Health & Wellness - Mindfulness and Meditation
Wellbeing, Mindfulness and Meditation
*Please note, these are just some resources that I have found useful. Please feel free to incorporate them as you see fit and bring your own experience and understanding to this. Wellness is a personal experience and the tools for that journey are self-defined. Please pick what works for you and leave the rest, while being aware that the tools that work for you may be different for others.
What is wellbeing?
There are many different ways to define wellbeing. There are different systems of evaluation and each different system will have different components and different priorities. There isn’t a ‘right’ system, but there is a way of thinking about wellness that is right for you. I encourage you to find a system of understanding wellness that coincides with your understanding, your background, your culture, your environment and yourself. Another thing to think about is the cohesion/harmony between these different components. Contentedness in one area of your life will positively reflect to others, and vice versa. Cohesion can be seen as a state where the different components of your wellness are positively influencing one another.
One method of evaluating your personal wellbeing, that is quite comprehensive, is the eight pillars of wellness. This system considers your physical, nutritional, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, financial, and environmental wellbeing. An indigenous medicine wheel approach will focus wellbeing as a sense of harmony among four components: physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual aspects of our lives (Rybak 2013). In each of these models, the components come together to contribute to how effectively we respond to life demands and stress (McCraty and Childre 2010). How do we react to situations in our lives? If we are feeling a sense of coherency (or harmony) among these components, it is more likely we will react positively to different situations in our life and feel as though we have the capacity to deal with stressful ones when they arise. For example, have you ever been pretty stressed about work or interpersonal relationships and then something stressful arises and you all sudden you’re flying off handle? Then that same problem, or one similar, comes up on another day when you’re feeling great, and you’re like ‘Oh yeah cool, no worries. I got this’. That feeling is what we are talking about. The feeling that when things are going positively in one area, you have an increased ability to cope in other area, and vice versa. So, no matter which model you choose to gauge on, a ‘higher score’ in each component will help build resiliency to stress in your life and support your ability to flourish in others.
Since the 8 pillars of wellness describes the most categories, I will walk you through this model, but each category falls under larger sections in different models so for most part, they are all representing similar concepts.
In case you feel you need a little more information about each of the pillars, they are described below. The physical component of wellness considers your physical activity, your quality and amount of sleep, and your diet. The nutrition component promotes a healthy, balanced diet that feeds your body and mind. The reason nutrition is its own pillar and not just a part of physical health, is because it will be personalized based on your age, your activity level, your body chemistry, your background and culture, and your personal dietary choices. Emotional wellness encompasses your ability to identify, assess, and if relevant, effectively share feelings with others. It is important not to consider this category as positive emotions vs. negative emotions, as all emotions are valid and equally important. This component is about you understanding, processing, and managing your feelings in an effective way. The social component involves how you connect with others to form positive relationships and when relationships are going through difficulties, how you deal with conflict. The spiritual component will look different for everyone and will play a differing proportion for every individual. This sense of spirituality can be viewed generally as a sense of purpose, direction, or meaning that helps to contain your values and life balance. This is not about specific belief systems but rather personalizing your own journey and holding true to your values whether inherent or learned. The intellectual wellness pillar is strengthened by continually engaging the mind; building new skills, obtaining new knowledge, and challenging yourself to grow. Engaging in stimulating conversations and debates can also strengthen this pillar. To be stable in the financial pillar of wellness is to live within your means and to plan for the financial future. Taking small steps to increase your financial wellness can help to reduce stress in the long term. Environmental wellness is your immediate personal surroundings and the larger community where you work and live. This can be your community, the people in it, and the ecology of the area. How do you support your environment and how does your environment support your health and wellbeing?
All of these systems ask you to reflect on your life and your habits. This kind of self-reflection practice can help to create an environment of reflection in your life, which in turn cultivates mindfulness, that can help to bolster the categories you feel that you are doing well on, and in turn positively benefit others that you feel may need more attention.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice, some times associated with a meditation practice, that’s purpose is to understand the self to help individuals increase awareness within the present moment and deepen their level of self-integration and coherence or harmony (Fleischman 1986)(Rybak 2013). Bishop et al. 2004 think of mindfulness as a quality of attention with self-regulation and an accepting attitude. Several different studies emphasize that mindfulness is an attentional stance, which cultivates things such as self-awareness and self-schemas (beliefs and ideas about yourself). As before, what matters here is not how you understand mindfulness, but that you approach the practice of it with a sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance.
Mindfulness can be a tool for people to become aware of and more productively use their individual strengths to enhance mental health (Duan 2016). As a practice, mindfulness aims to increase your awareness and is a way of being aware and accepting of your present experience (Germer 2005). So, although there isn’t a perfect definition for what mindfulness is, it’s widely viewed as a process that involves training ourselves to be fully aware in the present moment to our minds, bodies, and the conditions around us. This may seem like a lot to begin with but it’s best to just start the practice with an internal attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Since this topic can be ambiguous, it’s nice to approach it with an example. So, take a moment to turn inwards and start to concentrate on how you are feeling: physically, mentally, emotionally. Are you feeling a particular emotion? Can you name that emotion? Do you feel it somewhere in your body? Can you recognize the source of that emotion and where it stems from? Can you recognize, identify, and observe this emotion with out classifying it as good or bad, or by association classifying yourself, or the way this emotion sits with you, as good or bad?
