Only a couple of weeks into 2018, I have experienced, as some would say some, a “rear-end-kicking” that has left me feeling unmotivated and anxious. It’s easy to say “Start the new year strong! Set goals, start fresh!”
But what if the new year has brought you a painful experience, or challenges you feel unprepared to take on? It can be tricky to get going and to stay focused. For many it’s not just willpower. Life can truly overwhelm and it’s easy to become paralyzed by “all the things”.
The practice of mindfulness is a great first step to help us be present in the moment. And the present moment is really what is most important and many times can be our greatest gift.
I have long heard of the benefits of of Mindfulness, but never really paid close attention to its practice. Truthfully I kind of lumped it in with some Eastern religion and meditation and all that stuff that I respect from afar but takes way more patience and focus than I have. After all, I’m a doer, right? I have things to do!
I have recently gained a new respect for the practice of Mindfulness. When an old friend of mine tragically lost her 6th month old baby, she was understandably wrought with anxiety and depression, to the point that she was debilitated and couldn’t move forward with her life.
While she was comforted by prayer, her priest and her family, she still needed a practical way to manage the anxiety day-to-day so she could move beyond the loss.
She did all the right things. She went to counseling, her doctor, took medication and yet months later she could barely function, consumed by anxiety and grief. Someone suggested meditation and mindfulness practice.
Obviously her loss would remain forever, but she really needed something to pull her out of the deep chasm in which she felt she was stuck. She couldn’t bring herself to exercise or spend time with friends or enjoy anything as she felt the physical pull of her mind, distracted from the present by all of her grief and loss.
Practicing Mindfulness helped her focus on the gift of each moment, her physical breath and life, the now, the present—not just the grief of the past or the unknown of the future.
There are many books and websites to guide you through the practice of Mindfulness. But there are even some small steps we can all take to integrate this into our lives. Mindfulness is a broad term, and can be applied by clinical psychiatry in very specific ways.
But elements of mindfulness are relatively easy to implement, like Mindful Breathing, Concentration, Awareness of Your Body, Releasing Tension and Walking Meditation. Just awareness of the moment, listening and acknowledging with gratitude our breath, can be transformative and help us stay focused.
Mindfulness can help us in many aspects of our lives, even if we haven’t experienced a trauma or tragedy. Mindfulness has been particularly effective as a practice for people who struggle with food addiction, managing their weight or just making healthy choices each day.
There is a lot of talk and focus on dieting and weight loss at this time of year. Perhaps you feel stuck or overwhelmed or feel like you have failed at implementing healthy changes, and this is your year to lose weight.
While setting specific and small goals is crucial to establishing a healthy lifestyle, integrating even just some of the basic principles of mindfulness could help you improve all areas of your life including your physical health and lifestyle choices.
Food is especially challenging, because we have to make choices almost every minute of the day. We are surrounded in our abundance with food options, many unhealthy and very accessible. Staying focused is crucial if you struggle with eating too much or too much of the wrong foods and Mindfulness can be helpful.
Dr. Christopher Willard, a licensed psychotherapist who focuses on the practice of Mindfulness, developed a list of ways to practice mindful eating. Here are some of his tips:
1. Recognize Mindless Eating. Mindless eating is when you eat even if you are past full, ignoring your body’s signals, or when you eat when your emotions tell you to eat, at random places or times, or when you eat for emotional comfort, or eat alone.
2. Listen to your body and stop eating when you have any sense of being full. Only eat at scheduled times or when your body is truly giving signs of hunger (weakness, tummy rumbling)
3. Eat with others whenever possible. If you live alone find ways to connect with others and share meals, even if it is just at work. Try to set a regular schedule for meals—times and places.
4. When eating, just eat. Don’t work while you eat or multi-task. Focus on chewing and savoring your (hopefully) healthy, real food.
5. Consider where your food has come from. Take a moment to reflect on the hands that grew or picked or cooked or prepared your food. Be grateful and acknowledge that this it is a gift in this world where there are many hungry people, to have just enough sustenance.
6. Eat foods that are real foods and nutritionally healthy. Limit foods from packages or quickly prepared. If in doubt, fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are the best bet.
Every year has its Challenges, some more than others. But at least let’s make 2018 the year that we are Mindful and intentional and grateful, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!).