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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MINDFULNESS CAN HELP US BE KIND

Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle – J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)


As our annual holiday of giving comes to an end, we often begin a new year full of hopes, intentions and resolutions to take better care of ourselves. Many of us also vow to take better care of others. We want to be more kind. But it’s hard to be more kind to others when we feel our own cup of kindness is running low or is completely empty. It is difficult or impossible to relieve the suffering of others without first wisely managing our own suffering. Self-care is not selfishness. It is a necessary foundation for a life of service, values, purpose, meaning, mission and caring for others.


Our Epidemic of Stress

Several medical and public health reports in the past year describe an epidemic of stress in America. The American Psychological Association reports more than half of Americans consider this the lowest point they can remember in U.S. history. The American Psychiatric Association reports anxiety in Americans is increasing sharply. A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report found major depression is increasing dramatically, especially among millennials and adolescents. A Cigna insurance survey found loneliness is at epidemic levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported suicide rates have increased sharply. Over 47,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2017 alone. U.S. life expectancy, a snapshot of the nation’s overall health, has declined

twice in the past three years, fueled largely by preventable “deaths of despair,” including suicides, drugs and alcohol.


There is so much suffering in our own families, work places and communities. Relieving this suffering will take dedicated efforts at the national, local and individual levels. An important ingredient in our recipe for relieving suffering is kindness to ourselves and kindness to others.


Mindfully Saying ‘No’  Can Be Kind

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, the 20th century’s best known Catholic monk. From his home at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY, Merton wrote about the violence we impose on ourselves by the “rush and pressure of modern life.” Merton wrote, “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.” The same message can be heard in the teachings of Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga and inspiration for the Ornish Lifestyle Program for heart disease: “Let nothing destroy your peace.”


Mindfully, gently and kindly saying “no” can preserve your inner peace. It is a sign of good health to be kind to yourself by knowing your own limits and slowing down before your cup of kindness is empty. Your own self-care is the true foundation for your caring for others. Mindfulness can help us all slow down by simply being aware of the experiences that usually pass us by unnoticed.


Cultivating Mindfulness with Simple Awareness

Mindfulness practice begins by having an intention to be present to your own life. We begin by paying attention to what is actually happening right now rather than living so much in the past and the future. With this intention to pay attention, we notice our mind has arrived where our body already was and always is – the here and the now. For this reason, we refer to mindfulness of the body as the first foundation of mindfulness practice.


You can practice mindfulness right now – noticing what you are actually experiencing, noticing the sensations you feel anywhere in the body – sensations of warmth where your clothing touches your skin, sensations of coolness where the air touches your skin, sensations of the eyes viewing these words, sensations of the breath moving in and out of the body. You can also notice thoughts as the normal wandering mind wanders and thinks. It is helpful to simply let thoughts be reminders to return your attention to sensations in the body and the breath. Rather than being judgmental and self-critical for having so many thoughts, we bring kindness to ourselves and feel our cup of kindness filling up with every breath, letting every thought remind us to come home to the present moment.


A health-promoting lifestyle includes healthy eating, physical activity, restful sleep, social support, time in the outdoors and a daily dose of intentional self-care. Mindful self-care can help you be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself helps you be kind to others. An epidemic of kindness can be part of the solution to our epidemic of stress.


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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