Practicing mindfulness meditation and exercises is an easy, yet powerful, tool to reduce stress, improve mood and even curb appetite.
The successes of mindfulness in improving overall physical and mental health have spawned a sprawling industry of clinics, seminars, specialists, trainers, books, videos, and webinars.
Why is it so popular?
Because it works.
Numerous scientific studies have been done measuring the positive effects mindfulness techniques have on physical and mental health.
It has been shown to improve a host of problems ranging from stress and anxiety to insomnia and chronic disease1.
So what is this miracle of mindfulness?
What Is Mindfulness?
Though mindfulness meditation has its roots in Eastern Buddhism, it isn’t a form of religious practice. Rather it’s an adaptation of meditation techniques that became popularized in the 1970s with the development of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Mindfulness is just a conscious focusing of your attention on what you’re hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling in the present moment. You ignore the cacophony of thoughts echoing in your head (the average person has 6,200 thoughts per day), focusing only on what’s at hand.
That could be the sight and smell of a rose. Or it could be feeling the firing of your leg muscles as you walk, the hardness of the ground beneath your feet, and the brisk chill of the wind in your face.
The goal of mindfulness is to dial down the noise and quiet the mind. For some of us shutting down the worries, reminders, questions, and distractions bouncing around our brains might seem impossible.
But it isn’t because there’s only one secret to mindfulness:
Be Here Now.
How Mindfulness Works
Various studies have found mindfulness to be associated with changes in brainwaves and the production of hormones and chemicals vital to physical health. These changes have been linked to positive mental health and physical health outcomes2.
Mindfulness works by engaging nearly every region of the brain and increasing communication between the two hemispheres.
The physical effects of mindfulness include:
- Reduction in stress hormones
- Lessened feelings of anxiety
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- Lowered breathing rate
- Release of muscle tension
- Reduce chronic fatigue
Mindfulness was also shown to reduce feelings of fear, lessen pain, reduce appetite, improve sleep and boost overall mood. It is especially effective at lowering stress and considering the impact of stress on physical health, it’s a major target to improve overall health.
The two main components of mindfulness and the keys to why it works are awareness and acceptance.
Concentrating on being aware of everything happening in your body and everything in the world around you – helps to quiet the body.
Creating acceptance of things outside of our control, all thoughts, experience, and action without passing judgment is the key to quietening the mind.
These two key aspects come together to create a powerful tool to regain control by letting go of the unimportant and uncontrollable.
How Mindfulness Can Help Fight Chronic Disease
Practicing mindfulness techniques can have dramatic positive benefits for people with chronic disease. The two most common (and deadly) chronic diseases, diabetes, and heart disease, are directly affected by lifestyle and stress.
Many who suffer from chronic disease also suffer from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. They may also have chronic pain, poor eating habits, and a sedentary lifestyle in tandem with their mental health issues, the two problems feeding on each other.
Using mindfulness to improve mood, lower blood pressure, and heart rate, lessen pain and curb appetite is a perfect way to attack the root causes of chronic disease and improve mental health.
5 Simple Mindfulness Techniques You Can Use Today
From simple breathing exercises to eating techniques to curb appetite, we’ve got 5 easy mindfulness techniques you can do anywhere, anytime – starting today.
- 5 – 5 – 5 Breathing
This can be done sitting, standing, or laying down. Simply breathe in for 5 seconds – hold for 5 seconds – breathe out for 5 seconds. Pay attention to how each breath feels as it goes through your nose to fill your lungs and then what it feels like on the way out.
This is an ideal exercise for dealing with anxiety and stress.
- Walking Mindfulness
Walking mindfulness is a great way to not only quiet your mind but to also get in some physical exercise. A good time for this exercise is 10 – 15 minutes. You can do it by itself or anytime during a regular fitness walk.
- Begin walking at a natural pace
- For some, counting steps from 1 to 10 helps concentration
- Pay attention to each step: the lifting of the foot, how it feels against the ground as it comes back down, the firing of your muscles from your feet to your arms
- If you’re walking outside, take note of your surroundings, but always come back to focus on the sensation of walking
- For a bonus, you can include the 5-5-5 Breathing Meditation
- Body Awareness Meditation
This mindfulness exercise helps to focus on the body, aiding in stress reduction and lowering anxiety, heart rate, and breathing.
- Lie on your back with your arms to your sides and palms up (you can also do this seated in a comfortable chair).
- Remain still and calm (if you have to move, do it mindfully, with intention)
- Focus on your breathing. Slow and steady. Feel the inhale and exhale, noticing the rhythm.
- Feel the sensations of your body. The texture of your clothes, how the ground feels, your muscles, bone, breathing, and heartbeat. Slowly work your way from your feet to your head, really concentrating on each part.
- When you’ve finished, open your eyes slowly and readjust yourself to normal awareness.
- Mindful Eating
Many of us eat while distracted whether it be the tv, cell phone, music, or conversation. But distracted eating not only misses the enjoyment of food, the texture, and flavor – it can also make us miss cues that we’re full and contribute to overeating. Practicing mindfulness while eating is an effective way to control appetite. Here’s what you do:
- Eat in a quiet place without any distractions (tv, cell phone, etc.)
- Focus on the food: the color, smell, taste, and texture
- Concentrate on each bite, getting all of the sensory information
- Chew slowly and deliberately; pause after each bite
BONUS: learn to identify your hunger – true hunger is when you’re actually hungry, emotional hunger is a response to stress, depression, or anger, mind hunger is often a result of snacking as a habit (i.e., it’s time for my afternoon snack)
- Self-Compassion Meditation
Not every day is sunshine and unicorns. Sometimes we’re down on ourselves, our lives, or the world in general. But our mental health is often either overlooked or ignored and that’s unhealthy not just for our mental state but our physical health too.
Here’s an easy mindfulness exercise in self-compassion to boost your emotional health:
- Start with the 5-5-5 Breathing Meditation
- As your body calms, start to take an inventory of what feelings and emotions you’re experiencing – don’t think why – just feel them
- Accept the emotion(s) you are feeling
- Realize that suffering is part of life and unavoidable
- Allow yourself kindness, whether it’s self-acceptance, forgiveness, patience, healing, or strength
Mindfulness, at its core, is just a technique to reduce distractions and shut out the bombardment of sensory and mental information coming at us every day.
It’s these distractions that keep us from realizing how stressed out we are or allow unrealized emotional distress to fester just under the surface of our awareness.
So try one of these mindfulness techniques today. Take a deep breath, relax, focus your mind and soon you can experience better physical, mental and emotional health.