Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How mindfulness can help you reach your nutrition and exercise goals!

I have been posting for weeks on the more mundane and practical side of nutrition and exercise. It's time to add in the spiritual center of it all. Regardless of your religious beliefs, we all have a spiritual self. This concept simply refers to the part of us that is more then just our mind + our body. We are more then that! We are beautifully complex beings of experience, emotion, energy, and love. Mindfulness is a way of honoring that complexity that is within ourselves and every living thing.

What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is intentionally being as aware as possible, and we practice this skill on the smallest things to help us focus our concentration. For example, a traditional mindfulness exercise is to eat a raisin. Did you just pop it in your pie hole and eat it? Ok, let's try again. Use all of your sense. Look at it...appreciate its colors, its ridges and wrinkles, its shape, if there is a stem, etc. This should take a while: try for minute - the more you practice the easier (and less awkward) this is. Raisins don't usually smell like much, but smell it. Is there a subtle scent? Then put it in your mouth - but don't eat it! Move it around and feel it first. Eventually you can bite into it, and take the time to taste it. Feel the difference of the soft insides compared to the rough outside. This process takes several minutes, and the last thing you do is actually eat it.

So what? Seriously?
If you ate all your food this way you would lose weight simply from not having the time to eat enough. That's not the goal here. But being mindful of the foods you are introducing to your body, the foods that will eventually become you, means you are appreciating these once living things and welcoming them into you. Think of a basic snack of steamed broccoli. Broccoli: Give thanks that it gave its life for yours. Take the time to imagine the field it grew in, the hands that harvested it, the trucks it road in, and the general journey it took to get from its little seed self to your plate and your belly.
This process does not take more then a few seconds, but the process makes you think twice about where your food came from, and makes you want to introduce clean, healthy, whole foods to your body. Can you follow the journey of "Propylene Glycol Monoester" or "high fructose corn syrup"? I will post another day on the evils of high fructose corn syrup, but since the corn people claim it's natural (not processed) we'll imagine it is grown from a seed in a beautiful seed, picked, and then milled, filtered, then enzymes and chemicals are added to change the sugar content and balance the pH, (which is obviously totally the way nature intended it).
As for meats: Be thankful that the chicken gave its life so you could have yours. That's a good place to start. Now the energy and chemicals that were in the chicken will be yours...makes you wish the chicken had a nice life of running about eating bugs. Makes you think twice about chicken that is abused, filled with pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Ingesting a food that is combined with other chemicals or fillers (such as with nuggets or patties), and you are getting farther from that pure food.
Being mindful while you eat creates feelings of gratitude, and makes you more aware of what you are putting into your body. It slows you down and makes you think about whether THAT is the best thing you can eat since it will become you.

Didn't you say something about exercise?
Mindfulness has been a part of some exercises for centuries. Yoga and martial arts are the first to come to mind. But what about repetitive activities like walking, running, biking, or swimming? Those types of activities provide a natural opportunity to meditate, focus on a thought or goal, and to place your intention into the activity. What does that mean? Well, let's imagine that you want to de-stress, or get stronger, or maybe feel more confident. That's your intention and should be focused on throughout an activity. Just like with the raisin, focus on yourself sweating and working into a stronger, de-stressed, or more confident person. Especially when the workout gets hard - use your intention to focus all that energy to your goal!
What about other activities that require more...paying attention. Like dancing, weightlifting, or zumba? Set your intention at the beginning of the workout. When you are challenged, draw on that intention to give you strength to keep going, and give thanks at the end of the workout. Giving thanks is important. You should give thanks to your self - for having an amazing body that is getting more amazing everyday. Also give thanks to anyone who helped you workout. That may mean a trainer or a workout buddy, or it may mean a friend, partner, or babysitter that took over other responsibilities so you could have that time to exercise. Give thanks that you are able to workout, to breathe, and to sweat. Life always seems a little better after a good workout, so be sure to appreciate and enjoy that feeling!

Happy journey to you, and happy New Year!

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