Toni’s Tips: Mindfulness, Not Wandering Leads to A Healthier Life

I discussed physical wandering in relation to person with dementia recently in my Drilling Down on Dementia series. There is another kind of wandering, that of the mind that affects most of us, of any age. Research reveals that our minds wander from what is happening in our present about 47% of the time and that we wander off when in conversations with other people about 32% of the time. (Heartwoodrefuge.org)

We train our staff at Green Hill to be in the moment in listening, when participating or leading activities, or when providing health care, to create an environment that is authentic for our residents and one in where we are consciously aware of each other’s needs. We speak a lot about listening skills and how important it is to be in the moment of listening when others are speaking.

The term Mindfulness is defined as ‘the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 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, used as a therapeutic technique.” (Wikipedia)

Mindfulness is believed to reduce stress and boost the immune system. It can help one cope with illness such as chronic pain, cancer, heart disease, and even reduce high blood pressure. Mindfulness can boost your performance at work, improve your relationships with others and reduce ones anger and judgment of others. It can help mitigate impulse behaviors like binging on food, excessive drinking and drug use. Mindfulness can help ease depression.

Insurance companies have included mindfulness programs into their preventative health programs. “Professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms, as well as positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors.” Harvard Health Publications – Helpfguide.org.

How does one achieve a mindfulness lifestyle when the world around us supports just the opposite with communication devices, access to 24/7 media, the focus on achieving and attaining more and more stuff and status to feel relevant and accepted? “We’re living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, decoherence,” said Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace in the article The Arts of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment by Jay Dixit from Psychology Today. ”

There are the broader concepts of mindfulness to consider like stillness instead of activity, letting go of fear of the future and the unknown and living in the present, acceptance of the things that one cannot change, and divesting in judgment of others. These are big concepts that can take time to develop. There are a few strategic steps that can be taken to train ones self to live more fully in the present moment. Mindfulness Meditation can be incorporated into your daily life. Look on line for classes on this technique near you. The exercises below will take little to no extra time during your day and set you on the path to a more mindful way of life.

  1. Take a moment when the alarm goes off in the morning to check in with yourself before you rise out of bed. Recognize where you are in the moment.
  2. As soon as you rise take stock of your body. Bring awareness to each part of your body with a stretch and a hello.
  3. During your morning or evening shower, be present. Feel the water on your skin, smell the scent of your soap and shampoo.
  4. While you commute, be aware of those around you, driving or being on the train or bus. Don’t fill the time with reading or busy work. See the places that you pass along the way. Listen to the sounds and smell the smells of each moment.
  5. At work focus on the specifics of each task and each interaction with others. Don’t be on autopilot during the day.
  6. When eating focus on each bite of food, of chewing and swallowing, of the taste on your tongue and the food in your belly, instead of reading, or looking through your phone. If someone is speaking while you eat try switching your attention back and forth to the speaker and to the food intermittently.
  7. When you are waiting, for your train, or an appointment, refrain from taking out your hand held device to fill the time. Look around you. Engage with others in moment-to-moment experience.
  8. Repeat the morning mindfulness ritual in the evening when you get into bed. Lay quietly and take stock of your body, your mind, and focus on the feeling of the pillow under your head and the sheets against your body. Breath and acknowledge the moment you are in.

Focusing on being more mindful in daily experience, living in the NOW will benefit us in so many ways and make us happier. By re-training ourselves out of this “wandering off” habit our lives will be less stressful, richer and more fulfilling.