• Recommended Posts

  • Browse By Category

  • Browse By Timeline

  • Advertisements

How to be Mindful?

Embed from Getty Images

I have asked this question to others and others have asked it to me. Along this journey, I have some answers.

Mindfulness traditional definition is non judgmental present moment awareness. We understand the meaning of the words on some level. But you understand it whole lot differently when you experience it once.

Do you exercise? If yes, how many of you exercise with a set goal in mind? To lose weight? To gain muscles? To look a certain way, or not to look a certain way? To regain health? To reduce blood pressure or diabetes? Whatever.

For me it was allure of a certain self image. I loved the idea of me looking very buff and muscular. I had that self image of how I was supposed to look. I found a sense of self worth, a sense of emotional security in that self image. I strived towards it without questioning the validity of that self image.

As long as I was working for that self image, I was enjoying exercise in an indirect way. The exercise itself was painful, because I was pushing myself, lifting more weights and running more miles. But I liked the thought that I am making progress towards the revered self image.

Then one day I was mindful of this whole game. I decided to let go of the self image. I had to face the insecurity that came with the thought that “I will not look that way”. But it was far easier to deal with this insecurity than I thought.

I started focusing on immediate reality and my sensations. I started lifting weights just enough that made me feel food. Made my muscles feel stretched and exercised. I ran just fast enough for me to enjoy running. I felt the runner’s high. The flood of good feeling endorphins running through my body. And I loved exercise in that very present moment. There was no goal except to enjoy the very moment.

As I practiced it, I settled into much lighter but enjoyable exercise routine. I started to look forward to going to the gym. My ‘calories burned’ went down, but my attendance to the gym got far more regular. I am nowhere closer to my buff and muscular image. But I am healthy and happy.

We all have this images of happy and secure life. They include a certain type of job, relationship, social status, appearance, possessions. What if we let these images go? And focus on being in this very moment?

Well, “what is a man without ambition?”, you might say.  Would human beings have reached the moon if they did not have ambitions and goals and strived towards it?

The real important question is not whether humans would have reached moon. The real important question is are you at peace right now?

If you are not, and are striving for being happy in a certain point of time in future, there is a good chance that even if you were to reach your goal, you will not be mentally present to enjoy that achievement. You will be working harder to achieve some next future goal. Because you are cultivating a habit of working towards future happiness than finding present happiness.

So you get the picture.

Anyway, here is what you can do to being mindfulness in your life.

  1. Meditate – Cliche. But important. Can’t find time for meditation? That challange will only last for six months. First six months you make time for meditation. For rest of the life, meditation will make time for you. With the increased focus, clarity, you will drop the counterproductive pursuits, unimportant crusades and will find yourself more lighter and free. Download “insight meditation” app on your phone. That will help you get in routine.
  2. Listen – There are plenty of good talks on mindfulness. Search Youtube and podcasts by Joseph Goldstein, John Kabat Zinn. Listen to them while walking ,traveling, relaxing. Read books if you are more into reading. There are plenty of blogs.
  3. Plan for mindful moments – May be set a reminder or two on your phone every day? All you do in that moment come back to your immediate sensations. How does it feel? Is it cold? Hot? Fan or A/c blowing? Are there any sensations of sights, sounds? physical sensations? Try not to judge. Just let them be there.

Mindful Exercise – II

In my previous post on mindful exercise, I described how I shifted the goal of my exercise from a number of calories or distance to good feeling in the present moment.

Fast forward one more week. I am still doing it. I am still hitting gym on a regular basis. In fact I look forward to it. However as the time passes and as I can see some improvement in my strength/endurance, I am struggling to stick to the original goal. In a way, the focus of making exercise easier on my body is harder on my mind than I thought.

I continuously find myself wanting to increase the speed, set up a speed or distance target, or simply want to push myself a little more. I find criticizing myself when I see an older person running next to me at 6.0 mph while I am cruising at 2.9 mph. I find myself reaching for heavier dumbbells after looking at a huge muscular guy.

It’s hard to ignore the voice in my head that is constantly clamoring to judge myself based on what others are doing. It’s hard to fight against conventional wisdom in the exercise world that if I am not going faster or higher, then I am not “improving”. As if every thing I do somehow must be set up to make it a conflict, a competition, a race, in which I must come out a winner. And unless I am not, and unless there is no net gain on my self esteem, it’s not worth it.

Years and years of social conditioning at work. Our self image needs regular feed of self esteem, so much so that we are willing to abuse ourselves in the present moment for it.

