In a recent visit to our summer home in Wisconsin, an escape from the Phoenix heat, I picked up an amazing magazine at the grocery store, called “Mindfulness: An Everyday Guide,” a Science Classics publication. Being a firm believer in the power of mindfulness, living in the present moment, being in the here and now, I immediately grabbed this publication hoping to learn more. Maybe some of you read my blog, “The Present: Your Best Present Ever,” where I talk about the many benefits of, and how to, practice mindfulness. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read this blog, you might want to check it out. It will provide a good starting point, a compelling “why” to practicing mindfulness. Today, I will take mindfulness to a whole new level and discuss mindful living, bringing full awareness to everything you do in life.
The authors suggest mindfulness isn’t just about the mind. It’s a holistic approach to living that addresses the entire person. Bringing full awareness to everything we do in life helps us build a foundation for happiness. I’d like to highlight just a few points from this publication that totally resonated with me. Hopefully, you will gain some benefits too.
1) Mindful diet. Let’s face it. Food is pretty important to us. We can’t survive physically without it. Food also affects who we are mentally and emotionally. Most of us do not eat mindfully. We live in a fast-paced world eating on the run and resorting to fast food. We eat while doing something else, answering emails, writing reports, driving and/or watching television. When we are distracted while eating, we tend to eat too fast causing us to overeat. We may choose “comfort” foods to suppress a variety of feelings rather than deal with the feelings in a healthier, more direct way. If we are mindful of our diets, we take notice of what we are putting into our bodies. We ask ourselves, is this food going to nourish or harm my body? We also slow down the pace of eating, pause between bites, and truly savor each mouthful noticing the flavor and texture of the food. Eating mindfully becomes a very pleasurable experience. We can lose weight, improve digestion and nurture our bodies.
2) Mindful sleep. Sleep plays an essential role in restoring our energy and healing anything that may be ailing us. Many suffer from insomnia. Our minds are worrying about money, work, relationships or a whole host of other issues. Worse, our problems seem to intensify in the middle of the night. Without proper rest, you are more likely to make mistakes at work, be overly emotional with a boss or colleague during a challenging conversation, be involved in a traffic accident or perhaps experience a health-related issue. Sleep deprivation can cause high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Getting 6-8 hours of sleep is ideal, and has been documented in numerous studies to be extremely important to health and well-being. Rather than spend a lot of your well-earned money on sleep aids like many do today, consider doing a mindfulness exercise to enjoy a better night’s rest. Sleep refreshes, energizes, and heals us from the stresses of our daily life.
3) Mindful at work. Stress is on the rise as we are asked to do more and more with less. Workloads have increased significantly causing a lot of stress. In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 60 percent of the people polled cited work as the single greatest source of stress in their lives. The only stressor that ranked slightly higher than work was money. The author states, and I completely agree, that it’s extremely stressful to be out of work, but these days it’s almost as stressful to be employed. Doing a mindful practice daily or even more often can provide multiple benefits at work like stress reduction, decreased emotional reactivity, increased focus and more.
4) Mindful Relationships. A mindful relationship is the art of exchanging self for the other. That is what love is all about, state the authors. Two individuals becoming so close that the lines of demarcation between self and other become blurred. They form a harmonious whole where each partner is deeply attuned to the needs of the other, each helping the other realize his or her full potential. Society places great value on individuality but when a person is selfish or ego-centric, it can prevent finding and maintaining a happy and harmonious love relationship. In addition, numerous scientific studies demonstrate the health benefits associated with long-term, stable relationships. A Duke University study of more than a thousand heart patients found that patients without a spouse or close relationship were three times more likely to die within five years of a heart disease diagnosis compared with those who were in a healthy relationship. A mindfulness practice shared between two people can help a relationship blossom and thrive.
Now, you might ask, “why two blogs on mindfulness?” Since practicing mindfulness, I’ve seen such dramatic changes in my life. I’ve become so much more aware of my thoughts, when they drift back to the past or wander into the future. I’ve learned to bring myself back to the present moment. It is absolutely amazing how different it feels when you are intensely present. I am so much more alive, fully awake and I have a heightened awareness of my surroundings. As a life and career coach, I am intensely present for my clients so tuned into their needs, fears and desires. I sense the real messages behind the words. Being mindful, I am also able to laser focus while writing. When I start worrying about something related to the future or painfully recall something from the past, I remind myself that the present moment is all we really have and bring myself back to the here and now.
My next step in my mindfulness journey is to practice mindful eating. I love to eat, especially really good food. The problem comes in when I eat too fast or eat while doing something else. When I crave comfort foods or unhealthy snacks, I need to do an internal check of my emotions and ask myself what feelings I am trying to suppress. Not only is mindful eating such a pleasurable experience but, as an added bonus, I will eventually shed those last 20 pounds I’ve wanted to get rid of for the last couple of years!
Am I an expert now at mindful living? Not yet. But I’ve experienced enough to be convinced that practicing mindfulness helps me build a foundation for happiness in my life.