Have A Mindful March (And Beyond)!

wellness column

By Giovanni Perissinotti, MSW, RSW, of the Windsor Family Health Team

“Mindfulness” is focusing on the present moment by centering your awareness, while recognizing your thoughts, feelings and sensations within your body. Mindfulness is a great tool to regain focus in your life. With practice, it can reduce and prevent anxiety, depression, and a wide range of other mental and physical ailments. If you look at anxious thoughts, they seem to always transport your mind into future worries such as “I am going to fail this test” or a past regret such as “I should have studied more”. These worries are natural; however, they can spiral out of control into more irrational worries and creating new irrational thoughts, which can waste a lot of your time. By practicing mindfulness daily, you can learn to remain grounded and centre yourself to keep your thoughts in the present. Here are some simple exercises that can be done at home or at school:

MINDFUL BREATHING

Focus on your breath while you inhale and exhale. Closing your eyes may make it easier for you to maintain focus, but this can be done with your eyes open as well.

Begin by taking a deep inhalation through your nose that should last three seconds. Hold your breath for three seconds. Then, exhale though your mouth for about four seconds. Do this a few times. Keynotes are to maintain focus on inhaling and exhaling. Other things you may focus on is the rise and fall of your chest, or how the air feels going in through your nostrils and out through your mouth. It is okay if your mind wanders into other thoughts. Just guide your attention back into focus on your breathing.

Set aside a time to practice this everyday. The more you practice, the better you will get at this exercise. Not only will it make you feel better when you are feeling good, but it can be easier to do when you are experiencing high anxiety.

BODY SCAN

A form of mindfulness and relaxation, but also incorporating awareness of the different regions and muscles in the body. The body scan allows you to be aware of these parts of your body, and experience how each part feels. The body scan can allow you to get back in touch with yourself, to let go of the feeling of having to do stuff, and release of emotions that may have built up. This is a form of meditation that can train your attention, allowing to switch between a narrow form to a wide form of attention. There are different ways you can do this. When you are at school, you can do this sitting in a chair and, at home, it’s best to lie down on the floor, a mat or your bed. You can either start at your toes and move upward, or start at your head and move downward. Spend some time with each part of your body and be aware that it is there. Focus on your head, then move to your neck, then your chest, then your arms and fingers, stomach, waist, thighs, calves, feet, then toes. Some forms of this exercise can incorporate a glowing light to each region. What ever works best for you!

MINDFUL EATING OR INTUITIVE EATING

This is a great activity that can make you more mindful of what you are eating - and how much you are eating. By taking the time to focus on your food, you can become more aware of your portions, types of food you are eating, but, most of all, become more aware of the flavours you may be missing out on by just eating to satisfy hunger. There are many forms and exercises that are associated with mindful eating. Here are a few examples you can practice anytime you eat:

• Focus on the flavour. Try to describe this to yourself. What is the initial taste when you put it into your mouth? What are the flavours as you move the food from side to side? Try to describe them in great detail. Is it salty, sweet, spicy, bland? What are the sensations or emotions you get from this food?  Is the second bite the same as the first or is it different?

• Eat slower. Try not be so rushed. By eating slower, you allow yourself to become more aware of how much you may be eating. This can also change eating just for the sake of eating into a more pleasurable experience by becoming more aware of the delicacies of the food. This also allows your brain to catch up with your stomach.

• Be mindful of stress eating. This can be a common occurrence for some: when they experience stress, they begin to snack and eat without being aware of how much they are eating. This can also associate stress with food, and condition yourself to be hungry when you do feel stressed.

• When eating, focus just on eating. Don’t multi-task while eating. Set aside some time to just be with your food, or eat with others and engage in conversation. When you eat and do other things such as schoolwork, chores, watch TV or go on your phone, you are not being mindful towards your body’s signals or your food. Try just enjoying the company you are with or, if you are alone, focusing just on your food.

This is just a brief introduction into the many topics, activities, exercises and categories that are associated with the Mindfulness practice. There are many resources that can assist you with practicing mindfulness, such as apps for your phone, YouTube videos and websites. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, just do a quick Google search, app search in your app store, or YouTube search, and you can explore this topic more deeply.