Mindfulness – what exactly is it and how do I do it?

By Dubuque Physical Therapy Team

July 15, 2022

Written by Anne Kruse, PT, DPT, Cert MDT, Therapeutic Pain Specialist

 

When I first encountered the idea of mindfulness I was a busy mother of an infant and a two year old.  I was asked by my employer to take coursework in T’ai Chi so I could teach it as part of my job.  At that time in my life it seemed exactly like that, just part of my job.  But as time has gone on and my practice evolved, I now have a greater understanding of mindfulness. 

 

Mindfulness isn’t a new concept.  It has roots in Buddhism and has been integrated into many mind-body therapies such as T’ai Chi and yoga.  As much as I hate to say it, I initially thought practicing mindfulness was a waste of my precious time; I had a list of chores to do each day upon returning home from work and didn’t want to miss a moment with my children before bedtime.  With more practice I eventually realized that was the key, being in the present.

Mindfulness is defined as awareness of the present moment. 

The definition sounds simple enough, but many of us spend a significant amount of time stewing over the past and/or worrying about the future.  It is easy to tell someone to let the past go and to stop worrying about the future but it can be difficult to make those changes.

So how can we begin a simple daily practice of mindfulness? 

Begin by spending a few minutes being still, quieting the questioning and judgmental thoughts about the past and worries about the future and replacing those thoughts with focusing on something in the moment.  Attempt to let your thoughts come and go freely without trying to interpret them.  If that proves challenging, choose one specific activity, and focus on it.  For example, you could take one bite of food and really think about what it feels like when you first place it in your mouth, what is the texture, the temperature, the flavor and then pay attention to how those things change as you begin to chew the food.

Why is mindfulness important?

(THIS IS THE KEY!)

Worrisome and judgmental thoughts stimulate our sympathetic nervous system which drives our fight-flight-or-freeze response.  This response is intended to be a short-lived response to a potential threat.  If we are in a constant state of worry and negativity, it results in the fight-flight-or-freeze response running continuously which can lead to changes in our health.

Constant stress can contribute to brain health issues like depression and anxiety, cardiovascular issues, sleep disturbance, digestive issues, and an increased pain response to name a few health concerns. 

So, what better time than the present to begin.  Mindfulness is easy to do, free and can be done at any time, in any place and in any situation. Like anything, in order to be good at it, it takes practice. So don’t get frustrated when your thoughts stray, just bring yourself back to the present and before you know it, you’ll be living life in the moment.