This year, we’ve asked Aspire Health Plan members and members of the community to “Choose Happy” and enjoy activities and life experiences that can better overall health. For inspiration, we made a list of 21 opportunities for happiness. One of the items on this list is to “practice mindfulness at least once a week.” The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley reports on research that mindfulness benefits both our bodies and our minds. Earlier this year, our Population Health Team presented on “Mindful Eating, Movement, and The Power of Connection.” We decided to share some key information from this presentation.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings through a nurturing lens without judgment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we are sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. We are present.
Mindfulness and its connection to our five senses
|Sight||Be mindful with what is in sight using controlled concentration on one particular object in sight or take in everything in sight at that moment like a picture.|
|Smell (Breath)||Mindful breathing gives us an anchor
our breath on which we can focus when
we find ourselves carried away by a stressful thought. Bring attention to one individual scent or all the different scents that our nose is pulling in.
|Sound||With your eyes closed, focus on only the sounds you are hearing. Focus on one individual sound, or every single sound that surrounds you, one at a time discovering the harmony of it all.|
|Taste||Hone in on what your taste buds are sensing with deep concentration of all the elements and sensations of that taste.|
|Touch||Bring all your attention to the sensation of what you feel with touch. Using your hands, feet, or entire body, process every sensation such as temperature, texture and strength.|
What is mindful eating?
According to Harvard Health, “a small yet growing body of research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and maybe steer some people away from processed food and other less-healthful choices.” Keep the following mindful eating tips in mind:
- Engage your five senses. Notice flavors, textures, smells and colors of what you are eating.
- Slow down when eating. Try placing your utensils down in between bites and set a timer for 15-20 minutes while you eat.
- Remember your purpose. Ask yourself “How is this food nourishing me?” or “How is this food helping me reach my goals?”
- Practice appreciation and gratitude. Take time before a meal to express thanks and try placing your hand on your heart to express self-compassion.
What is the purpose of mindful eating?
Mindfulness can encourage healthier eating. Results from a Gettysburg College study “suggest that generic mindfulness-based strategies could have ancillary benefits for encouraging healthier eating behavior.” Gaining control of your eating habits can improve chronic condition management, promote weight loss or weight management, reduce binge eating, reduce stress and help you “Choose Happy.” By changing the way you think about food, the negative feelings that may be associated with eating are replaced with awareness, improved self-control, and positive emotions.
Comparing mindless eating vs. mindful eating
|Mindless Eating||Mindful Eating|
|1. Eating after you are full by not paying attention to body's signals||1. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes while
you eat. This gives your body ample time to process satiety signals
|2. Eating because of emotions (sad, bored, angry); Comfort food||2.Before eating rate your hunger on a scale from 1-10, 1- not hungry at all, and 10- extremely hungry. The sweet spot is between 6-8.|
|3. Eating by yourself, at random times and places||3. Set a time and location for daily meals. For example, dinner at 6:00 PM at the dining room table.|
|4. Eating and multitasking||4. Solely give attention to food and eating with no distractions. For example, turn off the TV.|
What is mindful movement?
A study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise explored the benefits of mindful movement and found “when people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have this decrease in negative affect (negative emotions and poor self-concept).” Mindful movement means noticing the physical sensations of the body in motion – body heat, muscle tension, facial expression and air movement around you. Active mindfulness practice brings the mind and body in union which regulates the nervous system.
What are some examples of mindful movement?
Mindful walking means engaging at a pace slower than your natural gait which will provide heightened awareness. Take the following steps:
- Be aware of the lifting, rolling from heel-to-toe, and placement back down of each foot
- Stay focused on the flow of this process over and over, feel your arm movement after each step, one foot at a time
- After 10-15 steps, stand still, allowing your arms to rest by your sides
- Notice the sensation in the body
- Slowly rotate the body to face the other direction, pause again, and repeat the process
Chair yoga is a great opportunity to simply focus on the movement itself. Another benefit is that we can take a brief break from being at our desks focused on our laptops or staring at a television screen. In turn, this will benefit our concentration, focus and energy level. Learn more:
What is mindful connection and community building?
When we are mindful, we are more likely to connect more deeply with others, build trust, feel more supported and empathize with one another. When mindfulness is shared among group members, a community is more likely to thrive. In mindful communities, members experience strengthened relationships and a better understanding of the importance of interconnectedness, not only within their groups but in the larger community setting.
How do we engage in mindful community building?
Identify and set shared goals to strengthen the community’s identity and purpose. Deepening relationships provides members with opportunities to know one another more fully. With these intimate connections, groups are more likely to communicate and work in unity toward their common goals. The mantra of mindful community building is “all are welcome.” Here is a list of community resources:
- Aspire Health Plan’s Facebook page
- Blue Zone’s Project – Monterey County
- Book Clubs in Monterey
- Carmel-by-the-Sea Garden Club
- Community Connections events (from Aspire Health Plan)
- Rotary Club (Monterey)
- Senior Clubs and Social Resources (from Aspire Health Plan)
- Silver and Fit ® (Aspire Health and Wellness Benefits)
- United Way Monterey County
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) says, “Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” Remember to engage your five senses, eat with intention and attention, move with purpose and observation and connect with your community.
We will continue to share activities and content showing how happiness can lead to better overall health. Follow along on our blog and social media pages (Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn) and share your journey with us using the hashtag #AspireChooseHappy.