Currently “mindfulness” is a large trend in the wellness community– which is wonderful because increasing mindfulness can have some really amazing health effects! Research has shown that mindfulness practice actually reduces cell damage, bolsters our immune system, improves concentration and ruminative (i.e. deep) thinking, and reduces stress. (Psychology Today). It even helps with relationship satisfaction! According to the American Psychology Association, several studies have found that a person’s ability to be mindful protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), and is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser el al., 2008). So all-in-all, practicing mindfulness is not only good for you, but also helps make your community a more positive place, too!
When most people think of “being mindful” they picture meditating, sitting silently and still for longs periods of time, or maybe an intense yoga practice. The great news is that increasing your mindfulness can happen in short exercises that you can incorporate pretty much anywhere in your day-to-day life… sitting at your desk, riding on the train, or even right before you go to sleep. “Being mindful” simply means turning our attention to the present moment. It’s about calming our mind– not stressing about events that already happened, which we can’t change, and not stressing about the future, which we can’t predict. Spending time in the present moment clears the mind from clutter and distraction, regains some mental focus and clarity, and strengthens a mind-body connection.
Try these simple grounding exercises to help you gain a little mindfulness in your life. Maybe you start by incorporating one per week, and then gradually increase to one per day. The more these practices become a routine, the more benefits you will reap!
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise from Dr. Weil
Sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
If you can, step outside, notice the temperature of the air and how much it is different or similar to where you have just come from. Notice five things you can see, five things you can hear, five things you can feel, taste, or smell. If you can take your shoes off and actually feel some grass beneath your feet, you are quite literally re-grounding yourself to the earth.
Recite a Mantra
A mantra literally means “that which protects the mind.” Reciting a mantra can be something spiritual (Tibetan Buddhists use a mantra for peace, healing, transformation and healing), or a simple phrase you find positive and affirming. For example, to calm your mind and nerves before a job interview or a big presentation, take 2 minutes to breathe slowly, in and out, whispering or saying in your head “I am prepared, I am confident, I am ready.” If you find yourself getting nervous or anxious before a doctor’s appointment, try “I am grateful for my health and my body. I am well. I am whole.
The Body Scan runs through each part of the body, paying special attention to the way each area feels, usually starting with the toes, moving up the legs to the torso, arms, chest, and head. While you can do a body scan yourself, sitting in a chair or laying down, this exercise is particularly nice as a guided practice. Check out this 5 minute Body Scan or if you have some more time available, check out this 30 minute Body Scan that will definitely leave you feeling relaxed and calm. It’s a particularly great one to do before bed time, especially if you have trouble calming your mind to sleep.
Sometimes it’s easier to get started with a little help. If you prefer having someone guide through a mindfulness practice, check out these resources below:
- www.calm.com for short, guided meditations with soothing nature sounds in the background
- Deepak Chopra – via iTunes or www.chopra.com
- Paul Epstein’s Happiness Through Meditation: http://geti.in/WJT7pr
- Dr. Weil’s Breathing Basics: http://geti.in/1bjcAy7
-Emily Koches, Fitness Instruction and Nutrition Coach