Optimal well-being is like the Holy Grail. We’re always seeking it out … trying to discover the elusive path to it, and its value is immeasurable.
In my practice, I’m always coaching clients on the importance of making specific lifestyle choices to keep both their mental and emotional well-being optimized.
To do this, I guide them through creating healthy habits in five essential areas of their lives:
- Meaningful Connections
Which one do you think is the lifestyle factor people struggle to implement the most?
Perhaps you’re like me, and you assumed that sugar’s grip on our taste buds (and brains) would make changing my client’s diet the toughest hurdle. Or that the non-stop lifestyles they live and time restraints would make getting enough sleep impossible.
But, nope. It’s mindfulness.
Weird, right? It doesn’t need any special kind of budget, any special tools or supplies, any social support or any extra time. These are usually the excuses people make for not being able to do something – and yet mindfulness doesn’t require any of these things.
After all, mindfulness is just paying attention to what’s happening in the moment … focusing on what you’re doing, what you’re feeling and thinking, to the space you’re moving through.
So simple, but it’s one of the most impactful practices on the road to well-being. Studies show that mindfulness practices improve self-esteem and the ability to form deep connections with others.
It can help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep and digestive problems.
It can also be used to treat depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Mindfulness does it all!
Why is it so hard for some of us to tap into mindfulness?
But really, the struggle to cultivate mindfulness does make sense after all. Most of my clients struggle with self-esteem, confidence, depression, anxiety and other trauma. So paying attention to their mind usually means tuning into some unpleasant thoughts. And who the heck would want to do that?
Apparently, very few people. Which is why this 2014 study found that many people would rather give themselves an electrical shock than sit in a room alone with their thoughts.
Yeah. That’s right. Electric shock won out over having to sit quietly and think.
From what I’ve learned from my clients over the years, there are two reasons people avoid mindfulness practice like the plague:
- Their thoughts are a bit ugly and they are afraid of feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions
- They’re afraid their thoughts will tell them they have to take action or change something in their lives, and they can’t do anything about it in that moment, so it’s utterly pointless (untrue!)
And I completely understand. This a totally human response. But, I know from firsthand experience, as well as the results I’ve seen with my clients, that at the other end of the mindfulness journey is bliss. Here are another two amazing benefits … mindfulness allows you to:
- Recognize a thought and choose whether you want to engage with it or just let it go. This is such a powerful feeling and makes you feel in total control of your emotions and state of mind.
- Learn to control your impulses, instead of acting on every thought or idea that comes to your head, which keeps you focused and reserves your energy to tackle what’s most important to you.
It really is like a magic pill. As Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
How to practice mindfulness
So … I hope by now you’re sold on mindfulness. And, like I said, I do understand the hesitation some people have towards diving into mindfulness practices. But a mindfulness practice doesn’t need to start by only looking at your negative thoughts. You can create a positive association with mindfulness practice by combining it with something you really enjoy. In fact, what if I told you there are opportunities to practice it in the things you do everyday … and some of them are really fun.
Walking is an amazing way to cultivate mindfulness because there are so many opportunities to do it throughout the day. It’s also a wonderful way to turn a mundane act into a stress-relieving, elevating break in your day.
And no one even has to know you’re doing it!
During your walk, focus on your breath and the sensations that the movements create in your body. Don’t try to to read through emails or listen to music. No multitasking here! If your mind starts to wander, just return to the physical sensations of walking.
It’s not too complicated, but here a a few steps to getting started:
- Start by standing still for a few minutes
- Bring your focus to your body and breath
- Relax your body
- Feel the connection between your feet and the earth
- Inhale deeply into your stomach. Release. Repeat three times.
- Return to normal breathing, but continue to pay attention to your breath
- Then, start walking at a normal pace, a bit slower if your normal pace is fast
- If a thought comes into your mind, note it, then let it go and refocus on walking
- Observe how your limbs are moving, how your foot feels when it comes in contact with the ground, and how it feels as it leaves the earth again
- Remember, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey
Your walk can be as long as you’d like, or as little as 10 minutes.
There are many components of yoga that can help you to cultivate mindfulness. Staying actively engaged as you flow through each pose. Being aware of your breath and synchronizing it with each movement.
But you can take it to the next level and strengthen your “mindfulness muscle” during the most difficult moments of yoga, by just sitting with it in the moment.
If you haven’t already experienced the magical mindfulness of yoga … here’s how:
Next time you’re “stuck” in what seems like a never-ending pose and your brain is screaming a string of obscenities at the instructors that only a sailor could appreciate, try a new approach:
- Become aware of the physical sensations your feeling.
- Note your thoughts and feelings—is it rage, sadness, impatience, boredom?
- Now, instead of reacting, just observe. Then … imagine the thought is a bubble, and see yourself popping it.
- Remind yourself that this pose, like every pose you’ve done before, will end.
Practicing mindful eating not only strengthens our mindfulness practice, but helps us enjoy our food more. When we rush through a meal or eat on auto-pilot without taking time to savor the taste, we tend to overeat or feel unsatisfied when we’re done.
Take the steps below next time your sitting down to a meal. Or, start with a piece of fruit to ease into it.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep, relaxing breaths
- Become aware of each breath you take
- Now, open your eyes and pick up a piece of your food and look at it as if you’re an alien that’s just landed on this planet and have never seen it before.
- Notice the color, the contours, the smell
- Close your eyes again and place the food in your mouth
- Don’t just quickly chew it up! Put it in your mouth and notice the texture and flavor
- Now start to chew
- Think about how this food made its way onto your plate .. how it was planted and then grew from the ground, or maybe grazed from it
- Now swallow and notice any taste or sensations that linger
- Be aware of the food energy that you have now taken in
- Now bring your awareness back to your breath
- Gently open your eyes.
And it’s tons of fun to boot!
You don’t need to be an skilled artist to use art to practice mindfulness. Just focus on the process and not the end result, and you’ll be just fine.
You can start with drawing or painting (although working with other mediums like clay or metal can be just as satisfying). Use something simple as your muse, like your dog or a plant on your desk or the sun setting over your backyard.
You can also just try freestyle doodling. Just go with the flow!
Here are a few mindfulness tips to remember while your at it:
- Focus on the physical sensation of moving your pencil or brush across the canvas. Does it glide effortlessly or require a little bit of force?
- Notice what your tool feels like in your hand. Is it hard or soft? Smooth or bumpy?
- Ask yourself, how do the colors you’re choosing reflect your current mood? How does what your seeing on your canvas at each moment making you feel? Happy? Sad? Exhilarated?
And when you’re all done—don’t judge your masterpiece! Instead, look at it with curiosity and pride.
Practice makes perfect
Now, don’t overwhelm yourself and do all of these in one day. Choose the one that speaks to you most. Then, keep at it. Practice makes perfect. You’ll start to notice increased mindfulness set in in just a few weeks … and the improvement and benefits to your wellbeing are sure to follow.
GET FREE LOVE!
Like the content? Signup for the Newsletter. It’s FREE