Mindfulness: More Common Sense than New Age Hype
By:Amy Movius MD
As the promotion of health, rather than just the treatment of disease have become more central in our society, a few core issues repeatedly pop up. These are often referred to as “life-style” factors and include diet, exercise, and stress management/mind-body connection. Rather than being minor players in our health, these lifestyle factors are increasingly recognized as having dramatic effects on improving and maintaining our physical AND mental health – sometimes with equal or greater benefits than routinely used medications.
Mindfulness is a term often associated with stress management and the mind-body connection. What is mindfulness, anyway? It sounds sort of secretive, exotic – and maybe a bit flakey – but in reality it’s been around forever. Personally, I view mindfulness as something we are born with in abundance, but tend to lose over time in our fast paced, high stress culture.
Mindfulness can (and is) be defined with a variety of different emphasis but at its core it is being aware and accepting of the present moment – instead of ruminating about the past or fretting about the future. My personal definition of mindfulness is “getting out of your head” and being where you are.
There are many excellent techniques for stress reduction such as meditation and guided imagery that foster and encourage mindfulness. These generally include slow, deep breathing in some form, which is the natural state of our breath when we are calm and relaxed. However, mindfulness is also available to everyone all the time without any specific program or training needed. Have you ever been told “don’t get ahead of yourself”? What about “stop and collect your thoughts”, “take a deep breath”, or “count to ten”? These actions reflect calming and redirecting yourself to the present moment.
However you choose to decrease stress and focus on the here and now, the health benefits are clear. High stress is associated with more cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and an overall increase in body inflammation. Decreasing stress is likewise associated with lower incidence and severity of such conditions and overall less body inflammation. So start simple and make mindfulness a nice part of your everyday – maybe take some slow deep breaths while your coffee is brewing, or focus on the warmth of the water in the shower. It’s a free and easy way to better health and happiness.