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 OF THE BODY

Our Doing Mode

Our lives are filled with busyness, moving at high speed to achieve goals, solve problems and get somewhere else. We see obstacles, conflict and painful experiences as unwanted and undesirable impediments to happiness and getting things done. We are rewarded for our ability to do more and more, faster and faster. We are trained from childhood to use the doing mode of our brains to recall facts for passing exams and train for our adult work. We move on to the next after each doing episode without an appreciative pause to savor the emotional growth and learning in both our successes and our failures. This doing mode is essential to being a productive member of society, motivating us to pursue excellence in personal and interpersonal development. We justifiably take pride in our doing mode accomplishments. But something is lost amidst the hustle and bustle and the hurrying and worrying. We often sacrifice our physical and mental health in pursuit of getting things done. Anxiety, depression, suicide and substance abuse are epidemic. Luckily, our being mode serves as a natural, inner resource and antidote that helps balance our doing.


Our Being Mode

You are in your being mode when you set aside goal-oriented behavior and pay attention to physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, your behavior, environment and relationships, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, with an attitude of acceptance, without needing to change

anything. We find we learn as much or more from unpleasant and painful experiences as we do from pleasant and comfortable experiences. The comfort zone is not the zone of personal growth. Your being mode facilitates self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-compassion. It allows you to pay attention with openness and curiosity, inquiring into whatever is happening in this moment. This welcoming attitude toward both the pleasant and the unpleasant allows you to label your physical sensations as sensations. It allows you to label planning, memories, stories and images as thinking. It allows you to label worry, fear, anxiety, depression, grief, anger, happiness and joy as emotion. Your being mode helps you relax, give yourself a break and cultivate the quality of equanimity – remaining calm during the storm and remaining centered during life’s ups and downs.


Being Mindful of the Body

One of the most effective, well-researched and rejuvenating ways to shift from your doing mode to your being mode is to study and practice the science and art of mindfulness, training the mind to pay attention and cultivating your natural internal relaxation response as an antidote to the stress response. Our most

dependable focus for mindful attention training is the body. The body is always with us. It is always in this place (here) even when our mind is somewhere else. The body is always in this moment (now) even when our mind is in the past or the future. For this reason, mindfulness of the body is considered the first foundation of mindfulness practice.


The Body Scan

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is the international gold standard mindfulness program, shown to help relieve physical, mental, emotional and interpersonal symptoms of stress-related conditions. The body scan meditation is one of the foundational practices of MBSR. Below is an abbreviated outline of the body scan. Full instructions are available in the audio recordings I have posted online.


Begin by assuming a comfortable position. Lying down or reclining is recommended. Pay attention to the tactile, physical sensations as you take your attention to each body part in turn. When you notice your attention has wandered off into thinking, simply return the attention to the body. Beginning with the toes and feet, go sequentially through the shins, calves, knees, thighs, hips, buttocks and pelvis. Allow the belly to be soft, practicing abdominal breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing), stimulating the vagus nerve as it passes through the diaphragm, sending relaxation impulses throughout the entire body. Direct attention to physical sensations in the rest of the body, part by part: the lower back, upper back, rib cage, sternum, hands, arms, neck and face. Connect with any sense of peacefulness and calmness in the body and mind and linger there a few minutes before opening your eyes. Sleep is welcome if it happens.


Practicing the body scan can help you shift from the doing mode to the being mode. It can help counteract the stress response with the relaxation response. It can become a delightful part of your self-care tool kit. It can transform your experience of living. It could even save 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