By Erin Falls
Erin Falls is a registered dietitian and Yoga Teacher in Charlotte, NC. Her passion for helping others discover their healthiest, best life inspired her to create a business, Planks & Pizza, focused on empowering her clients to discover a balanced lifestyle that is flexible, fun and rewarding – aka., “balance their planks with a little pizza.”
The chatter of the mind can be all-consuming. What starts out as one thought can easily take a turn, leading you into a series of hypothetical questions and answers that may not serve your best interest or even make much sense. Fortunately, there is a way to keep this in check.
Mindfulness is cultivating self-awareness of your thoughts and actions without attaching judgments. It can be a powerful tool in all aspects of life that requires practice, consistency and patience.
Focusing on the present is not an easy task when we live in a future-obsessed, perfectionist-aspiring, multi-task driven society. We wonder why we often experience social disconnection, high levels of anxiety and stress, and physical manifestations of these emotional and psychological barriers such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and sleepless nights. Yet the answer is right in front of us.
We have zero balance in the way we live.
If we drive ourselves into a place of exhaustion and depletion without a checks and balances system, we are left in a state of helplessness, hopelessness and inefficiency. In order to take better care of our minds and bodies, we need to start looking at the bigger picture and asking ourselves some important questions.
As a registered dietitian and yoga teacher, mindfulness plays an essential role in every exercise I run through with my clients and students. People come to me to help them make lifestyle changes. However, before we can make any changes, we must get to the root of the what, why and how.
What are we spending our time thinking about? Why are we drawn to these particular thoughts? How are these thoughts affecting our mental, emotional and physical well-being?
Beginning the process of mindfulness starts with turning inward, reflecting and focusing on the present state of one’s mind and thoughts.
In a yoga practice, we can cultivate mindfulness through turning our focus to movement and breath, training our attention and awareness to the present moment and not allowing room for other unrelated thoughts to enter the mind. This ultimately encourages mental well-being, enhances emotional stability and can contribute to increased calmness, clarity and concentration.
Practicing mindfulness may sound a little intimidating if it is unfamiliar, but it really does not have to be. Start small by getting quiet, being still and focusing on one thought. Often our thoughts, feelings or beliefs are tied to past experiences. As humans, we are conditioned to use our past as our personal database for how we make future decisions. While this is a logical way to think, know that this method does not always provide the correct solutions. Mindfulness is all about being present, so instead of basing every thought, feeling or decision on the past, see if you can let that go and give more of a neutral approach to the current situation and try your best not to form opinions about said thoughts.
Once you have one thought in mind, try not to jump ahead or let your mind wander. This is where the real work comes into play because it is human nature to try to connect thoughts with other ideas and emotions, or get sidetracked by rationalizing, analyzing and bringing sense to everything that comes to mind. Focus on just this one thought and view it as taking up space inside your mind. The more thoughts you allow to occur at once, the less room there is available for other potential thoughts or ideas to come to fruition. Therefore, we need to be selective with the thoughts we allow to enter our minds and take up this valuable space.
When we do not allow time for our minds to process what is happening, we lose sight of the big picture and our mind moves on autopilot. It is a challenging habit to break, but breaking this habit is what can lead us to rediscover the self-awareness we need to make sound decisions and meaningful connections with others including ourselves.
Practicing mindfulness increases emotional regulation and therefore reduces stress. This leads to improved sleep, less anxiety, being less self-critical, improved concentration, better relationships with family and friends, increased immune function and increased clarity of the mind, to name a few.
While everyone has something to gain from practicing mindfulness, practice being the key word, it must be practiced frequently and consistently in order to be truly effective. The cognitive benefits, in turn, contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies and a happier, healthier, balanced life.
Erin graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in Spanish. She received her M.S. in Nutrition from Winthrop University after working six years in marketing and realizing she wanted to take things in a different direction.