Mindfulness and the Health Benefits

Mindfulness and the Health Benefits

“Pay attention!” If, like myself and many others, you heard that often from a frustrated parent when you were a child, being told to pay attention can be an anxiety-provoking experience, even as an adult.

However, this blog aims to flip the script in your head, just a little bit, and give you a new way of looking at attention and how important it is.

At its core, mindfulness is simply paying attention. Paying attention to what is happening, paying attention to how you feel, paying attention to what you are experiencing, to your emotions, to your food, to your children, your spouse, or your job.

The possibilities are endless, and almost anything that you pay attention to will improve. Even physical and emotional health, sometimes even when you aren’t specifically attending to health.

Let’s look at how this works and see the correlation between mindfulness and the health benefits.

Mindfulness Improves Mental and Physical Health

Mindfulness and Health BenefitsThe intentional, formal practice of mindfulness has been studied many times. Most studies look at effects on mental health, such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Check out this study for more insight.

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to have positive effects on both mental and physical health. In addition to having less stress, anxiety, and depression, people who practice mindfulness have less pain, lower blood pressure and less bodily tension, as well as fewer physical symptoms of disease.

How Mindfulness Improves Your Health

Mindfulness gives you permission to recognize what you are feeling. Simply recognizing what you are feeling is a powerful first step toward making good changes.

For example, when I recognize that my shoulders feel tight and my stomach is tense, I then also realize that my laptop is at the wrong height and I am feeling the effects of poor posture.

Or maybe that’s not it, and the root of the tension is that I am afraid people won’t like what I’m writing. Regardless of what it is that I learn by paying attention to what I’m feeling, I now have a better foundation from which to begin to make changes.

These changes will help, whether that is moving my laptop to a better position or reminding myself that I am writing to make a difference and not to make people like me.

Mindfulness is often used for stress management. When you experience less stress, your body is more relaxed. When you are more relaxed, you will have less bodily tension and pain, and blood pressure will drop. My latest article Dean Ornish Lifestyle Program focuses on this topic a lot.

This starts a cascade of good things. Your kidneys and heart don’t have to work as hard; endorphins aren’t used up trying to control the pain (which means your mood will improve even more), and digestion gets better and you are better nourished.

Paying attention to what you are eating often leads to eating better quality food and eating less. Instead of mindlessly eating Twinkies™, you discover that they taste like cardboard and that you prefer the Larabar Kid™ Chocolate Brownie. (Wildly delicious! It’s a personal favorite. 😉 )

Sometimes, when you begin to pay attention, you will discover that you have been blocking out physical pain, so it may temporarily get worse because you begin to allow yourself to feel it.

This is especially true for chronic pain, where blocking out the awareness of pain becomes a survival/coping skill.

Having lived with low to mid-grade chronic pain for well over a decade, I can tell you that paying attention to what hurts is worth it.

As I learned to notice the tension in my muscles, I learned how to do stretches that targeted the muscles that were tight. I discovered that a powerful anti-inflammatory combination of fish oil, curcumin, and vitamin D3 made a big difference in how much pain I have. If I had continued to just block out the pain, I would not have learned how to deal with the root causes of the pain.

Mindfulness is a great practice for managing chronic pain, among other conditions. Let’s look at how to get started.

How Do I Start Practicing Mindfulness?

Lest you think practicing mindfulness means sitting cross-legged by a waterfall, saying “om”…. Well, let’s just say that there are better ways to start!

Read a book. A real book with physical paper pages. The concentration and focus required to read a physical book trains your brain in mindfulness through the act of paying attention for sustained periods of time.

Thirty to forty minutes at a time is recommended for the most benefit. Best of all, reading is fun and informative, and—unlike some of the more esoteric mindfulness practices—is easy to begin and doesn’t feel like doing nothing.

Mindfulness and the Health BenefitsGo for a walk with a child. Encourage attention and wonder. Look at the intricate detail of a flower’s petals and stamens.

Marvel at a bird’s ability to fly, how their wings flap in and out, how the feathers glisten in the sun.

