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Feature: Mindfulness in the New Year

by Kelsy J. Howe-Timas

             As the new year begins, a natural sense of renewal is in the air. As a life coach, I relish in this process—and this time—of starting anew. I enjoy collaborating with others to set their personal goals paved with good intention and helping them find the mindful and magnificent glow of a more hopeful and healthy person. The pivotal point of focus of this process of beginning again is being mindful. Being mindful is the best way to stay successful, so let us explore this mindfulness thing a little more.

            By definition, mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Being mindful means that we purposefully pay attention, without judgment, to what’s happening in the present moment. It is most often achieved with a calm focus. Why is such awareness important? Our ability to self-regulate is at the heart of all healthy outcomes, especially when it comes to resiliency, adaptability and successful management of life stressors.

Backed by research

            So how does one achieve this level of mindfulness? Practice. Mindfulness practitioners understand that the greatest of intentions are meaningless without presence and conscious action, all of which hinge on a mindful state of awareness. Personally, I have studied and practiced mindfulness for over 20 years, but it wasn't until I completed the Duke University’s Integrative Medicine Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that I discovered the incredible amount of research backing this emerging body of work.

            Research shows that people who practice mindfulness experience a more healthy and balanced life overall. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), more than 18 million Americans participate in a mindfulness practice. The positive effects of a strengthened immune system, more resilient mindset and sustainable capacity of energy and performance are simply too real to ignore.

            These statistics have been driving the rapid growth of our nation's mindful industry making the practice more and more attainable through programs like corporate wellness and wellness membership plans. Most insurance companies are even reimbursing policyholders and offering special rates for those participating in wellness plans. It is truly an exciting time for living well!

            Mindfulness practices are sweeping through our community culture by improving more than just our mood; it is addressing our chronic stress and our declining health head-on. Mindfulness is redefining our education, military and corporate environments. Specific stress-reducing therapies like yoga and meditation are being incorporated into the classroom and work environments to support the achievements of balance and productivity.

            These holistic approaches utilize the breath, the simple act of inhaling and exhaling, to regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, which supports the achievement of the present and centered calm we spoke about earlier. Being mindful can help individuals have an increased ability to relax, a greater enthusiasm for life, improve self-esteem and increase their ability to cope more effectively with stressful situations. As you begin the new year setting goals and ambitions, explore and try to incorporate these mindful practices into your own life.

Yoga: Back to the mat

            Let’s start at the very beginning and let me answer a common question I often encounter. No, you do not have to be flexible to try yoga. Flexibility is one of the many added benefits once you begin a regular yoga practice. Meaning “union” or “to yoke,” yoga is a physical practice of postures used to harmonize breath and movement to quiet the mind. The physical postures are also practiced to strengthen the body and prepare for meditation.

            Yoga is recognized for improving muscle strength, energy and increased flexibility as well as weight reduction, improved cardiovascular health and overall protection from illness and injury. For thousands of years practitioners have come back to the mat to improve and maintain their health and well-being.     

 Meditation: Centered and calm

            Meditation is the act of meditating, which is another form of self-regulation. Meditation is known to reduce stress, improve concentration and self-awareness and actually slow the aging process. Side effects of being “more connected” with your own present experience are increased levels of happiness, compassion and patience. Most meditation practitioners experience improved sleep patterns and an overall sense of well-being. In my office, we refer to meditation as “mental hygiene.” Without it, we can get a little funky.  All you need to do is rest in a comfortable position. Some prefer a seated position, while others prefer to lie down. Mediation is the ultimate travel companion because you can practice it anywhere and at any time.

            I recommend you start with five minutes a day. After a week, try increasing your meditation to 10 minutes and so on. Experienced practitioners usually meditate for an hour a day. My favorite quote about meditation came from the Dali Lama. He said, “I have so much to do today. I need to meditate for two hours instead of one.” I use this quote as a reminder to myself when I become distracted by the busyness of life. I always perform better when I take the time to center myself and be still.     

 Mindful Eating: An everyday practice

            Mindful eating involves so much more than the simple practice of breaking bread and nourishing oneself. When mindfulness meets food, we begin to care more about the quality and intent of how our food is grown, the processes and effects of its preparation as well as our food portions and the company we share our meals with. Known as “rest and digest,” the parasympathetic nervous system balances the sympathetic nervous system allowing for nutrition to process through our body and get absorbed properly.           Taking the time to prepare clean and healthy food is as important as eating slowly and mindfully. In my Holistic Health Practitioner Guide, published in 1930, it suggests that you should refrain from eating when angry or in an emotional conflict as it causes disturbances to the metabolic processes. Developing a positive and present relationship with food is one of the best steps to tak e when you are taking charge of your health. This may be as simple as pausing for a moment of gratitude and giving thanks before you begin your meal.      

Connect & reflect

            Mindfulness is ultimately a lifestyle, a physical and mental health maintenance plan. We would not set out on a 30,000 mile road trip without checking under the hood of the car or checking the tire pressure, would we? Take the time to pause and be with the present moment. Connect with your breath. Feel the sensations of your body. Observe the movement of the mind. Explore a thoughtful approach to accepting and creating the experience you want in your own life, for it will be what you intend for it. In this new year, and always, I am wishing for you to live and be well.

 Kelsy Timas is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner currently living in Fayetteville, NC. She is the CEO of Guiding Wellness and Guiding Wellness Institute.  With over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness industry, Kelsy spends her time educating and supporting people and organizations looking to improve their lives and community using sustainable holistic practices.