See what we are getting at here? Reflection, understanding, and acceptance – hopefully, without any negative judgment J
What purpose does it serve?
Mindfulness and mediation are increasingly becoming tools being used to promote and nurture positive mental health. Practicing mindful awareness has been found to have significant and positive influences on mental and physical heath systems (Greeson 2009). It can lessen stress, and improve overall quality of life and sense of wellbeing (Greeson 2009)(Rybak 2013). Self-awareness is a large portion of this and is an understanding of how you are reacting to stressors, other people, and the world around you.
Kostanski and Hassed (2008) found that there was “a greater sense of autonomy arising from mindfulness practice coming not from a need to control thoughts, sensations, and emotions, but rather from the experience of not having to be controlled by them”. Mindfulness is not a practice to remove or suppress negative emotions or feelings, but an awareness of flow of both positive and negative thoughts and feelings while not over identifying with a single experience and our responses to it (Greeson 2009). In simpler terms, the feeling and thoughts you experience in the day-to-day do not define who you are, but they are things you experience. By learning not to attach ourselves to specifically one moment, one feeling, or one experience, we can live more fully in the present, bringing our full capacity more wholly to each moment. A deeper background of experience with mindfulness may increase your resiliency, ability to flourish, and your preparedness to promote wellness in your everyday life. Mindfulness skills can help a person view themselves more completely and contribute to a greater sense of coherence, when we are feeling ‘together’ holistically within our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual states (Rybak 2013). Just a reminder that these are skills, things to be practiced and refined, and something we can, for lack of better words, get better at over time.
Why should I start incorporating mindfulness into my daily routine?
By being inquisitive and practicing mindfulness techniques, we can start learning effective management of our unconscious tendencies. This “adaptive mental functioning” includes things like acknowledging fear and anxiety, but not allowing fear to control or distort our lives and perception of other situations. By taking advantage of our brain’s natural neuroplasticity, we can reshape neural pathways that are no longer serving us. By harnessing this, a person can learn but also re-form pathways that are no longer the most useful. For example, if you often respond to sudden information with a rush of anxiety, this response can be reconditioned. You can learn to recalibrate responses in new ways and build responses to uncertainty that are more useful to you. Perhaps this new information can be processed with curiosity rather than stress and anxiety? This can help us approach a previously stressful situation in a less stressful and more manageable way with new responses that lead to more positive outcomes (Rybak 2013). The more times you can successfully achieve or practice this, the more likely this response will be to occur in future situations (neuroplasticity!).
So, this daily incorporation starts with recognition of yourself, your feelings, and the situations you find yourself in. You can start by asking yourself, how am I feeling – physically, emotionally, and mentally? How does this affect how I am reacting to situations? How do my reactions affect others? This can all be complimented by a meditation practice (whatever that may look like for you), but I encourage you to engage in self-awareness practices that best suits you.
What are some ways that I can practice mindfulness?
Meditation is one of the most common way to introduce people to mindfulness. If you’re not accustomed to meditation, I would suggest starting simply with some guided body scan meditations (for an example, see here) while lying down (or sitting if you prefer). Find a nice, quiet room, a comfortable supine position, and give yourself 10 minutes or so to focus on individual parts of the body while not attaching your focus to one specifically. If you find you really like body scan meditations, there are lots out there for you to try. Feel free to dive a little deeper and try a yoga nidra practice. You can find one here (they are often used right before bed – although I practice them at any time of them day when I have enough time).
As you get more comfortable with meditation, try breath-focused meditations like the one found here. Breath is often one of the first ways people are taught to tune into meditative states, and it can be a great way to calm down and re-center during stressful times or situations. Maybe you would like to try some different breathing techniques within your practice? There is a list below of different breath practices to try and the states that they are aiming to bring about. Since different breathing techniques do hope to bring about different states, sync up your breathing techniques to your intention for that day (energizing, stress-relieving, balancing etc.).
Are you reading this and thinking ‘Please no! Don’t make me sit perfectly still in silence?’ Well there’s a mindfulness practice for that! Try a walking meditation like the one found here, or perhaps try a yoga practice. It is more the quality of your attention that matters, not the particular way you choose to bring in that attitude of self-reflection and acceptance. If cost is a barrier for you, there are lots of free yoga classes for beginners (and more advanced folks) online (see below).
Journalling, or other forms of creative reflection, can also be a great way to practice mindfulness. As long as you are taking the time to self-reflect, sit with yourself, and accept the feelings and experiences you’re experiencing, there’s no right or wrong, just self-exploration J
Check out some of these resources:
- Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Centre – Self-Aware Quizzes
- The Eight Pillar of Wellness
- Getting started with mindfulness
- Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
- Guided Body Scan Meditation
- Loving Kindness Meditation
- Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Sodhana
- Yoga Nidra
- Nurturing Positive Mental Health: Mindfulness for Wellbeing in Mediation role of individual strengths in dispositional mindfulness and mental health – Wenjie Duan
- Dr. Wallace J. Nichols: Brain on water/ Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do
Breath work resources:
- Breathing for stress relief: 4, 7, 8 breath, equal breathing (Sama Vritti),
- Breathing for balance: nadi sodhana (alternate nostril breathing),
- Breathing for energy: breath of fire
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