 

Listen to the squirrels chattering. Feel the texture of bark on a tree. Enjoy the softness of moss on a rock. Pay attention to how your body feels; the tension in your back decreasing, the muscles stretching and contracting as you walk, the jiggly feeling of laughter in your belly.

Keep a journal. Write out the things that bother you, what’s happening and how it makes you feel. Chronicle your frustrations and questions. Also write about the things that mean the most, the things that sometimes make you sit down and catch your breath with wonder and gratitude.

Mindfulness and Health BenefitsWrite about your dreams and hopes for the future, and your regrets about the past. Write about whatever you are thinking about, and simply allow it to be what it is.

Journaling is about recognizing what you are thinking and feeling, not about trying to change it.

 

Do an electronics fast. This could be as short as several hours or long as several weeks (although the longer fasts may not be practical depending on your business and family demands).

We often use media, music, and entertainment to distract ourselves, and fasting from all electronics can be a very effective way to make yourself pay attention to what you are feeling.

The fast can be combined with a guided retreat, so that you are also learning better ways of being and not just abstaining from the normal coping tools.

Sit quietly for 10 minutes. Don’t set expectations for what has to happen. Simply pay attention to what you are feeling. When you notice muscle tension, allow those muscles to relax.

Eat mindfully. Pay attention to the taste, texture, and smell. Notice when you start feeling full and continue to pay attention to what you are feeling after the meal.

(This has big health benefits, because you can begin to learn what foods make you feel your best and you are less likely too overeat.)

 

 

Run or walk or pedal while listening to music. The regular rhythm of bodily movement combines with the effects of music on the brain to encourage calmness and relaxation.

Exercise also requires discipline and focus, which is a core concept of mindfulness.

Spend time in prayer. Include both thankfulness and petition. We are made for connection with “someone or something greater than ourselves” (Martin Seligman) and prayer is a key expression of this connection.

Even secular psychology is beginning to recognize the human need for the divine.

Can a Christian Practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is often associated with forms of meditation practiced in several non-Christian religions. If that were all that mindfulness is, Christians would not want to practice mindfulness.

But mindfulness is simply paying attention. Attentiveness is both a natural outflow and an intentional discipline of Christianity.

Every time Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you”, that essentially means, “Pay attention. This is important.” And the phrase shows up at least 25 times in the gospels, indicating that paying attention to the words of Jesus is an important part of being one of his followers.

This video gives a short introduction to biblical meditation and mindfulness.

Philippians 4:8, with its listing of things to think on (focus on or pay attention to) is basically a command to meditate. “Think on these things.” This is an invitation to enter a place of peace and calmness, to deliberately focus our minds on what is good and pure and honest.

I’m not advocating taking up a non-Christian form of meditation, of which there are many, but I do believe that there is biblical reason to practice mindfulness and paying attention to goodness and beauty.

For a beautiful introduction to biblical mindfulness (what I like to think of as practicing Philippians 4:8) find a quiet place and get comfortable, then listen to this “Love Letter from God” and allow the beauty to sink in as you practice paying attention to what God says.

Paying Attention to Paying Attention

Mindfulness may not have been the first thing you think about when looking for ways to improve your health. But the evidence is conclusive; paying attention is good for your body, mind, and soul. It doesn’t get much better than that.

How are you going to pay attention this week? Do you think there is a connection between mindfulness and health benefits? Do you have some additional tips and techniques to share? Be Well!

16 Comments

  1. I appreciate this reminder to pay attention, especially in this time when we are always on the go, seems like we are engaged in several things at once, and this is called multitasking. I remember going to a lecture and when the lecture was over and I when home I did not remember one thing the lecture was about, my mind was all over the place, and I was not listening, not paying attention. We are always told to pay attention to our surroundings, so paying attention is very important.

    • Hi Ruthlyn,

      Thank you for visiting. You are so right in that many times we make our lives so busy we are engaged in numerous things at once. While multi-tasking may be a good thing at times, it also can be dangerous to our mindset and overall health if we do not balance appropriately.

      You are not the only one who has not paid attention to what may be right in front of us. It is so easy to get distracted if we do not recognize the signs and know how to avoid letting our minds stray so easily.