About the good stuff. Definite and steady positive experiences. My body is happier. It’s happier that I am not abusing it. It’s not scared of exercise and there is no subconscious avoidance or resistance to go to the gym. It does not take any discipline to make me go to the gym. And after an hour of exercise, I come out feeling more refreshed , relaxed and more energetic .

There have been some flashes of interesting insight. One time when doing push ups, and just one short of my intended target, I found myself trying to motivate me.

“Show discipline , stick to the target you decided” says a part of me.

“But the target is mindfulness. If I stick to the target of doing XX pushups, the discipline is in continuing further. But if I stick to the target of being mindful, the discipline is in stopping now because the exercise is not feeling good anymore. ” says the other part.

In that moment I realized very strongly that all the targets, the target to lose XX pounds, the target to run X miles in X mins, or the target to be able to do bench press X pounds are arbitrary. There is no inherent value in the targets. They are important because I made them important with my thinking process.

I stopped push ups one short of my intended target. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of discipline to discard your target in favor of mindfulness.

Here are some lessons I learned.

1. It helps to turn off the distractions like television, or music. That helps me focus on the sensations in my body. It may sound boring at first, but if you think about it, the TV is really helping you distract yourself from the discomfort. If there is no discomfort, or better yet, if there were enjoyable feelings to focus on, do you need the TV?

2. It helps to run the instruments like treadmill on manual setting instead of using one of the canned workouts. On treadmill, play more with inclination than speed. Because I think this exercises big muscles in your leg which I found easier to be mindful.

3. If doing weights, slow and deliberate movements using medium weights work best. Weights just heavy enough for you to feel the exercise, but not enough to cause any discomfort.

4. Be mindful of competitive tendency or peer pressure creeping up.

5. Also be mindful of self criticism for not being mindful, in wanting to be competitive or otherwise. Forgive yourself and avoid self abuse even there.

Mindful Exercise

Embed from Getty Images

Some days back, I was reading about cortisol, the stress hormone. The article described the effects of Corisol on body. While reading through the symptoms of elevated cortisol in the body, like tension in muscles, I realized that I may be experiencing some of those symptoms. According to the article, the chronic elevation of cortisol was not good.

I often go the the gym and when I go, I have some set goal, like I am going to run x miles in y minutes. On some days I come out feeling really good and refreshed. On some days I come out feeling more tense and stressed. The article had mentioned that sometimes streneous exercise increases cortisol in the body. I bet that was happening to me.

I decided to set a new goal, not to run a particular distance in particular time, or to life certain weight, or to burn certain number of calories. I was going to target reduction in cortisol. I was going to target that relaxed and energized feeling as a goal itself. Only restriction I would put on myself was that I would stay at the gym for an hour and I had to keep moving even if it meant gentle movement.

First thing I had to do was to be more aware of my body. I had to pay close attention on what feels good in the moment. The moment I noticed the wave of stressed feeling,  I would turn down the speed, or turn down the resistance level, or reduce the amount of weights.

As I focused, indeed I started relishing in that good feeling. There was often a wave of good feeling  when I pushed the weights.  Or liberating feeling when my legs automatically started to run fast at times. I found that making big muscles exercise was often more relaxing.

Result – In last few weeks, there were times I ran/walked only three and half miles in an hour. There were times when I lifted light weights. There were times I spent good amount of time stretching. There were few times when I worked out really hard because I had lot of energy. So all those goals were all over the place.

But my gym attendance record has phenomenally improved. I am making almost all seven days to the gym, unlike three or four days in the past. Most definitely I burned more calories or made more movements than I would if I were targeting calories or distance. My muscles remember the good feeling and as the evening nears, I look forward to making it to the gym. Exercise has become a great  de-stressing and unwinding activity for me. The restriction of making myself spend one hour there does not feel like a restriction at all.

Looks like paying attention to what the body is telling you pays off.

Heart Health For Indians – Please Read

Recently I went to take some routine medical exam. My cholesterol was checked as part of the test. When the results came back, it came as a surprise to me to find that my cholesterol was on higher side. I intervened immediately and got it in control. In course of my intervention, I did some research and found a lot of interesting information. So I decided to write a blog post.

Human heart beats nonstop. From birth to death, asleep or awake,he heart is pumping blood in arteries constantly. But as we grow older, there is plaque in our arteries. That narrows down the arteries. And sometimes a piece of that plaque breaks apart and starts flowing with blood. If this piece is big enough, it blocks the artery, thus cutting of blood supply to heart. If medical treatment is not received immediately, or if the damage is too severe, the heart and brain can run out of fresh blood. The result – death. If somehow you got lucky and survive, it still puts too much stress on heart can cause permanent heart damage.

