Wellness is more than being free from illness. It's also about engaging in and fully experiencing life, finding and maintaining balance, and learning to capture moments of joy in every day. Wellness requires us to make healthy choices (meals, exercise, stress management, sleep), to be fully present in our lives, and to develop/maintain healthy habits of both mind and body. Mindfulness is one of many life skills to help prevent illness/injury and to positively impact our overall well-being.
Mindfulness, and other contemplative/integrative practices such as Yoga, help to shape both our mind and our body. Mindfulness helps to: reduce cortisol production (a stress hormone); lower blood pressure and heart rate; strengthen our immune system; lessen fatigue; slow the aging process, and improve our ability to manage/tolerate chronic pain.
An overwhelming schedule, perfectionism, expectations, competition, social media, distracting/negative thoughts, and a lack of connection with others (and with ourselves) can create chronic stress and anxiety. Mindfulness helps us to combat this stress, anchor ourselves in the present moment, manage our thoughts, balance our emotions, and develop more self-compassion (as well as compassion for others). A great deal of scientific research explains how practicing mindfulness changes our brain and provides long term benefits.
We would all prefer our mind be one of our best assets, rather than our biggest obstacle. Mindfulness, as a practice, can be a form of mental training...similar to physical training for our body. Mindfulness, as a life skill, is a way of being...an awareness of our experience, in this moment, while eliminating the need to judge it good or bad/right or wrong. To be present, we awaken to our full sensory experience, with curiosity, gratitude, and kind acceptance...knowing everything is fluid and in the next moment it may change, leading to a new opportunity to begin again.
*Mindfulness training for kids and teens is quite different than that for adults. Kids classes incorporate various activities, exercises, books, and games. Adult classes often include formal meditation, moving meditation (walking, yoga), and everyday mindfulness.
With mindfulness we become more aware of our mind's activity: the types of thoughts we have, which ones are recurring, how we speak to ourselves, what thoughts are useful and what ones are harmful, and ultimately we learn how to choose the thoughts to accept and, attend to, and which thoughts we can allow to pass. Mindfulness puts us in the driver's seat!
Mindfulness can be used as a strategy to improve meta-awareness (awareness of our thoughts, rather than mind wandering and daydreaming). Although daydreaming can promote creativity and assist with problem solving at times, it can also be extremely distracting . If you don't realize your mind is off task, it's difficult to get back on track.
The S.T.O.P. practice is a helpful exercise to develop meta-awareness:
S - Stop what you're doing (work, homework, chores, etc.)
T - Take a deep breath
O - Observe what you are doing, thinking, and feeling in that moment
P - Proceed with choice (return to task or stay lost in thought)
* You can set a timer every 15 minutes (time may vary depending on how quickly you become distracted) to "check-in" with your mind and to return to task. With practice, you may be able to lengthen the time and you will find it easier to "catch" your mind wandering off.
One common way to practice mindfulness is by finding a focus (anchor) for our attention (on purpose), rather than being hijacked by our thoughts. However, another way to practice mindfulness is to have open awareness of our thoughts and to simply observe the thoughts as they come and go.
There are many other aspects of mindfulness to explore. Please see the link below to find out more about how to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness Practice "'Nuts & Bolts'
The New York Times "Well" Blog provides detailed information about the fundamentals of practicing Mindfulness: Click the link below.
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