Exercise Equals Good Health
Exercise does a body good. We all know that. However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well. The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle. After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.
Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises. “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”
Life is messy. We all know that. Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives. One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate. A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions. On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands. I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core. Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain.
Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it. There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts. Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you. What would your response be? Focused meditation relies on living in the moment. That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now. Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate. Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.
Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation. “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways. While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:
Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.
Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.
Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”
Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing. When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress. I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table. As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress.
Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment. It doesn’t really matter the genre of music. Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being. Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise. Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment. It will also improve your digestion!
The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted. Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head. Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness. “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”
Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said: “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.” The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment. This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion. The world and we certainly need more of that.