In a column about health and wellness in your neighborhood, I usually focus on active things you can do to improve your health. I’ve written about yoga, walking programs, training techniques for runners, nutrition and information about resources right “under your feet” that can improve your wellness.
I was recently exposed to a new mindset that I found very powerful and one that immediately had a positive affect on my own health by decreasing my stress level. For those of you that are aware of mindfulness techniques, you know that there are many things one can do to improve one’s health that don’t involve moving the body but instead involve things like deep breathing, shifting your attitude and shifting the way you see the world.
So today, I thought I’d share steps you can take to improve your health that don’t require anything other than your willingness to try:
- Have an open mind: Being rigid in thinking leads to stress. The world is an ever-changing place and the more rigid your thinking, the more walls you’ll see in front of you. Be open to new ideas and even with your own point of view, recognize that there are as many points of view as there are people in the world. To try to get everyone you meet to your side is exhausting.
- Look for the beauty in your neighborhood: Ana Forrest, a well-known yoga teacher, in her work with terminal clients, found that one in particular used to give her a “beauty report” when she’d visit. In the face of her pain and fear, she found the beauty in what was around her, even if it was only something she could see outside her window, as she lay in bed. As you walk the streets of your neighborhood, acknowledge the beauty around you. You’ll see it in a garden, a child’s face, the way someone plays with their dog while waiting for coffee.
- Understand that things are not perfect: This seems obvious but I can share that perfectionism is one of my biggest challenges and it drives me to high levels of stress when things aren’t in tip top shape. Recognizing that in our neighborhoods, in our homes, in our relationships, we have to allow for imperfection or we’ll drive ourselves crazy.
- Having faith: The flip side of acknowledging that things are not perfect is to have faith. You may have a friend or neighbor that has been through trying times, but despite it all, has kept a sunny outlook. In the face of doubt and uncertainty, having faith can bring us peace. Whether we find that through religion, spirituality, exercise or meditation it does not matter. Faith is the belief that things will be better than they are right now.
- Recognize that things are not always as they seem: This is such a powerful mindset and goes along with the first technique around having an open mind. We may think we have our neighbor’s personality and lifestyle figured out from reading Facebook, seeing them as they pass and in conversations. But to remember that things are not always as they seem takes us out of judgment (she is better, she has more money than me, she is happier) and just allows us the space to acknowledge that things are not always as they seem. We may tie ourselves up in knots of jealously and anger but allowing for another option gives us space to breathe.
- Stop the comparison game: You live next to someone that just got a nice car. Your neighbor is raving about the great vacation they just took. It’s hard not to be jealous, especially if you’re struggling to make ends meet. But applying the perspective of “things are not always as they seem” gives us space to allow for other options (maybe they’re now in debt because of their new toy and you have none? Maybe it was a gift?). But more importantly, take a step back and acknowledge yourself for all that you are and all that you’ve done.
- Meditate: I know, it’s hard. You don’t have time. You don’t know how. Well, all you need to do is sit down, close your eyes and breathe. Let your feelings come up. Acknowledge them but don’t get upset about them. Try it for five minutes. It’s one of the best ways to improve your health.
Physical exercise is a great way to relieve stress. But we can’t be exercising all the time. These mindfulness techniques are portable, available at any time and require nothing other than your willingness to try. So try one on and see how good you can feel.