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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MINDFULNESS IS HEARTFULNESS

We experience the breadth of human emotions in our hearts. The heart is where we feel the love for our romantic partner, dear friends and family, children and pets. Those who have had the experience of holding their newborn child or grandchild for the first time report a feeling in the heart unlike anything they have ever known or even considered themselves capable of feeling. We feel the grief and loss of loved ones in our hearts as well. We even have palpable, heartfelt “driveway moments” listening to stories on the radio that move us deeply and connect us emotionally to people we don’t even know. Research has also identified anger, rage and hostility as internal toxins that increase the risk of heart attacks and death.


This normal physiological experience of deep emotions in the area of the anatomical heart is part of the emerging science of heart-brain-emotion interactions sometimes referred to as neurocardiology. While much of this field is properly concerned with pathology and disease states, more and more research concerns the health benefits of positive psychological states, emotions, behaviors, attitudes and practices. Mindfulness is emerging as a catalyst for these positive psychological states.


A 75-year-old patient came to me with a heaviness and aching in her chest that had been there since her husband’s death several months before. She had not cried a single tear during his death or funeral.

She believed if she could just cry, this aching in her chest would go away. Indeed, during two sessions of supportive counseling, she was moved deeply to tears and her heartache went away – never to return. This experience of the heart as more than a physical organ is not limited to humans or even our closest primate relatives. A friend told me of her old dog’s reaction to her bringing home a new puppy. He went under the house, refused to eat and died.


Mindfulness is an increasingly popular and effective psychological tool for maintaining physical and emotional health and managing stress-related chronic conditions. Mindfulness practice systematically trains the mind to pay attention in a particular way, with curiosity, openness and acceptance. Despite its origins in ancient contemplative practices, mindfulness as taught today is primarily a scientifically validated tool for self-inquiry, self-acceptance and self-care. Another translation of the original word for mindfulness is heartfulness.


Practicing mindfulness naturally connects us to our own positive inner resources and attributes. Awareness of heartfelt emotion increases. Emotional intelligence and positive psychology grow. We learn to integrate our doing mode with our

feeling mode. In his poem, “Two Kinds of Intelligence,” Sufi poet Rumi describes the “freshness in the center of the chest” as an inner intelligence we all have inside, an innate human capacity for connection to our deepest, genuine selves and to other people.


Mindfulness can include practices that actively cultivate attributes of the heart. Some of those attributes include forgiveness, loving kindness, compassion and gratitude. Modern medical and psychological research is increasingly suggesting cultivation of these attributes of the heart is associated with positive health outcomes.


Forgiveness research suggests choosing to let go of resentment and revenge can actually add years to your life. Research also suggests regularly practicing loving kind-ness toward yourself and others can result in a clearer purpose in life, increased social support, decreased illness symptoms and life satisfaction as well as reduced depressive symptoms. The vision of compassion research at Stanford School of Medicine is to raise appreciation of compassion as an integral component of human health and to develop science-based practices for cultivating it. Research on gratitude shows significant positive impacts on personal well-being, life satisfaction and relationships.


Whether you are healthy or have a chronic medical condition, mindfulness practices may enhance your physical and emotional well-being and relationships. They may even extend your life.


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