07 Oct 5 Ways To Begin Your Mindfulness Practice
Five Ways to Begin Your Mindfulness Practice
Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
The term “mindfulness” gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it actually mean to practice mindfulness? The dictionary definition of mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” or “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” With so many distractions in our lives, from work or school demands to social media, it is challenging to practice mindfulness. However, bringing mindfulness into your daily life has significant effects on your health. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to depression, burnout, substance abuse, insomnia, and hopelessness. Dedicating even just one minute a day to a mindful practice can decrease your risk of negative health effects and help you to start feeling better.
At Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition, we firmly believe in the practice of mindfulness in eating disorder treatment and strive to help our clients use strategies in their road to recovery. Here are five ways you can begin practicing mindfulness.
- Be gentle with yourself
We all have negative thoughts, but attempting not to think about them doesn’t help. In fact, trying not to think about a thought makes it even stronger. According to Dr. Andrea Bonior, licensed clinical psychologist, it is our response to our thoughts, worry, and stress that help or hurt us. Rather than tell yourself to stop thinking about something and maybe get angry with yourself for having the thought in the first place, try to notice your thought in a gentle and non-judgmental way. Speak kindly to yourself and the thought may become less powerful.
- Be curious and nonjudgmental
Practice being an active observer of your thoughts. If you notice yourself ruminating over something specific, get curious about why. Ask yourself “I seem to be thinking about that a lot today, what’s going on that might be causing this?”. When we separate ourselves from our thoughts and observe them, it is called “cognitive defusion”, because we are literally de-fusing from our thoughts. Bringing curiosity and loving kindness to your thoughts can decrease depression and anxiety.
- Engage with the present moment
Bring awareness to your breath and notice it without trying to change anything. Notice how you feel in the present moment. How does your chair feel beneath you? Is the temperature in the room warm or cool? Ask yoursel questions like to bring your awareness back to the present. This may cause you to feel uncomfortable or feel the difficult emotions. It is important to sit in your discomfort and learn to tolerate it. When we consistently avoid discomfort, we teach ourselves that we can’t handle it, and this moves us further away from presence and mindfulness. We need to allow ourselves to feel and manage uncomfortable emotions and tell ourselves we can handle it.
- Be aware of your bodily sensations.
We tend to mask or hide our stress and anxiety when actually it can be really helpful to notice and label what you are feeling in your body during a stress response. Oftentimes, when we begin to panic, we are responding to and interpreting whatever is going on in the body as a threat. The next time you notice yourself starting to get anxious or panic, notice your heart rate, your breathing, your sweaty palms. Try to label these sensations in a curious and non-judgmental voice and maybe even write them down.
- Bring awareness to your thoughts and feelings
Research shows that labeling our thoughts and feelings makes them more manageable. Try to acknowledge your thoughts as just thoughts. Put the phrase “I am having the thought that…” in front of your distressing thought and notice how that changes your feelings. Remember that just because you are having a thought does not making it automatically true and you have the ability to challenge the thought.