Calming the mind may be exactly what you need for better health.
Mindfulness is an effective tool against compulsive habits like binge eating because it interrupts automatic behaviors. It enables you to see and understand your actions without judging them, short-circuiting the process that connects stress to comfort eating. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers tracked the eating patterns of 140 binge eaters and found that using mindfulness-based interventions reduced bingeing episodes from four times weekly to only once per week.
Practicing mindfulness also can help you become better at another key stress buster: self-compassion.
What often happens when you eat an extra slice of chocolate cake or you notice a roll of fat bulging out of your shirt as you pass by a mirror? Many women default to judging themselves harshly and criticizing themselves. It's a self-inflicted attack that becomes a real threat: The body automatically acts to defend itself against the attack by releasing excess cortisol. Researchers studying these processes have concluded that criticism and shame are among the most powerful triggers of the cortisol stress response. And as you already know, cortisol can upset your body clock. This is the very reason why you need to be kind to yourself.
My dear friend and colleague Adrienne Glasser is an experiential psychotherapist in New York City and founded Experience Wellness Group. The group combines experiential methods, the creative arts, and meditation in a therapy called Active Mindfulness. She shares some effective techniques to help increase body awareness using the simple beginner meditation below. Find a quiet space and give it a try.
Directions use for meditation For East to invoke positive change in The Heart To the West, The Soul To the East, The Mind To the North, and the Strength To the South.
Find a comfortable seat that allows you to feel strong but also has a sense of softness or gentleness.
If you're on the floor, make sure your hips are above your knees. If you're in a chair, make sure you're in an upright position that isn't stiff.
Allow your shoulders to drop and softly let your arms fall to your sides.
Gently place your hands on your midthighs or in your lap.
You can choose to close your eyes, keep them open and gazing about 3 to 4 feet in front of you, or keep them open and looking at these words on the paper as you practice.
Check-In (a few moments)
In these few moments, observe the quality of your mind. Is it fast? Slow? Hazy? What is the temperature of the mind in this moment? Notice these qualities as if you're looking at the ocean, accepting any waves that come.
Intention (a few moments)
Notice the Breath (a few moments)
See where you notice the breath the most in this moment. Is it in your chest, rising and falling? Your nostrils? Your belly? This point where you notice the breath can be like a lighthouse on the ocean, a beacon you can come back to anytime you become lost
Notice Sensations Around the Breath (a few minutes)
Notice what sensations you feel in your body. These sensations are like the different qualities of water in the ocean. Notice whether the sensations make your body want to move or be still. If organic movement starts, just allow this to happen and then let it pass.
You can label sensations as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Feel free to use your own one-word sensation labels describing the quality of sensation, such as hot, cold, tight, soft, or numb. Always come back to the breath as the sturdy lighthouse that accepts all without wavering
Observe Thoughts Passing (a few minutes)
Envision thoughts that may come in as if they're boats on the ocean. Notice how thoughts about the body are different from sensation felt in the body.
Allow the boats of thought to freely float through the waves of sensations. If a boat of thought grabs your attention, perhaps see what message it wants you to hear and then allow it to pass.
Know you can always come back to the lighthouse of the breath if you get lost at sea.
Continue to label the sensations in the body simply, distinguishing these simple observations from thought: pleasant, unpleasant, neutral…
Repeat this observation of sensation, thoughts floating, then back to breath
Develop a loving attitude. When you notice thoughts and feelings arising during meditation, as they will, look at them with a friendly attitude. See them as friends, not intruders or enemies. They are a part of you, though not all of you. Be friendly and not harsh.
Don’t worry about clearing the mind. Lots of people think meditation is about clearing your mind, or stopping all thoughts. It’s not. This can sometimes happen, but it’s not the “goal” of meditation. If you have thoughts, that’s normal. We all do. Our brains are thought factories, and we can’t just shut them down. Instead, just try to practice focusing your attention, and practice some more when your mind wanders.
Stay with whatever arises. When thoughts or feelings arise, and they will, you might try staying with them awhile. Yes, I know I said to return to the breath, but after you practice that for a week, you might also try staying with a thought or feeling that arises. We tend to want to avoid feelings like frustration, anger, anxiety … but an amazingly useful meditation practice is to stay with the feeling for awhile. Just stay, and be curious.
Get to know yourself. This practice isn’t just about focusing your attention, it’s about learning how your mind works. What’s going on inside there? It’s murky, but by watching your mind wander, get frustrated, avoid difficult feelings … you can start to understand yourself.
Do a body scan. Another thing you can do, once you become a little better at following your breath, is focus your attention on one body part at a time. Start at the soles of your feet — how do those feel? Slowly move to your toes, the tops of your feet, your ankles, all the way to the top of your head.
Notice the light, sounds, energy. Another place to put your attention, again, after you’ve practice with your breath for at least a week, is the light all around you. Just keep your eyes on one spot, and notice the light in the room you’re in. Another day, just focus on noticing sounds. Another day, try to notice the energy in the room all around you (including light and sounds).
Really commit yourself. Don’t just say, “Sure, I’ll try this for a couple days.” Really commit yourself to this. In your mind, be locked in, for at least a month.
You can do it anywhere. If you’re traveling or something comes up in the morning, you can do meditation in your office. In the park. During your commute. As you walk somewhere. Sitting meditation is the best place to start, but in truth, you’re practicing for this kind of mindfulness in your entire life.
Find a community. Even better, find a community of people who are meditating and join them. This might be a Zen or Tibetan community near you (for example), where you go and meditate with them. Or find an online group and check in with them and ask questions, get support, encourage others. My Sea Change Program has a community like that.
Gratitude (a few moments)
Smile when you’re done. When you’re finished with your two minutes, smile. Be grateful that you had this time to yourself, that you stuck with your commitment, that you showed yourself that you’re trustworthy, where you took the time to get to know yourself and make friends with yourself. That’s an amazing two minutes of your life
Honor your higher sense of knowing, which helped you throughout this practice.
Thank yourself for your efforts, knowing that the merit of your practice will benefit your body and those you love.
Meditation isn’t always easy or even peaceful. But it has truly amazing benefits, and you can start today, and continue for the rest of your life.