Do You Know These Top Seven Mindfulness Exercises?
By Steve Goodman
You have all heard the term “Mind Your Own Business.” Well, there has been a new trend in the last year, or so that puts a new spin on that phrase, to “Mind Your Own Fitness!” It is all about “mindfulness” and health. Basically, “Mindfulness” is the Eastern concept of being more “aware.” When it comes to physical fitness, being more mindful means that being more “aware” of your body, your thoughts, what you eat and how you eat — could be the key to long-term weight loss and a lifetime of good health.
There are many types of workouts, yoga for example, that have always incorporated mindfulness into their practices. There are many new and emerging styles such as Proprioceptive Training that are based on mindfulness, and still existing fitness routines such as Pilates, that are placing more of an emphasis on mindfulness.
But it is important to keep in mind for good health and general well-being, not all “mindfulness exercises” are done in a gym! So here are our Top 7 mindfulness exercises. Some are “workouts,” others are ways just to bring mindfulness into your life, but all are designed to improve your health – mind, body, and spirit.
- Mindful Eating – There have been dozens of recent studies that have said taking a more “mindful approach” to eating can make any diet or weight loss program that much more effective. Mindfulness in eating means taking notice, and using all of your senses when eating. Take the time to explore and enjoy the color, smell, flavor, and even the texture of your food. In mindful eating, you need to savor every bite, chew more slowly, and eliminate any distraction like watching TV or reading, or driving – while eating. Mindful eating also means getting “in touch” with your feelings about food and learning to deal with pressure and anxiety about food and weight.
- Tai Chi and Qigong – Tai Chi and its related form — Qigong or Qi Gong are kinds of moving meditations that combine breathing techniques with martial arts movements all to improve and enhance “Qi.” Qi, pronounced, “chee” – in Traditional Chinese Medicine is “life force” or “energy flow. In TCM, imbalances, or blockages of Qi flow are responsible for all sickness and disease. The practices of both qigong and Tai Chi involve specific slow, almost ballet-like movements while paying mindful attention to your body and breathing. Whether you believe in the power of Qi or not, both practices have been proven to reduce stress, improve balance and coordination, and when practiced long enough, also provide an effective form of self-defense!
- Deep Breathing – As you have seen, many of the mind-body techniques have a breathing component to them. Deep breathing itself is also a powerful stress reducer. While not an “exercise,” the simple act of relaxing and focusing your attention on deep rhythmic breathing can do wonders for your body. Try it whenever you are feeling stressed. While there are many specific “breathing techniques” all you need to do is just take five long deep breaths, focus only on your breathing as you inhale and exhale. You will almost instantly feel your body relax and your mind begins to calm down.
- Meditation – There is a ton of evidence for the effectiveness of meditation to reduce stress. There is an equal amount of evidence on how stress reduction helps with overall health, and can specifically reduce your risk of heart disease, and help with your weight loss efforts. While eastern practitioners have intuitively known the benefits of meditation, or relate its effects to improved Qi flow, modern researchers believe that meditation and similar relaxation techniques, cause a reduction of stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is related to both heart disease and stress overeating!
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is related to the forms of eastern “mind-body” technique that recognize the deep connection between mental states and physical ailments. In PMR, you learn to rhythmically tense and then relax all the specific muscle groups in your body, one at a time. It is a body awareness technique in which you learn to better recognize the feeling of “tension” – and how to “release” it.
- Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) – Is a specific mindfulness physical fitness training program originally developed by and for the US Marine Corps. It was designed to maximize strength and endurance for those who need to perform in high-stress environments. MMFT provides skills training in two key areas: mindfulness skills and stress resilience skills. It cultivates mindfulness skills with specific exercises to build attentional control and concentration.
- Guided Imagery – Guided imagery is similar to meditation, but it is a series of specific techniques that use the power of visualization and imagination with the mind-body connection to reduce stress or promote healing. Research has proven that guided imagery produces the body’s “relaxation response,” reduces anxiety, and can help with pain management. For those who do not think they can rely on their imaginations, there are a variety of guided imagery audio programs and scripts available to help achieve the right state of mind.