During the last couple of years, I began to immerse myself in learning more about the practice of mindfulness. My interest was sparked, in part, by the idea of creating a Haggadah that combined physical movement and mindfulness exercises in order to more fully experience Passover’s message of freedom and redemption. As preparation for writing the Haggadah I read books on mindfulness and attended mindfulness workshops and learned about the benefits of mindfulness from scientific studies and my own practice.
My Judaism has always demanded that I am mindful and pay careful attention to what I am doing. My mindfulness practice begins each morning with the recitation of daily prayers. Modeh Ani, the first morning prayer, says: “I thankfully acknowledge You, living and enduring Sovereign. You have returned my soul within me with loving compassion. Your faithfulness is abundant.” With my first thoughts and the first words out of my mouth as I awaken being “thank you,” I recognize my mortality and God’s immortality. I am mindful that to awaken again to another day of life is to experience God’s love and faithfulness, and that every day is a gift of life.
I recently read an article by Tara Parker-Pope in the Wellness Section of The New York Times entitled “An Inside-Out Focus on Fitness Works.” Most of her columns over the past 20 years have focused on the physical body including topics related to diet, exercise and the like. In this article she acknowledged that the biggest improvements in her own health and well-being in recent years have come from what she calls “inner fitness.” She defines inner fitness as focusing one’s energy on one’s emotional well-being and mental health rather than berating oneself about diet, weight, or not getting enough exercise. It can include mindfulness and meditation techniques, a gratitude routine or a variety of other practices. She supported her thesis with results of medical research that demonstrated how mindfulness can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, lead to better eating habits and reduce stress.
Parker-Pope offered a number of noteworthy tips for developing mental, emotional and spiritual skills and practices that help to foster resilience:
- Give yourself a break: Treat yourself as kindly as you would treat a friend who needs support. If you often berate yourself for perceived failures (e.g., not losing weight or not being a better parent), try taking a self-compassion break. Start by asking yourself: What do I need right now?
- Be Generous: Our bodies and minds benefit when we help others. Studies show that volunteering, donating money or sharing advice with friends can release the brain’s feel-good chemicals and activate its reward system. Volunteers had less stress hormones on days when they gave of themselves.
- Pay Attention: We are better able to manage negative thinking when we take a moment to notice and let go of negative thoughts. Watching for small wonders around us when we take an “awe” walk can amplify the mental health benefits of exercise.
- Give Yourself the Best Hours of the Day: What one or two-hour period in each day do you feel your best? Your most energetic? Your most productive? Try giving your best time each day to yourself.
- Make Fresh Starts: People are most inclined to make meaningful changes in their lives around “temporal landmarks”—points in time that we associate with new beginnings. (e.g., New Year’s Day, birthdays, start of spring, a new job).These are landmarks that create psychological opportunities for lasting change.
May your mindfulness practices grow, flower and nourish your life from moment to moment, and from day to day. Wishing you wellness of body, mind and spirit.