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 WALKING MEDITATION

Walking and mindfulness both have significant physical, mental and emotional health benefits. You can combine them by practicing mindful walking. Empirical evidence over centuries from many cultures and traditions supports the use of mindful, meditative walking as part of a conscious, contemplative lifestyle.


Cultivating Mindfulness.

Walking meditation helps cultivate mindfulness in everyday life. Training the mind to pay attention when you are physically moving with open eyes can help bring mindfulness to everything in your home or work life, traffic and simply being with yourself. Mindful awareness can inform everything you think, feel and do. Mindful walking can connect you to your inner sense of peace and calm, help you manage stress, increase spontaneity and enhance your mental focus, creativity and problem solving. It can also help you feel more resilient in the face of anxiety, worry, fear, anger, confusion, agitation, obsessive thoughts, rumination, grief, depression and pain.


Simple Mindful Walking Instructions.

As you walk, mindfully and intentionally direct your attention to the physical sensations in your body, feeling your feet touching the Earth, feeling your heel land- ing, feeling the weight transferring to the ball of the foot, feeling the foot lifting and moving through the air and landing again on the heel. Bring special attention to the breath coming into the body

and leaving the body, feeling the air at the nostrils, the movement of the chest and the movement of the belly. Feel your clothing moving across your skin, the air touching your skin, the movement of your arms, legs, muscles and joints. Notice sounds as simply sounds, without reacting to them.


Benefits of Mindful Walking. The formal practice of mindful walking cultivates an alert, aware engagement with your life as it is unfolding moment to moment right here, wherever you are. Walking meditation trains your mind to skillfully cultivate wakefulness and awareness, increasing your sense of being present to everyday activities. Routine daily activities can begin to feel richer, more three-dimensional. A deeper sense of gratitude can begin to grow. Interestingly, you may not be the first one to notice these changes. Those you live with and work with may notice them before you do, as your speech and behavior reflect your increasingly conscious, intentional, mindful living.


Walking Mindfully During Ordinary Activity.

You can carve out dedicated time for formal mindful walking or informally bring mindfulness to any walking you do. As mindful walking connects you to your

inner calmness, peacefulness and confidence, you may bring these qualities to relationships at home and work. You may find mindful walking more relaxing than other forms of meditation, especially if your mind is particularly churned up. At those times, walking meditation can be relaxing in a way that sitting meditation may not. Conversely, when your mind feels dull, lethargic or sleepy, walking practice may increase alertness and energy. A traditional instruction is to practice mindful walking before sitting meditation. Having trained the mind to pay attention to the body while walking, your sitting practice may be less distracted.


Walking Outdoors.

Many people prefer walking outdoors. Compared to those who exercise indoors, those who exercise outdoors seem to enjoy it more and report less tension, depression and fatigue while reporting more vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem. You can also attend to the sky, the wind, smells, sounds, birds and other animals (including your dog) while walking. You can recite the Native American saying: With beauty around me, with beauty beside me, with beauty in front of me, with beauty behind me, with beauty above me, with beauty below me, with beauty inside me – I walk in beauty.


Training the Mind.

As with any other meditative practice, your attention may wander to the past or the future or to other places and circumstances. When your attention drifts away from the sensations of walking and awareness of your surroundings, take notice of those distracting thoughts or emotions without judgment and gently guide your attention back to walking. That moment of noticing the wandering mind is very important. All human minds wander. We all have what’s called a monkey mind. It is completely normal for the mind to be all over the place, like a restless monkey jumping all around. Our job is to calm down the mind and train it to be our ally rather than our master – and anyone can do it (with dedicated practice).


Be Kind to Yourself.

Harshly judging yourself for “failing” at the task of mindful walking is counterproductive. Rather, use distractions as part of the practice, gently labeling them as thinking, planning, remembering, sounds or emotions. Use distractions as reminders to gently guide your awareness back to the present moment, back to the walking and to your surroundings.


You can practice mindful walking for whatever amount of time you have available, either dedicating time specifically to that formal meditative activity or informally bringing mindful attention to all of your walking anytime, anywhere.

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

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