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).



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.



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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You may have recently made 2021 resolutions for positive health behavior changes. Each new birthday and each new year often prompts us to take stock and vow to adopt healthy lifestyle habits of mind and body. Two of the most common promises I hear are to increase exercise/physical activity and learn to manage stress in a healthy way. Although exercise and meditation are very different activities, research shows combining mindfulness meditation and physical activity can dramatically improve both your physical and emotional health.

What is MBSR?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is the gold standard mindfulness course taught worldwide. The mindfulness skills acquired in MBSR begin with quiet, meditative practices that help you “pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment,” a definition offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR. Additional skills include mindful eating, mindful walking and intentionally paying skillful attention to all ordinary daily activities, such as physical activity. Over the eight-week course, you become increasingly aware and accepting of your immediate lived experience – physically, mentally and emotionally – and learn to make health- sustaining lifestyle choices.

Formal mindfulness practices include body-scan meditation, mindful yoga and awareness of breathing. These are practiced during class and in daily home practice. As you gain skill and confidence in these formal practices, a subtle transformation often occurs.

Your habitual, automatic reactions to events in your life begin to shift in the direction of wise, skillful responses. Choices in diet and exercise behaviors begin to be healthier. You are more able to set realistic personal health goals and change your lifestyle from a growing internal motivation and self confidence.

Mindful Physical Activity

Research suggests a sedentary lifestyle increases your chances of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and many other diseases of civilization. Increasing physical activity can reduce your risk of these conditions as well as improve your emotional health and your life expectancy. But staying committed to a regular physical activity program can be challenging.

Mindfulness training can help you achieve your physical activity goals. You learn to bring moment-to-moment awareness to your level of commitment and to the barriers, long-standing habits and excuses that get in your way. You also learn to really pay attention to all the physical, mental and emotional experiences associated with physical activity itself.

Research has shown you don’t have to use contemplative, meditative practices to cultivate mindfulness. You can also use dynamic, aerobic activity such as walking and running. Like mindful yoga, aerobic activity also leads to improved focus and present-moment awareness. Aerobic physical training also leads to increased activity in brain areas associated with voluntary self-regulation of attention – a hallmark of mindfulness. Having cultivated this mindfulness skill in aerobic activity, it can then be transferred to other areas of life. It seems the naturally heightened awareness of physiological changes during aerobic activity (heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, muscle and joint movement) trains the mind to pay attention under other life circumstances – anywhere, anytime.

Combining Mindfulness Training and Aerobic Exercise

Research has also shown symp- toms of depression can be reduced dramatically by combining mindful- ness training and aerobic exercise. Thirty (30) minutes of mindful awareness of the breath followed by 30 minutes of aerobic activity twice weekly for eight weeks was shown to reduce symptoms 40 percent in those suffering from depression.

Drug therapy for depression is costly, is often associated with significant side effects and is often ineffective. The self-empowerment of effective non-drug approaches have their own benefits in terms of self-esteem and overall sense of well-being.

If you consider yourself healthy, mindfulness and physical activity can help you stay that way. If you have chronic physical, mental or emotional conditions, you may benefit from mindfulness or physical activity or a combination. Ask your health care provider for referrals to trusted consultants to help you incorporate these healthy lifestyle approaches into your self-care and treatment plans.

Sources and Resources


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

more articles by dr john patterson