Mindfulness meditation is getting a lot of well-deserved attention in 2014. TIME magazine’s February cover story is about mindfulness, the search for the term has doubled in less than two years and corporations are increasingly adding mindfulness practices into their wellness programs. This is really good news. If there’s one thing our stressed out, exhausted, emotionally wrought culture needs today, it’s the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness gives us the courage to live our truth, and the inner guidance to deal with day-to-day stresses. Life goes on, but with the help of mindfulness, there's more joy, clarity, creativity and energy.
The trouble is that this ancient Eastern practice can be confusing and even frustrating. It’s challenging to be mindful when our thoughts grab us and take us on roller coaster rides with them. The trick is to be the witness who watches these thoughts come and go. Imagine you're sitting on the porch of your home, watching the rush-hour traffic pass by. You don’t want to jump into each of these cars and drive away, right? How do you remain on the porch and watch these cars pass by without wanting to hop into one (or all of them?).
Before we begin a meditation practice, it’s important to build a solid foundation that supports the process of going inward. If this foundation is weak, then going within and experiencing that blissful silence is not only challenging but also impossible. Let’s take a look at these three aspects and what we can do to balance them in our lives.
1. The Right Food
There are two aspects to this that need addressing.
First, let’s talk about the kind of foods that steer us away from our center.
Foods that sedate, numb or intoxicate are going to come in the way. While alcohol comes right up on top, there are other foods that add to the acidity of the body, creating hurdles to our experience of higher consciousness. These include coffee, refined sugars, processed, chemical-laden and heavy foods. If you eat something and don’t feel vibrant and alive a few hours after eating it, then it’s probably the wrong food for you. The best way to find out is to keep a food journal and track what you eat and how you feel.
The second thing about food is the state of our mind when eating, which is equally as important, if not more important than the food itself. The same food, eaten joyously, lovingly and with gratitude will have a different impact on the body-mind than eating with sadness, anxiety or stress. Sharing a meal with loved ones will nourish us differently from a meal eaten in the car on the way to work.
2. The Right Movement
Lack of physical activity has completely disconnected us from our bodies and the intuition it brings with it. This disconnect is costing us dearly, from physical ailments to psychological issues. Add to that the tremendous amount of food (not necessarily nutrient dense) that we have access to 24/7, and we're an unhealthy bunch of people.
For mindfulness to work, movement is very significant, because it creates opportunities for centering. Energy from the brain starts moving downward, and with that, balance and harmony within our being are possible. If you’re a runner, you know that in those moments when your body is in motion, there's no room for thought, contemplation or worry. Movement lets the experience of "no-mind" occur and is therefore a very powerful building block for mindfulness.
Movement can range from simple household activities (doing the dishes, carrying children around, taking the stairs) to more active styles like running and working out at the gym. Dance, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and chi gong are all forms of movement that support the energy to move from the head to the navel, also called our second brain.
I often us the analogy of dating: you have to try out a bunch of different movement types to find "the one." Take a few classes or try some DVDs at home to see which style resonates with you and make you feel vibrant and energetic.
3. The Right Sleep
With disorganized food and exercise patterns, is it any surprise that we’re a nation (and planet) riddled with sleep disorders?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”
There’s a reason for that. The liver carries out some serious work in our sleep, especially between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. This work involves detoxification and filtering out toxins from the body. If the liver isn’t able to complete its job, the toxins return to the blood stream and circulate, causing imbalances and in turn a host of disorders. This capacity to regain and recoup during the night, what has been lost in the day, is central to our physical and psychological health.
While there are guidelines for how much sleep is required, every body is different and other factors like age play a role as well. Eastern wisdom recommends waking up with the sun because with the rising sun the body’s temperature begins to rise as well, but I recommend experimentation and coming to your own conclusions.
By balancing these areas in our lives we have a good shot at enjoying the bliss of mindfulness. How’s your foundation looking?