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The Mindfulness Series: 3 - Mindfulness And The Body

Updated: Mar 3



In this series:

1 - What Is Mindfulness?

2 - Mindfulness In Times of Chaos

3 - Mindfulness And The Body

4 - Mindfulness And The Mind

5 - Mindfulness And The Spirit

6 - Mindfulness As A Growth Opportunity

7 - Mindfulness In Meditation

8 - Bring It All Together: Holistic Mindfulness For Your Entire Essence



It is no surprise that being mindful and optimistic during chaotic times has a significant impact on your physical wellbeing and body. In fact, being mindful is one of the best ways to improve your physical health during chaotic and monotonous times alike.


Let's take a look at exactly how mindfulness impacts the body.


Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness For The Body


Mindfulness has been studied frequently, which has provided us with a plethora of research and data about the health benefits of mindfulness on our bodies.


Decreases Heart Disease


Most notably, many researchers have found that mindfulness can be good for hearts. Since heart disease is a leading killer in the United States, it is imperative to take special care of our hearts in whatever ways possible.


More specifically, many studies have shown that mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation, which we will discuss more in the next section, significantly reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in those with prehypertension. As a result, it decreases the risk of heart disease since it lowers blood pressure.


Research also shows that those who practice mindfulness have stronger hearts, allowing them to improve their breathing rates when exercising. In one study specifically, some people with heart disease were randomly assigned a mindful practice and then given a six-minute walking test.


Those who were assigned meditation showed signs of slower heart rates, a measure of cardiovascular capacity, during the test.


Increases Immune System Response


Another way that mindfulness impacts our body is that it improves our immune response. Whenever we encounter any viruses or organisms that cause diseases, our body sends out immune cells to fight them off. Studies have found that mindfulness affects these cells.


More specifically, several studies have shown that mindfulness often increases levels of T cells or T cell activity in patients with HIV or breast cancer. Though this is not proof that mindfulness will cure illnesses, it does suggest that mindfulness will improve biomarkers that indicate disease progression.


In another study, elderly patients were assigned either a mindfulness-based stress reduction course or a moderate-intensity exercise program at random. The patients who practiced mindfulness had an increased amount of protein interleukin 8 in their nasal secretions. This increased protein suggests an improved immune function.


Reduces Cell Aging


Everyone wants to live forever, but our cells naturally age, making our bodies age as well. Studies have suggested that longtime mindfulness practitioners have greater telomere length or telomere activity. Telomere length is associated with cell aging. The longer the length, the slower the cell is aging.


One study found that cancer survivors who were prescribed mindfulness had longer telomeres than those who were not. In contrast, other studies have found that some survivors who practice mindfulness have no difference in telomere length but increased telomere activity instead. This increased telomere length and telomere activity leave scientists optimistic about the connection between mindfulness and cell aging reduction.


Why Mindfulness Benefits The Body


Whenever we experience stress, our body physically responds by sending out various hormones and chemicals. These hormones and chemicals are designed to help us act and problem-solve our way out of tough situations.


Though these hormones and chemicals are helpful in the short term for increasing productivity or problem solving, they are extremely damaging to our body if they are constantly released. Whenever we find ourselves in constant stress, such as when we are living in a chaotic time, our body responds too strongly.


Mindfulness, however, calms us down, which signals our brain to stop releasing the hormones and chemicals associated with stress. This then allows our body to recover and restore itself more frequently, making us healthier both in the short term and the long term.


Mindfulness And The Body Practices


To unlock the full benefits of mindfulness and the body, it is important to know the best mindfulness practices that relate to the body. Here are the most popular mindfulness techniques that help to improve your body's physical health and wellness.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation


Progressive muscle relaxation is a mindfulness technique that is specifically designed to manage stress and alleviate stress-related pain. Whenever you experience stress, your body often responds with muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation allows you to relieve that tension, thus lessening the pain.


How progressive muscle relaxation works is that it is a series of tensing and relaxing every muscle group in your body. When you intentionally release your muscles, it allows your body to relax, which signals to your brain to feel less pain and stress and relax further. When you are new to this technique, it may be helpful to try it with an audio recording, which you can find online or at your local library.


1. Lay Down


Start by laying on your back in an area where you will not be interrupted.


Stretch out comfortably. Many people prefer to do this on a carpeted floor. You might want to avoid trying this technique on a bed since beds are soft and can inhibit your abilities to properly tense and relax.


2. Breathe, Tense, and Relax


Once you are in a comfortable place, breathe in and tense the first muscle group. Hold for about four to ten seconds. Then, breathe out as you suddenly relax the muscle group completely. Do not relax the muscles gradually. Instead, relax them immediately or all at once. Keep your muscles relaxed for about ten to twenty seconds.


