You may have heard about the idea of mindfulness in recent months. It’s become a topic of conversation (and practice) from yoga studios to corporate boardrooms, and everywhere in between. This month we sat down with Kristin Dorn, Vera Health Coach at our Sandpoint clinic, to unpack the concept of mindfulness and learn how to incorporate it into daily life.
Q: We hear so much about mindfulness today - but what is it really?
I would say that mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. There are several definitions, but the core piece is about being present in this very moment without thinking about the past or the future or reacting to what you are feeling or thinking.
Q: Is it like meditation?
Meditation is a mindfulness practice, but mindfulness is more than just meditation. Meditating every day for a half hour can make a significant positive difference in health but that can seem too challenging or time consuming for some people. There are many techniques you can incorporate that offer similar benefits but don’t take a lot of time.
Q: Who benefits from practicing mindfulness?
I think that every single person can benefit from practicing mindfulness. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you work, it’s a great strategy that will help you be healthier in all areas of your life.
Q: What are the benefits?
One of the biggest benefits is how it helps reduce your stress, particularly by supporting your parasympathetic system. It aids in relaxing our bodies, has been shown to increase energy, and brings a sense of calm and peace. It provides physical benefits as well - particularly pain relief for those with chronic pain. It can also help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Q: How can one begin to practice mindfulness?
We encourage people to set a small goal that feels right and achievable. Maybe aim to do one exercise one or two times a week. If you are able to do that and find it helpful, start increasing the frequency or duration.
Also, find an exercise that appeals to you. Here are a few options:
- Comma exercise - In Dr. Craig Hassed’s article: “The Health Benefits of Meditation and Being Mindful,” he describes the comma exercise. It’s called the comma because in a sentence, you pause or take a breath when you see a comma. So the idea is that you take a pause or a rest during your day - it could be for 5 seconds, a minute, or longer - whatever time works for you in that moment. You choose when to insert this comma into your day. Dr. Hassed recommends doing it after you finish one activity and before you start another. You could do it when you arrive to work, before you get out of your car, or between seeing patients, between meetings, or before you go home as you’re finishing your day. Just stop and take a moment to be present, not thinking of anything in the past or the future. Then take a couple of deep breaths. Just focus on the breath for the time you have. When you’re done, move on - to whatever your next activity might be.
- Noting practices – In a noting exercise, you select something to give your attention to. This could be your breath. You’re noting or observing how it comes into your body and how you’re expelling it. It could be a body scan - you’re noting what’s going on in your body, how does it feel? You can take a moment to look around the room and see what you notice, or look up to the ceiling, or the sky. You could go for a walk, and note all the colors you see in nature, the different sights, different sounds, and use all your senses. When you’re eating, note the tastes.
- Box breathing exercise – With this exercise, your goal is to think about breathing in a measured way. Breathe in deeply to a count of 4 and hold your breath for a count of 4. Then breathe deeply out to a count of 4, and hold again for a count of 4. Repeat this as many times as time allows.
- Movement exercise – For a kinesthetic person, you might do a walking mindfulness exercise, where you tune in and pay attention to your body as you walk. Notice how your feet feel as they make contact with the ground. What do you notice about your legs, hips, torso, arms, shoulders and head as you move forward? Where are you tense? Where are you relaxed?
Q: Anything else?
One of the things I stress to people is how accessible mindfulness is to everyone, no matter how busy you are. You can do it in small little moments throughout your day. It can have a really big impact on your health as it becomes a regular practice. It can also be used proactively to reduce stress or reactively in moments of stress. It’s a tool that helps you return to a place of equilibrium.