We all have heard of some relative that passed away because of heart attack. Mostly we just assume that it was act of fate and that that person’s time had come. But if someone had done autopsy on the dead person, we would find blocked arteries by years of plaque accumulation. What if I tell you that it does not have to be like this for you – there is a lot in your hand and you can do a things to minimize the chances of you getting heart attack.

About the piece of plaque that blocks the artery and causes heart attack. Where does it come from? It comes from plaque that has gathered in arteries over the years. Usually as you get older, there will be some plaque in your artery. If you have high blood pressure, that’s because your arteries are narrowed because of the plaque.

Where does this plaque comes from? Cholesterol is a thick liquid like substance created by your body that is responsible for plaque accumulation. Tendency to have high cholesterol depends on number of factors. One of them is genetics. If you are of Indian (or generally speaking South East Asian) descent, you probably have a gene that can give you high cholesterol. Recent data is showing that heart disease is a huge problem for India and will continue to get worse in recent time. Not only more people are dying, people are dying young, some even in their late 30s or early 40s. So if you are Indian and 30 years or older, please schedule a test immediately with your doctor and see if you have high cholesterol.

If you are Indian in United states, the chances that you have high cholesterol are even more. Because the lifestyle here is sedentary and food is rich in saturated fats, both of which make the problem worse. The saturated fat is processed by body to make cholesterol. Food, typically cheese, fried food, has lots of bad fats that can quickly bloat your cholesterol numbers. If your cholesterol his high, you are at very high risk of getting heart attack. But if your cholesterol is well managed, the risk is reduced significantly.

What can you do to reduce the cholesterol in your blood? Do the following five steps and see your cholesterol plummet and your heart health improve.

1. Stop smoking. You must have heard a lot about smoking cancer. But how many of you know that smoking can make your cholesterol profile much worst and increase your chance of getting heart attack?

2. Watch your diet – Fat is found in oil, cheese, milk, etc. The good bad ugly of fat world is as follows.

  • Monounsaturated fat – Good for you. This comes from olive oil, walnuts etc. This is healthy fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fat – also somewhat good for you, but not as good as monounsaturated fat.
  • Saturated fat – Bad for you. Food like oil in fried food, cheese has a lot of saturated fat. Typically you should not eat more than 25 g of saturated fat. That is the fat that comes from may be two to three cheese slices. Yes that’s true. That’s the recommended level of intake of saturated fat. Make it a habit to read food labels. Most of them will mention content of saturated fat per serving. Based on your serving size, you can calculate the amount of saturated fat you are eating. If you are eating in restaurants, watch out. You don’t know what oil the Batata Wada is fried in. You may be taking in day’s worth of saturated fat. Eating a whole cadbury? You just ate three four days worth of saturated fat. Start reading labels and you will be shocked to find how much saturated fat you are eating.
  • Trans fat – UGLY. Avoid it at all costs. If you are buying oil, make sure the label says trans fat free. This is absolutely the worst kind. This is artificial fat, not found in nature. It is the worst thing you can eat.

Reduce eating fried, processed, packed food. Avoid eating food where you don’t know what oil they used. Eat more vegetables and fibers.

3. Get regular exercise – Exercise not only burns fat, but does a lot of good things to your body. One of that is increases the good cholesterol. In cholesterol, there are two types, good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). LDL is the stuff that kills you. HDL is the stuff that saves you. Exercise reduces LDL and increases HDL. Also watching diet in combination with exercise can lower your weight, thus reducing stress on your heart. Exercise, even a simple one like walking, can make a big difference.

4. Get regular checkups and start medications if necessary – Out of sight is out of mind. If you keep getting cholesterol checkups regularly, your heart health will not be out of your sight and you will remain focused on good measures. Medicines like statins help immensely. Watch out for folk tales and Ayurvedic medications. I have nothing against Ayurveda. I know Ayurveda has some excellent medications, but rarely it is backed by objective scientific research like double blind trials. So I would rather not count on it when it comes to heart health.

By taking the measures above, you can reduce the accumulation of plaque buildup in artery. That would mean significantly reducing your chances of getting a heart attack. That would mean several more healthy years with your family and friends.

Remember, heart attack is not purely act of fate. It is mostly your own choice and partly aided by fate. Your heart health is in your own hand and YOU CAN IMPROVE IT.

Please note: I am not a medical professional. The information presented here is accurate to the best of my information, but is collected after talking with medical professionals and reading medical research. The best thing to do is to contact your doctor and also do your own research.