Creating Healthier Communities
By Turning Inward
By: Britt Brown LMT
In this article we’ll be expanding on what we discussed about mindfulness in the Body Care Breakdown Podcast, and dive deeper into how simple mindfulness habits can have a massive impact on our personal health, and help us improve the health of our communities as a whole. So, just what is mindfulness anyway, and why do we practice it? Well, Oxford Languages (one of the world’s leading dictionary publishers) defines mindfulness as; “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” As for why we practice it, well, that reason is personal to each individual, but ultimately we’re practicing it to better care for ourselves, and the world around us.
One way we can understand why we might want to practice mindfulness, is to understand why practicing mindfulness is recommended in the first place. Why should we practice self-awareness, setting intentions, and being in the present moment? Is it all just woo-woo misinformation being used to market self-help products that don’t actually help, or is there scientific evidence to back up claims that mindfulness has a measurable impact on our health and well-being? As it turns out, there is in fact, a LOT of scientific evidence that supports the claims that mindfulness practices have a measurable and positive effect on our overall health. So let’s talk about what those practices are, how we can incorporate those practices into our everyday lives, and the science behind why we should.
“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable.–Maya Angelou
It would be wise to spend that time adoring our
families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”
When researching recommended mindfulness habits, the practice of “being present” was brought up over and over again. It was the most recommended mindfulness habit, followed closely by self-awareness and meditation practices. Although many of us might be thinking “being present, being in the moment, that’s a life changing habit?” And the answer is yes, yes it will absolutely change your life, and probably for the better.
One of the most profound impacts of practicing “being present” on a regular basis is that it really can help with emotional regulation, and our ability to think rationally during times of chaos. Regularly pausing to ask ourselves “how am I feeling right now,” and “how do I feel when I am around this person” or ”how does my body feel when I eat this food item” gives those parts of ourselves a voice. When we listen to that voice we can sometimes find that the things we thought we knew about ourselves, or the reasons we have for responding to certain situations the way we do, are no longer valid or maybe even inaccurate. We can start to realize that maybe we don’t know ourselves as well as we thought we did, and we can move forward in our self-care and community interactions with our new information.
As a silly and simple example – let’s say you’re like me and you REALLY love your morning coffee, like it’s darn near the reason you crawl out of bed and greet the day, right? Let’s say you’re also like me and upon self-reflection you realize that caffeine winds your anxiety up something fierce, and drinking a hot cup of it first thing in the morning isn’t a great way to start the day, no matter how delicious it tastes. You (and I) have a few choices at this point – we can ignore our body and keep up with the coffee – piling on more anxiety coping mechanisms to keep the balance, or we nix the coffee altogether and say goodbye to the happy morning brew, or we split the difference and go decaf. For those wondering – I chose to split the difference and go with decaf coffee.
That practice of “being present” with oneself and asking our bodies, minds and spirits what they’re really needing is often the first step to making life-long changes in our self-care routines. For me, the simple act of listening to my body and switching to decaf coffee has made a huge impact in how I move through my day. I find it’s easier for me to focus, that I’m less irritated by small inconveniences, and communication feels more enjoyable and less like a chore. I feel healthier, and I know that’s reflecting back into my community, because I know I’m responding more to the situation in front of me rather than just reacting to it.
As you might have already noticed, the practicing of one mindfulness habit often leads to the practicing of another, and I often find that being present with oneself in the moment often leads to a practice of self-awareness. When we pause to reflect on how our actions, emotions and energy are affecting our lives and the world around us, we start to draw awareness to our power to affect change. There are many ways we can go about practicing self-awareness, but probably the easiest and most effective way to practice self-awareness is through journaling.
If you’re not already familiar with the practice of journaling and coming up with your own prompts for self-reflection, feel free to take a moment and write down your answers to the self-reflection questions I’ve listed below:
- What is the story I’m telling myself, about myself, right now?
- What is one action I can take today, that my future self will thank me for later?
- Three activities that bring me joy are…
- What would my [insert body part here] say right now, if it could talk?
- How might I rephrase some of my negative self-talk, what are some positive things I can say about myself right now?
Asking yourself introspective questions like those you see above, and answering them with honesty, can help you make healthier life choices and take actions to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Practicing self-awareness can also help you realize where your personal limitations are, where you might be “burning the candle at both ends”, and help you recognize when you should reach out to your support network for help. Self-awareness helps us to appreciate the unique things we offer our community, and appreciate where our community shows up to support us.
Meditation is a wonderful tool for processing through tough emotions, centering into oneself. For drawing our attention inward to our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies. It can help us regulate our emotions, reduce our perceived stress and anxiety, and deepen our understanding of ourselves and how we wish to relate to the world around us.
