Mindfulness is often referred to as a consciousness discipline. It is a way of training the mind, heart, and body to be fully present with life. Although often associated with meditation, mindfulness is much more than that. It is a way of being, a way of living. Mindfulness is about presence—being here, now, completely.
The practice of mindfulness has great implications for our happiness, resilience to stress, and our health. Regardless of how hard we are working at the gym, or how planned out our food is for the week, we all know that one hard day at the office, one difficult conversation, one traffic jam, or a lack of a good night’s sleep can alter our healthy behaviors for a moment or even for the day.
Stress is a fact of life. If we can learn how to be mindful of when we feel stressed and what thoughts, feelings, and therefore behaviors occur as a result of stress, we can choose health and happiness over maladaptive ways of coping. At the end of a long day most people want some kind of reward. The choice I most hear about is the reward of late night snacking. A few pieces of chocolate gives a feeling of pleasure in the moment, but in the long run if this choice gets in the way of a desire to lose a few pounds or eat less at night, then it isn’t rewarding after all.
How we perceive and then cope with stressors can trigger the consumption of high fat and sweet foods and have a direct effect on the storing of abdominal fat, , leading to overall weight gain(1). Other psychological causes of stress and emotional eating include poor awareness of internal physiological states and the inability to differentiate between hunger cues and emotional arousal.
For example, I have a client who tends to reach for cookies when she feels stressed. This habit is pretty automatic and there are many reasons why this behavior is reinforcing, but its not supporting her in her intentions for health and happiness. With the presence of mindfulness, she can pause to assess how she is feeling and what she is actually needing, which most of the time isn’t the cookie. From a place of awareness, she has choice and can act differently.
In my next few blogs, I will be sharing tips on how to use mindfulness throughout the day for health and well-being. In the meantime, you can start with these simple instructions to start a daily mindfulness practice.
Daily Mindfulness Instructions
- Find a space in your home, work, or even in nature where you can go most days of the week to be quiet, to connect with yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, and your body. You can think of it as a time to come home to yourself.
- Aim to practice 5-10 minutes most days, gradually working your way up to 15-20 minutes.
- During this time, allow yourself to be present to either the rhythm of your breath, your body sensations, or sound.
- Mindful meditation is not about clearing the mind. It is about gaining greater control over your thoughts and bringing your awareness to the present moment. If your mind wanders, you are normal. Just simply notice when the mind gets distracted and then bring it back to the present. This is mindfulness.
- There are many versions of meditations and apps that are helpful in getting started, but there is no “right way”. Explore and find the one that works for you or just start with the simple tips above.
(1) Daubenmeir, et al. Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study.J Obes. 2011;2011:651936.