If we could lose weight and be healthy through the two main components, diet and exercise alone, there would be no such thing as obesity. A third component, mindfulness, is essential to our health, mentally and physically.
Mindfulness is something I have been actively practising for only a short time. I discovered it during a rough period of my life when I suffered from postpartum anxiety after the birth of my youngest daughter. It quite literally saved my sanity.
Meditation is another term for mindfulness but tends to focus on a formal practice. Mindfulness is something that we can practice in every aspect and moment of our lives. It’s the practice of being aware of the present moment, of truly immersing ourselves in this moment and keeps us aware of our actions.
Have you ever mindlessly eaten one chip, then another, then another until you realize you’ve eaten the whole bag? Exactly. Being mindful makes you aware of the sensation (smell, feel and taste) of each chip. You will also be aware of how your body feels as you eat chip after chip prompting you to stop much earlier.
There is also the aspect of emotional eating. You are aware you are eating the entire bag but don’t care. You will regret it later. Emotional eating can be any form of mood: stress, depression, anxiety, even happiness. This is the hardest aspect to overcome when you are trying to control your eating habits. Mindfulness and regular formal meditation can truly help here. Its stops us backtracking into the “if onlys” and stops us from fast forwarding into the “what ifs”. And the more you practice, the more it becomes part of your life.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a practitioner of mindfulness who has brought meditation into the modern age. His programs are recognized by the medical system as an alternative to drugs for a variety of mental health issues. Check out the Resources page for titles of books and audio options of his meditations.
Tara Brach is also a favourite of mine. Her teachings are easy to listen to, humorous and relevant. She also has a number of meditations available through CD or iTunes. Again, check the Resources page for my favourites.
elephantjournal.com is a well-known mindfulness website that is made up of contributing writers. You can sign up for a daily email that plonks a meaningful thought in your mailbox each day.
I leave you with a few tips to get started on a mindfulness practice:
1. Start now. Feel the support of the surface you are sitting, standing or lying on. This is called grounding, being right here, right now.
2. Feel your breath. Don’t adjust it, just be aware of it. If possible, close your eyes and focus on it.
3. Engage in the activity you are doing right now. If you are on a computer, feel the keys hit the tips of your fingers. If you are on your phone, feel the phone, the weight of it, the texture of it in your hand. Next time you eat, practice this; notice the look, the feel, the texture of the food before you even put it in your mouth.
4. Remember you don’t need long to practice mindfulness. A 2 minute break just to breathe and take in your surroundings will go far. Even better, a 10 minute daily formal practice has proved to have a whole host of benefits. Anybody can fit this into their day.
5. There is no right or wrong way to “do” mindfulness. There is nothing to do, just be.
6. Set a timer on your phone at various points of the day. Each time the alarm goes, be aware of where you are, how you feel physically and what sort of mental state you are in. Stop for a moment and listen to your breathing. Consciously relax your muscles.
7. Join a mindfulness group. For example, St. Josephs’ Health Centre in Toronto holds weekly meetings that anybody is welcome to be part of it. It’s not affiliated with the hospital, it’s just held there. As meditation becomes more popular, there are more and more meetings opening up in all cities and towns.
8. Above all, remember; take it one day at a time.