Physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual wellness is essential to living a long, healthy life. For many people, these components often do not thrive in unison without actively cultivating them. The key is to find a balance that will contribute to a sense of overall well-being by either maintaining or improving the state of our bodies, minds, feelings and spirits. New routines can often be a challenge, so here are a few useful techniques to work into a daily schedule.
Start with yoga. Because it comes in many forms, yoga can be adapted to suit almost anyone. Challenging poses like the intimidating full lotus or half-moon are not required to benefit from a regular yoga practice. While most of us know that yoga can help with flexibility and peace of mind, it can also help build muscle, increase balance and strengthen bones.
Rebecca Paulin-Liston, Physical Therapist and Certified Yoga Instructor, points out that “weight-bearing poses in yoga help build strength in the hips and spine through compressive loading forces,” by taking advantage of gravity. She adds that “muscles pulling on bones during activation poses—such as those in which you resist your knees apart from each other in a squat or twist your torso while maintaining a straight spine—can help to build strength in the hips and spine.”
TRY MINDFULNESS FOR YOURSELF
There are many helpful smartphone apps that offer guided mindfulness exercises. There are also mindfulness coaches who lead group meditation sessions. And while these are helpful, you can start a mindfulness practice with just these simple steps and easy recommendations.
Nine Steps to Start Practicing Mindfulness
A Quiet Place. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. The place does not have to be silent, but you don’t want to be interrupted by someone needing your attention.
Regularly Scheduled. Choose a regular time. If you practice mindfulness once, you will probably feel calm immediately afterward. But the greatest benefit will come if you can practice on a regular basis. How about five minutes, five days a week for five weeks?
Sit Down. Choose a comfortable posture. If you can, sit upright without being rigid, with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in your lap. You can also practice while lying down.
Set a Timer. A kitchen timer, watch alarm or the timer on your phone will work. Set it for five minutes.
Breathe and Release. Take a deep breath, hold it for a count of three, then release it slowly. Repeat this breathing two more times. With the last exhale, gently close your eyes.
Scan Your Body. Start with a gentle focus on the top of your head. Observe the way it feels. Notice if there is any tension, or lack thereof, and move on to your brow, your jaw, your shoulders working your way down your body to your toes. There’s no need to make any adjustments, just observe and move on.
Choose a Focus. You may choose to focus on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your chest and abdomen. Or notice the feeling of air entering and exiting your nose. Or the warmth of your hands resting in your lap.
Let It Be. Inevitably, a thought will interrupt your chosen focus. Sitting for five minutes without any thought at all is not the goal. Acknowledge the thought and bring your mind back to your anchor. When thoughts enter your meditation practice, you have not failed. You’ve been given the opportunity to practice mindfulness. Allow the thoughts to come and go without judgement.
Repeat Tomorrow. See you at the same time, same place tomorrow!
Receiving a diagnosis of osteoporosis does not mean that you should not exercise in fear of breaking something. In fact, regular exercise can help maintain or improve bone strength. Paulin-Liston teaches a specialized class called “Yoga for Osteoporosis” that’s specifically designed to offer individuals with osteoporosis a safe way to practice yoga. It is important to avoid certain poses such as rounded postures where the back of the body is long and the front of the body is short. That’s because these poses can lead to compression fractures in the spine. Naturally, it’s important to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.
Add a Dose of Mindfulness. The practice of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is another useful tool for maintaining or improving our psychological and emotional health of which we can all take advantage. MBSR, first coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, is defined as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement.” MBSR has been shown to improve mental and physical health and many therapists have incorporated a version of this mindfulness practice in their sessions with clients. Chloe Gremaud, LCSW, a Social Worker with CJE Counseling Services, finds that a mindfulness exercise helps her clients respond rather than react, and to observe rather than control in many situations. This is a tremendously positive reaction. She gives the example of a stressful moment in our day, like waiting in a long line at the grocery store or having a difficult conversation with our spouse or child. The outcome would be so much better if we were able to pause and reflect on the situation instead of reacting to it.
In the context of mindfulness exercises, reacting comes naturally for us, while responding takes work and practice. In a typical mindfulness session, practitioners spend 5 to 20 minutes with their attention focused on an anchor, such as the sensation of their breath or the feeling of their hands folded in their laps. While attempting to focus on the anchor, thoughts and feelings will inevitably wander into their minds. But this is normal, and they are instructed to observe the thought without judgement and then gently bring their attention back to their anchor.
If you decide to try mindfulness, remember that this is by no means an easy exercise to do. As you practice, keep in mind that you are using random, wandering thoughts to build muscle. Every time you become aware of an intrusive thought when you are trying to focus on your anchor, you are being given an opportunity to exercise your “mindfulness muscle,” as if you were lifting a weight with your brain! The longer you practice mindfulness on a regular basis, the stronger your muscle will get—just like the reward of regularly working out. It’s important to remember that the goal of your mindfulness practice is not to have an empty mind. The goal is to observe and release the thoughts that will often pepper your mindfulness sessions. As you practice mindfulness on a regular, consistent basis, your ability to observe and respond will become closer to second nature.
Mindfulness exercises help us to realize that the long line at the store is a temporary annoyance, and that very realization can help us let go of the stress caused by the feelings of powerlessness, anger and fatigue that build so quickly if we don’t deal with them. And when we have that difficult conversation with our loved ones, we will get to the point of being able to observe that we are feeling stressed and to take a pause before responding. That way we can communicate in a more thoughtful, loving, measured way.
Those who have a regular mindfulness practice also benefit from better physical health. Gremaud points out that stress causes the body to create cortisol, the stress hormone. And while a bit of cortisol in a dangerous situation can help us (the honk of a car’s horn can snap us back to attention), too much can lower your immunity. You definitely can’t control the outcome of every situation you’re in, but, more often than not, you can control how you respond.
Blending It All Together. Charlene West, Certified Yoga Instructor, believes that “yoga is not only an exercise with physical benefits. It helps bring the body, the mind and the breath in sync.” West, like many instructors, feels that yoga prepares her students for their meditation practice and, therefore, she incorporates mindfulness exercises into her yoga class.
Vera Rodriquez Mancera, LPC, Holocaust Community Services Care Manager, incorporates mindfulness exercises into her sessions with clients and she finds that it helps them with depression, anxiety and sleeplessness, which can lead to healthier food choices. She also co-leads an exercise class that uses chair yoga, breathing exercises and meditation to promote healthy minds and bodies.
It appears that when we concentrate holistically on our physical and psychological health, and bring them in sync with each other, we benefit the most.
CJE Counseling Services has Licensed Clinical Social Workers available who can work with you to meet your holistic health goals or help you with anxiety, depression and other needs. Call CJE SeniorLine for an appointment at 773.508.1000.
Jewish Mindfulness Meditation
Yoga for Osteoporosis by Loren Fishman, MD and Ellen Saltonstall
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Yoga Studio. Subscription based app with yoga classes at all levels. Classes can be customized to suit abilities.
Insight Timer. Offers both free and paid versions that include guided mindfulness exercises and a timer with ambient sounds.
10% Happier. Requires paid subscription with curated classes and guided mindfulness exercises.
Calm. Free and paid subscription with meditation, sleep exercises, music and ambient sounds.