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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THE RELAXATION RESPONSE

Just relax! It sounds so simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. There are many unskillful, unhealthy ways to relax. But you can achieve significant cardiovascular and other health benefits from the regular practice of skillful relaxation for stress management.


One of the best ways to skillfully relax is by practicing the Relaxation Response. Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson coined the phrase “relaxation response” after studying meditation’s affects on cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions. He initially showed the simple practice of the Relaxation Response helped lower blood pressure and even helped some patients reduce their medication needs.


Over 40 years at the Mind Body Medical Institute, the Relaxation Response has been shown to help a wide variety of other stress-related medical conditions, including chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, arthritis, intestinal disorders, skin conditions and many more. It has also been shown to improve the quality of life for those with life-threatening disease such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.


Here are the steps to practicing Benson’s Relaxation Response. If you are taking medication or have a chronic medical condition, discuss with your medical provider whether this is compatible with your treatment plan.


1. First, choose a focus word (or short phrase, prayer or sound).

You can choose a word that has a religious or special meaning to you or a neutral word such as one, now, being, ocean, love, peace, calm, relax or present moment. The meaning of the focus word is not the point. Rather, you are cultivating the gentle resting of your attention on the word. Eventually, the word may fade away as you repeat it, leaving you in a state of restful alertness. That is just fine.


2. Turn off phones and make sure the dog or cat won’t startle you by jumping into your lap. You may want to inform others you are taking a health break and close the door. You can make a sign for the door saying “Quiet Please” or “Meditating.”


3. Sit quietly in a comfortable seated or reclining position and close your eyes. You can also lie down, but that will increase the likelihood of falling asleep. Sleep is great, but that isn’t the goal of the Relaxation Response practice.


4. Relax your muscles, especially paying attention to the jaw, neck, shoulders, back and other places you know you hold tension. As you become more sensitive to your own body, you may detect tension and relaxation in places you never imagined needed your attention.

5. Breathe slowly and naturally and as you do, repeat your focus word or phrase or prayer silently to yourself. At least in the beginning, this repetition may be easier to coordinate with the out breath. Over time, however, try to repeat your word without timing the repetition to the breath.


6. Be non-judgmental about distractions. When sounds, body sensations and other thoughts come to mind, simply notice them without judgment and gently return to the repetition.


7. Ideally, practice for 10-20 minutes, although even 1 minute (especially during stressful times) can help manage stress and cultivate a sense of self-mastery and self-care.


8. After your practice period ends, rather than quickly returning to activity, continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then, open your eyes and sit for another minute before returning to regular activity. Notice this important transition time. Your eyes are open as in daily activity yet the mind is quieter than usual after your practice. Later in the day, by simply remembering this calmness with eyes open, a hint of relaxation and self-care can be cultivated at any moment throughout your day.


9. Practice! Practice! Practice! This technique is most effective if practiced once or twice daily. Although any time is fine, ideal practice times are before breakfast and before the evening meal. Practicing before meals helps digestion, another important ingredient in self-care, cardiovascular health and managing stress-related conditions.


Recommended Resource


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

more articles by dr john patterson