Meditation is also a practice that seems simple, and yet feels simultaneously overwhelming. Many people report having difficulty quieting their minds, or that they have trouble being still, or they may find it difficult to stay present and that their minds tend to wander. As a result, many people give up on meditating after their first few attempts, and may never try it again. As someone who used to subscribe to the idea that “my mind doesn’t shut off, so I can’t meditate” I can confirm that busy minds can meditate, but how we approach meditation really does matter.
If you’re like me, you might choose to start with a guided meditation you’ve found on Insight Timer or YouTube. You might choose to set an intention for your meditation, giving your wandering mind something tangible to focus on. Or maybe you’ll choose something that involves more movement, like yoga or tai-chi. Laying still, and being present with your thoughts is a great form of meditation, it’s true, but it’s certainly not the only form of meditation out there, and all forms of meditation offer health benefits. Check out the body scan meditation video in the link below to get a better idea of what a guided meditation can look like:
If you’re wanting to learn more about the health benefits of meditation, its effects on the body, and all about the many ways in which you can meditate – I highly recommend the “Headspace: Guide To Meditation” series on Netflix.
Practice Routine Self-care…
Practicing routine self-care; being mindful of what you’re eating, of your quality of sleep, of your daily personal hygiene, of your mental and spiritual well-being… All of that is essential for maintaining your overall health. So when your diet is all out of whack, and you’re staying up until 1:00AM playing video games and eating sugary snacks, and you know you’ve got to wake up at 6:00AM so you can get to your classes by 7:30AM… you probably shouldn’t be surprised if you feel like you have to drag yourself through your day.
When we aren’t giving our body the tools that it needs to care for itself on a regular basis – healthy (for you) foods, healthy (for you) sleep patterns, and healthy (for you) levels of activity – our body ends up running off of whatever we give it, and puts out whatever it can, which isn’t going to be its top performance. Furthermore, if we’re feeling down and out of it, if we aren’t bringing our “A-Game” to our personal lives, we certainly aren’t bringing our “A-Game” to class, to work, to our partnerships, or wherever else we might need it. If we sell ourselves short in our self-care routines, we end up selling ourselves short everywhere else, and that never feels good.
If you’re struggling to know where to start on building a self-care routine, talk to your primary care provider, and schedule a physical check-up. Get a basic idea of where your body is at, let your primary care provider know about anything you think feels a little “weird” or “off” in your body, and ask them for recommendations and referrals. If you have specific areas of self-care you know you need to work on, but maybe you’re having a hard time committing to making new habits, try reaching out and asking a friend or two to be your accountabili-buddy. Getting into a self-care routine, especially if you’re not used to caring for yourself, can feel intimidating but it doesn’t need to. We all have a community of people we can turn to when we need support, and we can all find a self-care routine that fits with our lives and our everyday needs!
Practice Gratitude and Lovingkindness…
It is so easy to let ourselves become bitter from pickling in the hateful brines of today’s society, it really is. As a person who identifies as non-binary, and as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, practicing gratitude and lovingkindness in the face of all of the hate I see being hurled at my community has been a real struggle. I have definitely been lapsing on my gratitude journaling, and spending more time on the pity-pot than I traditionally do, and when things get really bad I have a hard time wanting to even participate in society.
In the times when I have been able to really pause, and hone in on the simple and beautiful things I am grateful for – making it through my bout of COVID, having a really good D&D campaign going, and being in a really healthy ENM relationship – I find my day gets a little easier. I remember that the world isn’t just a jar filled with angry people pickling to death in hate and suffering, and I feel motivated to keep doing my best to make the world a lighter and happier place.
Practicing gratitude and lovingkindness may not always be easy – but my favorite ways to practice them are probably the easiest. I like to journal lists of what I am grateful for. I deliberately reach out to the people I know and love, and make time to tell them directly how much I love, and appreciate and value their presence in my life. I send random handmade cards and letters filled with art and stickers to my friends and loved ones when it strikes my fancy. I go out and I volunteer for non-profit organizations and community projects I really love to support. I donate my time and my skills to charity events that I support. In essence – I say thank-you, and I do my best to give back.
Mindfulness habits matter. They are often the starting points from which we reach a deeper understanding of ourselves, our needs and those of the world around us. They are habits that cost nothing but our time and commitment to being our best selves. Mindfulness is a self-care habit that has countless benefits, and no known side effects. So regardless of what reason you might be considering adding mindfulness habits to your daily life, it’s a good one.