MINDFULNESS AND INNER BEAUTY

A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.

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MINDFULNESS FOR SENIORS

You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….

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MANAGING CRAVINGS WITH MINDFULNESS

By our very nature, human beings are craving creatures. Cravings can occur in response to natural physiologic needs such as hunger, thirst and social contact. Cravings can also become unhealthy habits in response to emotional cues such as anxiety, depression, anger, grief or loneliness. Mindfulness can help us take control of our wants, needs, urges and cravings so we can stop being controlled by them.


Our choices can become more intentional. Our lives can become healthier and happier.


Lifestyle and Health.

Our health is largely dependent on the lifestyle choices we make. We can choose to sit and look at a screen or stand and move. We can consume healthy, nutritious food and liquids in amounts that satisfy physiologic needs and maintain healthy weight or we can choose unhealthy food and drink or overeat to satisfy psychological needs. Psychological cravings drive unhealthy lifestyle choices. We can learn to see this process and regain control over our health and happiness.


Some Thoughts Are Untrue.

Our minds generate thousands of thoughts every day. While many of them are necessary, constructive and helpful, most are benign daydreams and others are useless or even harmful. We tend to believe our thoughts, even though they are often untrue. Our thoughts in response to hunger lead us to seek food, eat food and feel good.

This can be healthy and life sustaining, but the feel-good part can be a real problem if we think overeating or consuming favorite comfort foods will soothe emotional discomfort. The same applies to behaviors glamorized in movies or advertising such as tobacco and alcohol use. These can snowball into recreational drug use, addiction and problems with health, relationships and employment. Repeating these behaviors in response to stress leads to unhealthy coping strategies and potentially self-destructive habits.


Mindfulness Can Change Behavior.

We have the ability to replace unhealthy habits and behaviors with healthy ones. Rather than using self-blame, judgment and pure will power to change undesirable habits, mindfulness-based behavior change is founded on curiosity, patience and self-kindness. Knowing certain behaviors are harmful to one’s health is usually not enough to change habits. Smokers, drinkers, couch potatoes and overeaters know these behaviors are unhealthy. Mindfully examining harmful habits in great detail provides an internal embodied experience of the behavior that can lead to “aha” moments. We begin to notice the struggle to climb stairs with extra weight and de-conditioning. We notice the second bowl of comfort food

really isn’t that satisfying. We notice our alcohol use is stealing time from our loved ones. And we notice the positive self-image of making smart lifestyle choices. This experience of self-efficacy is a natural, organic change that comes from within and is far more effective than being told to change by a family member or health-care provider.


Mindfulness-based behavior change goes beyond intellectual knowledge to an experiential awareness that our lives are healthier and happier without our harmful habits. We become less interested in previously harmful habits and more interested in healthy behaviors that satisfy our intellect and our physical and emotional needs. We naturally let go of habits that no longer serve us.


A Practice of Simple Craving Awareness.

Begin small. Start slow. Notice the urge to engage in a familiar unhealthy habit or behavior. Be curious and experience the craving fully (body, mind and emotions) without acting on it just yet. What sensations do you feel in the body? Where are these sensations exactly? What thoughts, images, plans or memories are in your mind? How persistent or fleeting are these mental cognitions? What emotions are you aware of ? Look deeply at your emotions as the craving arises, as the unhealthy behavior plays out and after it is over. Write down those experiences as well as those arising while you write. Over time, you may notice your craving and unhealthy behaviors diminish as your sense of self-control and self-respect increases.


Be Curious and Kind.

Mindfulness is based on curiosity, openness and acceptance. It is characterized by patience with yourself, trust in yourself and letting go of fixed views about yourself. It is also based on kindness and friendliness toward yourself and others.


Anyone can learn to be more mindful – and it can change everything. Mindfulness can help you replace harmful cravings and habits with healthy ones – and even save your life.


Sources and Resources


DR. JOHN PATTERSON

Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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