MINDFULNESS AND INNER BEAUTY

A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.

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MINDFULNESS FOR SENIORS

You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….

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MINDFUL BREATHING REDUCES STRESS

The current pandemic is a global stress we are all experiencing together. By managing our own stress, we contribute to the relief of stress throughout society. Research shows mindfulness can help you cope with stress and improve your health, allowing you to better serve others in need. Mindful breathing is a simple stress-reduction practice that anyone can do, and it can help reduce physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and relationship stressors.


We rush around and hurry all day being busy, usually ignoring the wonder of our senses and the wisdom of our bodies. Our thinking and imagination are so much in the past and the future. We often allow our regrets, fears and anxieties to dominate our experience, often ignoring our amazing human body as it breathes and functions in miraculous ways. Mindful breathing helps you shift your attention from the busyness in the mind to the wisdom of your body.


Mindfulness of One Breath:  A Five-Second Practice

I love this simple, short mindfulness practice. It helps you break the habit of worrying about the past and the future. You can do it for three breaths – just 5 seconds – or longer. As you breathe in, say to yourself, “I am breathing in and I know I am breathing in.” As you breathe out, say to yourself, “I am breathing out and I know I am breathing out.” This can be done with eyes open or closed almost anywhere at almost any time.

Three-Minute Breathing Space

The psychologists who created mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) emphasize the importance of intentionally shifting our attention from our “doing mode” (which involves a lot of thinking about the future or the past) to our “being mode” (which involves being more fully in the present in a non-striving and non-judgmental way). You can spend a minute or less on each of these three steps.


  1. Attend to what is. This first step invites attending broadly to one’s experience NOW, noting it without the need to change what is being observed.
  2. Focus on the breath. This step narrows the field of attention to a single-pointed focus on the breath moving in and out and throughout the body.
  3. Attend to the body. This step widens attention again to include the body as a whole and any physical sensations that are present.


Any time you feel stressed or simply remember to take a self-care pause, you can intentionally shift your attention, checking in with your breath and your body, and then resume your activity refreshed and relaxed.



Single-Pointed Meditation

This simple practice of mindful breathing is taught at the Benson- Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. It involves silently and gently repeating pairs of words as you breathe in and out, for instance, in-out, calm-ease, smile-release and present- moment. Pairing these positive associations with the breath helps elicit the relaxation response and reduce the stress response. You can use a standard set of six pairs of words and choose the pair you prefer or substitute other words you find most relaxing.


What about thinking? The normal mind is a wandering mind. It’s sometimes called the monkey mind, the wild horse mind or the wild elephant mind. You might say the mind has a mind of its own. Thinking is crucial to wise choices and actions, but some thinking can be useless or harmful. Our job in mindfulness practice is to train the mind to pay attention to an intentional object (such as the breath) – training the monkey mind to be our ally, not our master. As you practice mindful breathing, you simply notice the attention has wandered off into thinking, then gently escort the attention back to the breath without any judgment or self-criticism. This gentle return of attention is a crucial part of the practice.


Mindful breathing can help you manage stress and improve your overall health and well-being. It can connect you to your inner resource of relaxation and healing – almost anywhere, any time. Even one mindful breath repeated several times a day is good medicine.


Resources


DR. JOHN PATTERSON


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations