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Future Health

Mindfulness is the engine of wellness.

January 26, 2015 

Mindfulness is the engine of wellness.  

That was my take away after I completed an initial investigation toward understanding the credo of those that espouse conscious living.  Mindfulness is not easily understood by looking at its many definitions, all attempts at clarifying a concept for which true understanding comes from mastery.   

Mindfulness:      "The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis"   - Merriam-Webster Dictionary

This sounds all well and good, but how can any of us really know what this is until we try it?  Ultimately words will not do. 

For the last couple of years the team at Future Health has focused on finding safe paths through difficult places in our minds.   I have been exposed to many examples where self-affirmation is an important method of taking control of your life.  Diet and exercise are prime examples where you need to believe intrinsically that "you can do it" in order to maintain dedication to your own success.  When I began looking into mindfulness I came into it with the assumption that I knew what it was.  It was some form of positive thinking or willful mind mapping to make happiness and success a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I believe fervently in this and very much want to bring this awareness to our members.  I want to help provide them with the power to endure the adoption of new healthy behaviors and lifestyle changes that can initially be challenging to embark upon in the face of contrary habit or even addiction.  I have many facts and even some great techniques to accomplish this acquired from various doctors, neurologists, psychologists I've interviewed and seminars I've attended while doing research for our videos.  I was eager to speak to practitioners of mindfulness to be able to flesh out a program I could offer to our members.  What I found surprised me.

Mindfulness is not positive thinking.

This fact was brought to my attention very quickly as I spoke with Dr. Shalini Bahl at Downtown Mindfulness in Amherst.  I was introduced to her by Thom Fox, the star of our Depression video and my friend.  Thom told me Dr. Bahl was an amazing resource for him and had a deep meaningful understanding of how our minds need to be freed from distractions to achieve a healthier life.  Dr. Bahl invited me into her center which was surrounded with soothing imagery and comfortable seating with mats and pillows for meditation as well as a conference table for more intense learning.  This struck me as a very intriguing contrast between the intellectual and spiritual as I walked in.  As we began to talk and exchange backgrounds I was immediately impressed by her balance and poise.  This is a mindfulness person I thought to myself.  She has the calm confidence of someone who knows who she is and what her place is in the grand scheme of things.  She is looking and really listening to me and not wrapped up in herself as so many I've met are.  Dr. Bahl passed my first impression test.  She is a natural healer and has a powerful guiding presence.  As we spoke I mentioned my preconceived notions of the power of positive thinking and it was then Dr. Bahl corrected me on the true nature of Mindfulness.

 "Just saying it's going to be a good day or everything will be alright isn't enough.  You have to actually believe it for the self-affirmation to work.  Mindfulness is not just casting words into the wind and hoping they will come true.  Mindfulness is waking up from living on autopilot and starting to notice what is happening in your inner and outer world. By learning to pause and notice your habitual patterns, with the attitude of kindness and curiosity, you are creating conditions to choose differently and live skillfully. Mindfulness develops emotional intelligence.  It comes with practice and is the result of your calm clear mind."

The afternoon I spent with Dr. Bahl was a great first step on my quest to creating a mindfulness component to offer to Future Health members.  I discovered that the journey is entirely in your own mind.  Mindfulness techniques and practitioners like Dr. Bahl guide you but impose no world views or spiritual beliefs.   Those you carry with you and integrate into your own process toward emotional intelligence.  Mindfulness is used by schools, universities, private employers and countless others the world over to improve attention, understanding and social interactions.  It helps in the battle with addiction and provides the underlying mental strength to excel in life.  Let me share with you a little of how it's done, but first I want you to know that mindfulness for many is not an easy thing to self-learn, as in many ways it's more about unlearning the way you currently think.  It goes against your long ingrained habits and is a process that benefits from the guidance of someone like Dr. Bahl from Downtown Mindfulness. 

So how can you try Mindfulness?

  1. Start by unplugging for 10 minutes.  No phones, TV's, radios, pagers, computers or distractions.  Find a quiet space where you can be comfortable and focus on you.  A timer is helpful to keep you from wondering when 10 minutes has passed during this process.
  2. Contemplate any anxieties or judgments you have about this new mindfulness process about which you may be doubtful or uncertain and accept those feelings. Don't deny them.  Once you have acknowledged them, move on.
  3. Sit comfortably and begin to focus on your relaxed natural breathing.  Closing your eyes often helps.  Let your breathing naturally become deep and focus on it.  Bring your attention to the breath in your nose entering your body.  Then follow it into your lungs as they expand and contract.  There is no need to force or change your breathing.  This is merely about focusing your attention on your natural breathing process.
  4. Maintain this process.  Keep focusing on your breathing.  As your mind wanders bring your attention back to the particulars of your nose, lungs, and the feel of you inhalations and exhalations.   Being distracted is natural and your mind will want to explore various thoughts.  Your goal is to calmly redirect those thoughts to a focus on breathing for 10 minutes.
  5. With practice and repetition this gets easier and you will learn how to throw off the shackles of constant mental distraction.  The clarity you gain from this is a great source of strength in that you will disempower worry and stress and promote calm effectiveness.  Don't be surprised by the amount of distractions in your thoughts.  There is a reason mindfulness works.  It is not some mystical hoopla.  In fact it's just a choice to stop filling our minds with clutter.  Think of it as mental housecleaning.  Give your mind a break.

As you can see mindfulness is not about striving for a specific goal.  It's merely a way to better strengthen our mental immune system so it responds with strength and health when we do need to reach for goals.  Mindfulness should be a part of your daily exercise routine.  It's exercise for your mind. 

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Future Health is currently working to develop an interactive mindfulness program for our members.  Look for more great mindfulness resources here soon.