Nutrition-wise blog

Quiet your mind for better health

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. November 13, 2014

When striving for good health, don't underestimated the mind-body connection. If you're like most people, taming your thoughts is challenging. In fact, studies have shown that the average person is distracted for nearly 50 percent of the day. And nearly two-thirds of that time, the focus is on neutral or negative thoughts.

You know that dwelling on negative thoughts can be draining, but spending too much time planning, problem-solving or daydreaming can also wear you down. It can make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression.

Practicing mindfulness exercises, on the other hand, can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you. Mindfulness is one of the 12 habits of highly healthy people we've been discussing throughout this year.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that involves focusing intently on the present — what you're feeling or sensing in each moment. It is a purposeful nonjudgmental attention to the moment that is formally learned through different meditative practices but can be applied to every mundane task, such as eating, walking, driving or participating in a meeting.

How to practice mindfulness:

  • Practice. Carve out a time each day for practice, free of interruptions. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nuturing yourself.
  • Breathe. The most basic way to practice mindfulness is to just pay attention and focus on your breath. Sit in a quiet place with your back straight, but not tense. As you breathe in and out, pay attention to how the air feels at the tip of your nose, making the inhalation and exhalation more subtle. Consider how your abdomen expands and collapses.
  • Refocus. It is normal for your mind to wander, but when it does, don't get discouraged. Just return your focus to your breath.

Embracing mindfulness is simple but not easy. It requires time, silence and patience, and the ability to see every moment as an opportunity to learn. But the rewards are real. Studies have shown that mindfulness relieves stress and pain, and even improves athletic performance.

Opportunities to explore:

  • Find what works for you. People who practice mindfulness learn how to better control what they focus on, or direct their attention to. They can quickly recognize when the mind is wandering, and are therefore able to redirect it to focus on something more positive or to just stay in the moment even if is is unpleasant (responding mindfully instead of automatically reacting).
  • Explore options. There are many ways to practice mindfulness and find what works for you. Life itself is the ultimate laboratory for discovery of the capacity to live life fully. Learn to see hardships as opportunities, to value yourself through compassion and awareness. Cultivate connectedness with others, acquire joy, and adopt healthy behaviors.
  • Connect to resources. Listen to a CD or watch a DVD, go online, or look for other resources to guide your mediation practice.

Mindfulness can be a very effective tool in reducing stress, increasing self-awareness and bringing an overall sense of calm to everyday life. Mindfulness is a route to not only better health, but also a pathway to contentment and better relationships.

Nov. 13, 2014