I have been exploring mindfulness practices during my three month hiatus from the blog and have discovered some amazing changes in my own health and well-being. I stepped away from it in the last week and feel things reeling back out of control, so I know it was doing me some good.
In case you don’t already know, I simply cannot get myself to sit still and meditate. The whole idea of being present in the moment is a tough pill to swallow. With the multiple, crushing blows I’ve had happen recently— health and otherwise—I figured it was time to more seriously explore more options.
Let’s face it, autoimmune disease and stress go hand-in-hand, and with life being hectic and chaotic enough, I know I don’t need to add more to the mix with my outrageous need to “do it all and perfectly” belief system. Although there are specific mindfulness trainings and therapeutic practitioners available to guide us in exploring this practice more fully, I offer my laymen’s version of what little I’ve been doing on my own.
Mindfulness practices are exercises to focus on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Stemming from Buddhist spiritual beliefs, practicing mindfulness in the Western world falls more into the positive psychology realm as a form of emotional self-care. By paying attention to my breathing and setting aside any thoughts that are not associated with my focus of the moment as they come into my mind, I practice paying attention. By doing this, I not only can slow down my oxygen needs, my heart rate and calm down my system’s fight-or-flight reactions, but also give my entire body a loving time-out…all without having to sit in a lotus position. There are three activities where I use this increased attention practice. I’ll only talk about one for now: focusing on sleep.
I have incorporated being more mindful into my night-time prep to help improve my sleep. By focusing on what I do, why I do it and paying attention to the details like the sound of water, the sensations like washing my face or brushing my teeth, it is amazingly calming. When the thoughts of what I didn’t get to on my to-do list show up, I simply give myself permission to deal with it “later” and get back to paying attention to preparing for bed. I cannot tell you how this simple ritual has improved my quality of sleep. My brain can go a mile a minute if I let it and it has often caused me to wake up or not sleep at all, creating more pain and negative moods the following morning. During the three weeks I tried it out, I tracked 50% more hours of sound sleep, better mood mornings and more energy. No extra time, no special equipment, done right in my own home while doing what I normally do anyway. Just a shift in how I go about it made a world of difference.
In the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshops (Oregon’s name for the Stanford University’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Program or CDSMP) available throughout Oregon, you can pick up some easy-to-do practices including breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, and guided imagery which all fall under a similar realm of wellness care. They take some time to practice, but are so unbelievably easy and shown through research to be effective in improving health outcomes by connecting how our minds and bodies interact together. With autoimmune conditions, that “auto” part is of particular importance to us and more studies are beginning to show that even though our immune system, as well as other automatic systems that keep our bodies functioning, acts without us having to think about it, we can influence them in ways to take better care of ourselves.
Practicing some mindfulness on positive activities that we do every day like preparing for bed (or simply scheduling a few minutes of taking some deep, focused cleansing breaths) can be the most loving thing you’ve done for yourself in quite awhile. Try to bring more in-the-moment attention into your days, particularly as the holidays approach, and see if creating a mindful ritual can treat you to some healthy kindness. You deserve it!