Physical Benefits of Mindfulness
The body and mind are almost one entity and mindfulness can be physically beneficial, as well as mentally and emotionally beneficial. If your mind is tense with anxious thoughts, your body automatically tenses as well. They go together, hand in hand.
Why does your body become tense when you experience high levels of stress? The reason is mechanical and wired in the human body. When you experience stress, a chain reaction starts in your body, and your whole being prepares to fight or flee the situation. So a lot of energy surges through your body, which doesn’t know what to do with this energy, so you tense up.
The aim of mindfulness isn’t to make you more relaxed. Trying to relax just creates more tension. Mindfulness goes far deeper than that. Mindfulness, a mindful awareness, is about becoming aware and accepting of your moment-by-moment experience. So if you’re tense, mindfulness means becoming aware of that tension. Which part of your body feels tense? What’s your reaction to the tension, your thoughts?
Then you can begin breathing into the tense part of your body, bringing kindness and acknowledging your experience – again, not trying to change or get rid of the tension. And that’s it. Rest assured, doing this often leads to relaxation, but relaxation isn’t the aim.
Get back in touch through mindfulness
As a baby, you were probably very much in touch with your body. You noticed subtle sensations, and may have enjoyed feeling different textures in the world around you. As you grew up, you learned to use your head more and your body less.
In fact, the messages between your mind and body are a two-way process. Your mind gives signals to your body, and your body gives signals to your mind. You feel hungry and your body signals to your mind that it’s time to eat. What about the feeling of stress? If you notice the tension in your shoulders, again your body is sending signals to your mind.
What if your mind is so busy with its own thoughts that it doesn’t notice the signals from your body? When this happens, you’re no longer in touch with or looking after your body. Hunger, thirst, tiredness or stress – you’re no longer hearing clearly your instinctual messages. This leads to a further disconnection between bodily signals and your mind, so things can get worse. Stress can spiral out of control.
Mindfulness emphasizes awareness of your body. An important mindfulness meditation is the body scan. In this meditation, you spend about 30 minutes or so simply being guided to pay attention to different parts of your body, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.
Boost your immune system with mindfulness
If something’s wrong with your body, normally your immune system deals with it by fighting disease. Unfortunately, one aspect of the stress response is your immune system not working as hard. When threatened, your body puts all its resources into surviving that threat; energy required for digestion or immunity is turned off temporarily.
Stress isn’t necessarily bad for you. If your stress levels are too low, you’re unable to perform effectively and get bored easily. However, if you’re stressed for sustained periods of time at high levels, your body’s natural immune system is going to stop working properly.
Mindfulness enables you to notice subtle changes in your body. At the first sign of excessive stress, you can bring a mindful awareness to the situation and discover how to dissipate the stress rather than exacerbate it.
Reduce pain with mindfulness
Amazingly, mindfulness has been proven to actually reduce the level of pain experienced in people practicing it over a period of eight weeks.
When you experience pain, you quite naturally want to block that pain out. You tighten your muscles around the region and make an effort to distract yourself. Another approach is that you want the pain to stop, so you react towards the pain in an angry way. This creates greater tension, not only in the painful region, but in other areas of the body.
Sometimes you may feel like fighting the pain. This creates a duality between you and your pain and you burn energy to battle with it. Or perhaps you react with resignation – the pain has got the better of you and you feel helpless.
In mindfulness, you’re encouraged to pay attention to the sensation of pain, as far as you can. So, if your knee is hurting, rather than distracting yourself or reacting in any other way, you actually focus on the area of physical pain with a mindful awareness. This isn’t easy, but you can get better with practice.
You begin to understand the difference between physical pain and psychological pain. The physical pain is the actual raw sensation of pain in the body, whereas the psychological pain is the stress, anxiety and frustration generated. Through mindfulness, you begin to let go of psychological pain so that all that’s left is the physical pain.
When the psychological pain begins to dissolve, the muscle tension around the physical pain begins to loosen, further reducing the perception of pain.