3. Repeat Over The Entire Body


Once your relax/rest time is up, move on to the next muscle group and repeat the process all over again. When you finish all muscle groups, bring yourself back to the present by counting backward from five to one.


Muscle Group

How To Tense

Hands

Close fists

Wrists and forearms

Extend arms and bend hands back at the wrist

Biceps and upper arms

Make fists with your hands, bend arms at the elbow, and flex biceps

Shoulders

Shrug

Forehead

Wrinkle

Eyes and bridge of the nose

Remove contact lenses before you start practice if needed and close eyes as tightly as possible

Cheeks and jaws

Smile as widely as possible

Mouth

Press lips together as tightly as possible

Chest

Inhale deeply and hold for four to ten seconds

Back

Arch your back up and away from whatever surface you are laying on

Stomach

Suck in as tightly as possible

Hips and buttocks

Squeeze buttocks as tightly as possible

Lower legs

Flex toes towards face then curl them downward at the same time

Body Scan


The body scan practice is a way to connect to how your body feels at that moment. Like with a progressive muscle relaxation practice, you can find plenty of body scan-guided practices online. Here is a quick look at how to do your own body scan for mindfulness purposes.


1. Lay Down And Be Attentive


Begin by lying down on a comfortable but firm surface. A carpet or a floor with a mat on top will be best. Close your eyes and try to draw attention to the feelings around you. Feel the surface you are laying on, note the heaviness of your body, and try to detect the temperature of the air.


Any time you feel yourself drifting away during the practice, come back to this step.


2. Breathe Intentionally


Begin to pay attention to your breathing. Try to slow the breathing as slowly as possible, making a conscious effort to elongate the exhale so that way it is longer than the inhale. You might want to count your breath to keep your breathing even and deep. Many people start off by inhaling for four seconds, holding for five seconds, and exhaling for seven seconds.


3. Start The Body Scan


When you are ready, let go of your breath on an exhale. Focus your attention now on your left leg and try to imagine your mind's eye coming into the left foot’s big toe. Pay attention to any sensations that you feel, but do not move your leg in any way. Just try to hold your attention to the sensation of your leg. Press your attention to the other toes on your leg and continue the practice.


When you are ready, open your awareness to the top of the foot and slowly work your way up through the entire left leg, starting with the ankle and working your way up. Once you get all the way to the top of the left leg, repeat the practice starting with your right big toe.


4. Work Your Way Up


Once you repeat all of the steps on your right leg, carefully work your attention throughout your entire body, starting with the hips and then continuing through the pelvic region, back, shoulders, arms, hands, stomach, chest, neck, and head. Try to notice every sensation you feel, even when you are not moving.


5. Finish


After you have completed scanning the entire body. Open your attention even more so that way you can recognize all of the body’s sensations at once. You might want to imagine that you are breathing into your whole body throughout this step. Whenever you are ready, you can open your eyes, stretch a little, and gently get up.


Throughout the practice, you may find your mind wandering to different ideas, memories, or to-do lists. Gently recognize the thought and then let it go whenever it has reached a natural conclusion.


Sipping On A Warm Drink


If you do not have the time for progressive muscle relaxation or a body scan, then you might want to try sipping on a warm drink. This mindfulness technique is great for incorporating into your morning routine or coffee break, making it ideal for those on the go.


1. Prepare Your Drink


All you need to do is select your favorite warm drink and prepare as usual. Most people prefer selecting a non-caffeinated drink, such as warm lemon water or herbal tea, for this practice, but you can try this with your morning cup of coffee as well. It will work just as efficiently.


2. Breathe In The Steam Before Drinking


Before you start drinking, take a few deep breaths to get in touch with how you feel. Slowly bring the cup up to your mouth but do not sip yet. Instead, continue breathing deeply, inhaling the steam. Note how the warm air feels when it goes in your nose, into your body, and out your mouth. After a few rounds of this, you can start drinking your drink.


3. Drink Slowly


As you are drinking your warm drink, sip slowly. Pay attention to how the liquid feels on your tongue and running down your throat. Additionally, note how the warm liquid fills your belly after you have swallowed. Do this while drinking the entire cup. Once you have finished drinking, place the cup on a table and deeply inhale and quickly exhale. Note if you feel any different from before.


Recap


Mindfulness positively impacts our bodies by decreasing the risk of heart disease, improving immunity, and slowing the aging process. Just by practicing progressive muscle relaxation, body scan, or sipping on a warm drink, you can signal to your body to relax, which increases your body’s overall health and wellbeing.


 

Calm.Peaceful.Inspired

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