Wouldn't it be great if we could just take a "magic pill" and all our problems would disappear? Fortunately, we are far too beautifully complex for such a quick fix. However, I am going to provide you with one tool you can begin incorporating today that, with its consistent practice, will drastically improve your health & sense of well-being. In fact, it has been shown to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, skin diseases, cardiac conditions, insomnia, diabetes, digestive disturbances (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, reflux), asthma, arthritis, and many more chronic and acute conditions.
Learning to be MINDFUL
This is a buzzword that I am sure many of you have heard at some point over the past year, and one that, unless investigated, is elusive and difficult to wrap your head around. In fact, even upon being asked by my partner what it meant I fumbled with my words in an attempt to come up with an articulate response.
So, after some thought and digging back into the books, articles and podcasts that have guided me on my own mindfulness journey, here I am articulating what it means to be mindful, what kind of benefits you can expect to experience by implementing it into your daily routine and how to go about doing this.
What is MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is a psychological state of awareness of one’s moment-by-moment experience. It involves non-judgmentally observing our thoughts, emotions and sensations to see that life is a constantly changing process, which therefore invites us to accept and move through both pleasure and pain, fear and joy, highs and lows with better equanimity and balance. It involves turning our “gaze” and attention inwards (instead of outwards, to the future or to the past) so that we can observe (without judgment) the state and flow of energy in our body. In particular, it gives us an opportunity to slow down and take note of HOW and WHERE we hold tension (which is the physical manifestation of emotions) in our body. This is an important practice because for many of us ruminations about the past and/or the future are what cause us so much dis-ease and difficulty.
“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, it is peace amid the storm”
~The Insight Meditation Center (Barre, Massashusetts)
The resurgence of mindfulness practices is, in my opinion, the result of an unmet healthcare need; poor stress management. By virtue of our go-go mentality and fast-paced world we have subjected ourselves to less sleep, poorer food choices, longer work hours and less time for family, friends and leisure. In response to this our bodies are under constant stress with very little room for rest, digest & reset. When this happens we loose our resilience, our emotional intelligence and our connectedness to ourselves and to those around us. We become closed off, reactive to our environment and stuck in a constant cycle of repeat as we attempt to keep up, and to survive. Additionally, this chronic state of stress throws our immune system out of whack and perpetuates inflammation throughout our body. A recipe for disaster! However, there is a solution....and it is called MINDFULNESS..
“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and freedom.”
I love this quote, because it articulates a very basic animal instinct that exists in all of us; one of fear & reactivity (essentially our fight or flight response). However, it also highlights that, as humans, we have a higher cognitive function that enables us to over-ride this primacy. Learning to be mindful teaches us how to harness this innate intelligence so that we may live in greater peace and health.
How can MINDFULNESS benefit you?
It all comes down to this…
Sounds fancy doesn't it? However, all it really implies is the interaction between the psyche (mind), nervous system and immune system. In relation to our topic on mindfulness, it is a way of understanding how by being mindful we can bring our body into a parasympathetic state, open up a space for healing and therefore shift our body out of the inflammatory, fight or flight state (arguably the root of almost all chronic and many acute diseases). Science in this area has demonstrated how intimately connected these parts are and therefore how by impacting one we can make positive strides in the others. In fact, a leading pioneer in this field, Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, has found incredible success in treating patients with a wide range of medical conditions (heart diseases, menstrual disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, arthritis, etc) by implementing a mindfulness-based meditation into their treatment plan. I encourage you to check out their website for more in depth information on mindfulness: https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mindfulness-based-programs/mbsr-courses/about-mbsr/
For the purposes of satisfying your interest today, here are some common conditions that mindfulness can treat:
AND....by virtue of its ability to induce a parasympathetic state and bring greater awareness and insight into your bodies responses and needs you will experience the following benefits (among many others):
The research is not lacking in this area....in fact, the following excerpt is a summary of the key clinical implications on the findings of a wait-list randomized control trial published in PubMed that assessed the use of a “loving-kindness meditation program for self-criticism” :
“Self-criticism plays a major role in many psychological disorders and predicts poor response to brief psychological and pharmacological treatments for depression. The current study shows that loving-kindness meditation, designed to foster self-compassion, is efficacious in helping self-critical individuals become less self-critical and more self-compassionate. The study also suggests that practicing loving-kindness may reduce depressive symptoms and increase positive emotions.” ()
So….now you want to know….
How do you become MINDFUL?
You can implement mindfulness as either a formal or an informal practice. I suggest starting with a formal practice as this can help to provide structure and tangibility to something that may feel very uncomfortable or foreign in the beginning. There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life including practices such as Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga and meditation. Some involve stillness and silence (meditation), while others use chanting and/or movement (yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong) to bring an inward sense of focus, calm and awareness. There are two particular practices that I have found to be very powerful, and I will briefly describe a beginner’s method for each.
METHOD ONE: Mindfulness Meditation- Body Scan
This formal practice is good for building self-awareness, self-compassion and self-mastery (of thoughts & behavior). I suggest beginning with a 10 minute seated meditation first thing in the morning. This is an opportune time as it can help to set the tone for the rest of the day. Here is the method I like to use:
METHOD TWO: Kundalini Meditation
This form of meditation and breathing involves a technique that brings into balance the glandular and nervous system. I suggest trying this meditation if you have found regular mindfulness meditation too difficult OR as an initial practice to calm anxiety, improve stress or depression. This practice has the ability to shift your mindset and improve emotional resilience within minutes. There are many different "techniques" under the kundalini umbrella, however, starting simple is the best way to develop a consistent practice. The Left Nostril Breathing technique is used to activate our parasympathetic state. Here is how:
Incorporating Mindfulness into Daily Life
applying it to life's daily challenges will allow you to experience a more consistent sense of calm and ease within your life. Here are some examples of how mindfulness can be useful in your day-to-day life:
I hope you have found this information to be useful and inspiring. Making changes and taking time for ourselves is difficult, however, building a mindfulness practice into your day is the closest thing to a “magic pill” there is. Chronic stress is at the root of all chronic dis-ease, and so the most effective way to combat this is to build resilience by learning how to activate our parasympathetic state. Often we say we don't have time, however, I challenge you to take an inventory of your day and I am confident that you will find a way to fit 10 minutes into your daily routine.
Dr. Rachael Lovink, ND
Dr. Rachael Lovink is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. She has a passion for helping you uncover the root cause of your illness. Her special interest is in the treatment of mental illnesses (such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc) with the use of non-pharmaceutical intervention such as targeted supplements, dietary intervention, IV nutrients/injections and lifestyle counselling.
The Information provided by Dr. Rachael Lovink is intended solely for educational purposes, and is not a substitute for the medical advice provided by another physician or healthcare professional. You must never disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice because you are accessing and using the information provided by Dr. Rachael Lovink. The Information cannot be used for the purpose of diagnosing, treating, or in any way mitigating a specific health issue or disease. It can also not be used with the intention of prescribing a medication or other modality of treatment. You must always speak with your physician before starting any new approach to managing your health, including vitamins and minerals, exercise and other therapeutic modalities. Further, you should seek medical advice immediately if you suspect that you have a medical problem regardless of using the information provided through the website.