      I appreciate the awesome value and point of view you brought to this topic. I hope to see you back again soon. Be Well!

  2. Really good, well written article. I can relate to many of the stresses that mindfulness can ease. I never really correlated the Biblical teachings about ‘think on these things’ to mindfulness, and meditation but that is what it is saying. I also like your idea of an electronics fast. I spend the vast majority of my spare time on the internet, and my phone, and in front of the tv. Taking a break from this makes good sense. Some great advice, and I know it will help me, and anyone else that reads it. Thanks, Tom

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for visiting. I appreciate your kind words. I am glad you can connect to some of my ideas here. Yes an electronic fast is something I think we all might want to do from time to time.

      I appreciate your thoughts on this topic and the value that you added today. I hope to see you again here soon. Be Well!

  3. I really enjoyed your post about mindfulness and the different ways you can practice it.

    Mindfulness is something I have read and researched a lot, but I always felt that if I weren’t sitting in a dark closet somewhere with absolute quiet while meditating, that I wouldn’t ever reach the mental peace to be mindful.

    But thanks to you I understand mindfulness in a whole new light and it absolutely seems attainable.

    Thanks for the well thought out, well delivered information.

    • Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for visiting today and I am very glad you found some useful tips here as it relates to mindfulness and the health benefits. Yes I believe many believe the notion they have to be in a quiet and dark place to capture the peace and clarity that mindfulness brings but this is not true at all.

      You can attain a very high level of clarity using the techniques I described and it will do wonders for you mentally and physically. Thanks for providing such value today and I hope to see you again soon. Be Well!

  4. Great article Nate! I have been recently been practicing mindfulness and using many pieces of advice that you have here. There are a couple of new ideas to try also. Reading your article gave me even more motivation to dedicate more time for mindfulness and paying attention to all the beautiful things around us. Thanks!

    -Joonas

    • Hi Joonas,

      Thank you for visiting. I appreciate the kind words. I am stoked that you have already been putting some of these practices to use. Any motivation I can provide I am so happy to do so because for me I know first hand it has worked for me.

      I will look forward to you visiting again and I appreciate the value you added to this topic today. Be Blessed !

  5. I used to meditate and it always made me feel so calm. I haven’t in a while. I like the bit about Christian meditation because my grandma hates any talk of it. Maybe she’ll think about it now.

    • Hi Jordan,

      Thanks for visiting. That is wonderful you meditated. I am glad you were able to find something here today that you can use as a benefit in your daily life. Hope to see you back here again soon. Be Well!

  6. I definitely could use paying more attention. We’re living in a digital age where we got distracted easily, me included. I like the concept of mindful eating. I suppose it’ll help me in losing some weight.

    • Hi Kenny,

      Thank you for visiting. I think we all could pay attention more in this day and age. There are distractions all around us but as long as we are mindful of these distractions we can get better and better at paying attention. Thanks for visiting today. Be Well!

  7. Thank you so much for this great post! I was really into meditation and mindfulness a few years ago but I slipped way from it. This makes me want to get back into the practice. I remember experiencing so many benefits like a clearer mind, less anxiety and overall more happiness. Love your tips on starting mindfulness. Helps me to realize that it can really be practiced anywhere. Thanks again!

    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks for visiting. I am glad you liked this post. Thanks for the kind words. Isn’t it so easy for us sometimes to get away from the things that can benefit us most. I think that is human nature. I am glad something I said in my post can encourage you to get back on the horse and focus on meditation again.

      Being mindful in an way definitely can bring clarity. There is nothing like the inner peace it brings. I am glad you also found my tips useful. They have worked for me and of course I feel obligated to share them to help others. I appreciate the value you added to this topic today. Hope to see you again soon. Be Well!

  8. Hey Nate,
    Thank you for this interesting article on how practicing mindfulness the right , so we can have an easy going life.
    Honestly everybody should practice mindfulness once awhile,i it’s very important for quotidian life now specially with all those new distractingly tools we have everywhere so easy .

    • Hi Omar,

      Thanks for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed the article. I appreciate you stopping by today and adding value. Hope to see you again soon. Be Well!

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