Mindfulness: How Sitting Still can Make You Physically Healthier

Just like poor nutrition and lack of exercise can have negative impacts on health and well being, so can anger, anxiety, fear, stress, and repeat sadness.  The impacts are not only mental but also physical. Constant anger, stress, and anxiety can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and rate of cellular ageing.   In fact, stress related ailments and complaints are responsible for 75 to 90% of all doctor visits in the US.

One way to begin fighting these mind-based anti-wellness emotions is through mindfulness.  

What is Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.  It is the quality of being both aware and accepting of what is going on in your moment-to-moment experience of life.

Practicing mindfulness can help identify and reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, improve energy levels and mood, and more.

Mindfulness is essentially as less hippy way of saying meditation.

Why Mindfulness?

We are able to do more as a faster pace than ever before.  The ability to handle multiple things at once has never been greater.  Technology and access to information has allowed us to move faster and do more.  

Oddly enough this ability has not given us more time in the day to relax but as given us less.  Many of us now have a mantra of “hurry hurry hurry need to be productive all the time!”

As a result, we never sit and acknowledge the stresses, fears, even joys we are experiencing.  And without acknowledging, dealing with, and accepting them they build up and manifest themselves through physical ailments.

Sounds Like a Bunch of Hippy Crap!

Yes, mindfulness meditation derives from Buddhist teachings; however, there is nothing inherently religious or spiritual about it. Mindfulness practice complements our other efforts to lead a healthy and happy life, regardless of what, if any, religious or spiritual beliefs they subscribe to.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s look to science. There is not much that is more non-religious and non-spiritual  than science.

in the 1980s, researchers began studying the effects of mindfulness practice in medical settings for use in the reduction of stress and chronic pain. However, in recent years there has been exponential growth in the amount of research being conducted and this research has shown a wide variety of correlations between mindfulness meditation practice and physical, psychological, and emotional health.  Check out this Tedx Talk from one Neuroscientist who is researching the effects of mindfulness..

Mindfulness is simply the act of slowing down, focusing on the present, and choosing what to bring to mind and how to deal with it.   If you choose to bring religion or spirituality into it, that is your prerogative.

How Should I Begin?

Start with a 20-min block of time each day where you are in a distraction free environment.  No phones, screens, books, journals, music, people, etc. Basically be somewhere quiet and alone.

For the first 5-min, sit in silence and focus only on your breathing.  Think only of the inhale and the exhale. Pulling the air into your stomach and pushing it back out.  

Then after that time is up, just hang out for 10-min.  Continue with the distraction free environment but you do not have to be overly focused on where your mind is.  Let it wander.

After 10-min, do another 5-min of focused breathing.  Then your 20-min are up.

As you get more comfortable and find your ability to focus for 5-min is getting easier, increase the time you are focused on breathing.   

Do you have to be in a dark room, cross-legged, meditating, and chanting?

Absolutely not.  You can do something simple while practicing this, such as eating a meal, drinking a cup of coffee, or taking a leisurely walk.  However, only do this if it is not distracting you from focusing on your breathing and it does not involve screens, books, music, etc.   When you first start, just simply sit in a comfy room by yourself (lights on or off does not matter, just don’t fall asleep)

Trouble finding a quiet place?  Take a walk or sit in the bathroom while playing white noise through your headphones.  The white noise will help you focus from external noise and distraction. There are tons of free apps and white noise feeds online.

What happens if I lose Focus?

What happens if you mind wanders during the 5-min?  That is OK. Consciously and objectively acknowledge the emotion or thing you are wandering to and then move on, back to your breathing. HERE is a great video that may help.

Ultimate Goal

A fundamental component of mindfulness involves acceptance; give yourself the choice of what you are bringing to mind. This means that you must consciously pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling at any given time instead of allowing your mind to rehash your past or imagine your future.

So once you can go 20-min focusing only on breathing, I encourage you to research mindfulness further to learn how to purposefully choose what emotion or thought to bring to mind so you can consciously accept it and move past it.

Just like many things, it is not a quick fix.  You will not figure it out on the first try. It takes consistent practice and time.

Want to have mindfulness incorporated into a complete physical wellness plan?  Check out Flex Fitness OT’s Physical Wellness System!

Get Started HERE

Learn More HERE



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