving by, looking beyond you, eyes only fixed on their destination. How do you feel? Have you noticed your muscles tensing and your heart rate increasing?
Just as long term pain begins to wear us down and eventually lead to depression, a constant feeling of unhappiness, stress or simply not having enough time to do everything has a wearing effect on our body. Being stressed is a symptom of your sympathetic nervous system ruling your body which we know is damaging to health. If you don’t understand why, read last month’s blog on the nervous system which explains it.
How does mindfulness work?
Mindfulness is simply about being mindful of what you’re thinking and deciding where you choose to focus your attention.
Everyone makes decisions in life every day, all the time. Most of the time we make decisions as a matter of course without putting much thought into them but sometimes we overthink things and our thought processes and focus become stuck, ruminating (mulling things over). While it is good to prioritise and plan, worrying about the future or dwelling on past events and creating hypothetical scenarios (what ifs), is not a healthy state for the mind or body.
Taking a mindful approach to everyday thinking and problems allows you to put things into proper perspective and deal with them in the most effective way for you. Being mindful does not mean that you don’t deal with problems but that they are dealt with appropriately at the right time. This will allow you to free your mind of those worrying negative thoughts and concentrate your attention on the here and now.
This all sounds very straightforward and easy but obviously in practice for many of us it’s very difficult to switch off our over analytical minds. There are therefore many different techniques available to train your brain to be mindful.
Simple mindfulness practices to try for 7 days
Day 1: Change your inner monologue. The first and most simple way to be mindful is to start becoming aware of, and consciously changing the words you say to yourself. For example instead of telling yourself “I HAVE to do this today” or “this NEEDS to be done today” simply change this to “I would like to do this” or “if this gets done today that would be great.” Taking this approach means there is always at least one less person piling pressure on you!
Day 2: Focus your breathing. Spend 30s today at your desk, in bed or sat at home focussing on the sensation of breathing. Try to let your stomach expand on your in-breath and empty as you breathe out. Focus your mind on the gentle in and out of breathing, emptying it of all other thoughts. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the physical movement of your stomach and the breath.
Day 3: Meditate. A great excuse to eat chocolate or something else delicious(!) Take something you would normally snaffle without a moments thought, like a square of chocolate and take time to really focus on what you are eating. How does it look? How does it smell? How does it feel when you place it into your mouth? Spend time sucking or chewing slowly. How does it taste? What can you taste after?
This is a fun exercise in helping you live in the moment and get the most enjoyment from your food. Mindful eating can be a powerful weight loss tool and at the very least we should all make a conscious decision never to eat in front of a screen or a book but consciously enjoying every mouthful of food we eat.
Day 4: Take a walk. Instead of spending your walk listening to music, on your phone, planning what you have to do later or thinking about what’s already been, spend 10 minutes walking mindfully today. Stop, listen and concentrate on all the different sounds, smells and feelings that you experience while walking and allow yourself to focus solely on your surroundings. Every time you notice your mind has drifted, bring it back to the present, look around you, look up and try to engage with your environment.
Day 5: Record your EGS for the day. ESG stands for something you Enjoyed today, something you are Grateful for and something you are Satisfied with. This doesn’t need deep thought, it might be a joke with a friend, getting bill paid, or even remembering to be mindful! The idea is to begin to pick out the positives in life which are easily missed and not just the negatives.
Day 6: Practice self-compassion. If you alter any part of your mindset, this should be it: talking to yourself as you would a friend. When your conscious mind is busy criticizing, questioning, raising expectations and berating failures ask yourself “OK, but what would I say if this a friend telling me this?” Are your words much kinder? Consider, “what advice would I give this friend?” Chances are it would be not to worry and to focus about what’s important in life like hobbies, time with friends and family and give yourself a break. Some food for thought!
Day 7: Reflect and plan. Hopefully by this point you have managed to try a few, if not all of our daily mindfulness practices this week. Take 5 minutes to reflect on the positive things you have noticed as a result of being more mindful this week. What small good things did you notice that you hadn’t before? Where did you find you were needlessly rushing or being self-critical. Becoming aware of how often we rush through life without a second thought is the first step to becoming mindful. Being truly mindful on a daily basis? It takes practice of course! Try to make time over the coming weeks to practice and explore mindfulness further. You can read more about it and see links to useful sites in our first mindfulness blog.
How do I make mindfulness a daily part of my life?
The 7 exercises above all are intended to introduce you to the idea of being mindful, but really you can apply them to any part of your life from brushing your teeth to eating your dinner, really the best route to success is to integrate mindfulness into things you are already doing. The breathing focus is especially useful if you are struggling to fall back to sleep at night.
If you want more individual suggestions talk to your Chiropractor about it during your next visit or any of our team as we have all had mindfulness training!