Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays!. In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them. These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself.
Mindfulness is a trendy topic mentioned often by psychologists these days. Over the past few years my curiosity about mindfulness has been peaked, and I’ve tried out meditation, yoga, and other stress-relieving activities to see what all the buzz is about.
And I’ve found that the reason mindfulness is so popular is that it works.
As I’ve been growing my counseling private practice and seeking to achieve balance between my business schedule and personal commitments, I’ve realized that stress is a common factor in my daily life. Since research has shown that mindfulness benefits healthcare professionals, I thought I’d give it a go.
I picked up a month-long yoga practice this past month on Yoga with Adriene, and I truly believe it has changed my life. Doing yoga daily creates space for me to intentionally slow down, practice breathing deeply, and grow in conscious awareness of my body and how I hold myself throughout my day. My goal for the month was to feel better, and I certainly did.
What is mindfulness? How does it benefit me?
If your concept of mindfulness includes the image of a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged and letting out a few “om”s, you’re likely not alone. Mindfulness, however, is a much broader reaching practice than just these examples. Mindfulness is defined as a state of conscious awareness in the present moment without judgment. You can practice mindfulness while you’re walking down the street, driving in your car, or playing with your children.
A multitude of studies completed in recent years show all the health benefits of mindfulness. It reduces stress and improves mood, likely due to slowing down the fight-or-flight stress response. Mindfulness increases focus and attention, which then links to an improvement in job performance. It leads to a reduction in symptoms of chronic pain and has shown positive benefits with cancer patients’ recovery. For recovering addicts, doing mindful practices actually encourage change in the brain structures that have been formed through addiction. It also offers benefits to those who suffer from depression or overly intense emotions.
What about the benefits of yoga?
Yoga is one major way to target those benefits of mindfulness, but it also carries its own positive effects. Yoga can be a form of exercise to increase your flexibility, muscle strength, and tone. It can provide cross training for running or other cardio exercise. It also can help you to become a more mindful eater as you grow in awareness of your body and how it feels.
Psychologically, yoga targets stress and provides relief through relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving your mood. Yoga can help you to build a positive sense of self, which is often threatened by the shame or negative self-talk characteristic of depression. If you are a survivor of trauma and struggle with dissociation, yoga can help you become more in touch with your body and help you to ground into the present moment.
One of the most beneficial concepts for me in my yoga practice was the beginner’s mind. As a former dancer, I believed that in order to prove my flexibility and be the “best” at yoga, I had to do all the intense pretzel-like postures the instructor was doing. As a recovering perfectionist, I still felt pressure to do every move “perfectly.” Luckily, the instructor encouraged me to listen to my body and not push myself beyond my limits. Being able to slow down on the mat and give myself permission to be imperfect allowed me to approach other areas of my life with the same calm and willingness to learn.
One potential roadblock for Christians who are hoping to try yoga is the potential struggle with its Buddhist roots. As a Christian myself, I wrestle with this concept too. I’ve chosen to use poses that involve a prayer posture or my intention for my practice as a way to connect with the Lord in prayer and surrender, seeking to set my mind on Him. In yoga classes, you may come across language that feels uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with your Christian beliefs, and that’s fine! If it’s too difficult for you, you can try a different instructor or seek out Christian yoga classes.
How can I practice mindfulness in my life?
Try a breathing exercise.
Taking a few moments to enjoy some deep breaths helps to slow down your nervous system and decrease anxiety. Practicing breathing can be a task that takes as short as 10 minutes or less – it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of your day. It can be helpful to use a guided meditation in which to do this. I really like the Headspace app, which gives you fun animations to help you start and 10-minute meditations to walk through. For my Christian friends, I’d also recommend Everyday Prayer, a short podcast series with meditative prayers to increase a sense of mindfulness.
Test out mindful eating.
As you eat your next meal, pay attention to the flavors and textures of the foods you are eating. Notice the smell of the spices in the food. Pay attention to how your stomach feels, if you notice yourself feeling full or stuffed as a signal to stop.
Go for a mindful walk.
Take a walk outside. Pay attention to the feel of your feet pressing against the ground, the temperature of the air, and the feeling of wind on your skin. Look around at the sights around you, whether they involve nature, other people, or buildings. Smell the fresh air outside.
As talked about before, I’ve become a big proponent of yoga after I’ve seen how I’ve felt as a result of doing it daily. I love Yoga with Adriene. She offers hundreds of free yoga videos on her YouTube channel, and if you subscribe to her newsletter you receive a monthly calendar with a practice she’s chosen for each day of the month. Check out YouTube for other free yoga channels, or join a class in your area.
As you likely know if you’ve tried and failed to start a new exercise regimen, you don’t begin to see the benefit to your fitness levels until you’ve made the practice a habit. Practicing mindfulness daily is an important step to experience its health benefits. You can choose a time and place that works best for you – I like doing my yoga first thing in the morning (and I go to sleep in my yoga clothes so I’m ready to go when I wake up!) It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment either: even just taking 10 minutes a day can show a marked difference.
How will you practice mindfulness this week?
Do you feel like you’re constantly juggling a million tasks and struggling to find space to breathe? Do you love the idea of taking a yoga class, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into your busy schedule? Are you burned out and tired with the loads of stress you’re carrying? My hope is to offer you a fresh breath of air through counseling. At Restored Hope, I offer therapy sessions focusing on self-care and creating space in your schedule and your life for rest. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to chat more about how I can help.