On the Road to Health, Let Mindfulness Be Your Guide

What are you doing at exactly this moment? What is going on with your body? What is happening with your breath?

“Mindfulness” has become somewhat of a buzz word in popular culture, but the practice of cultivating present-moment awareness plays a significant role in health. By being present – and present with intention – you are able to focus on your breath, decrease your levels of cortisol and other stress hormones and restore a sense of balance to your body.

As an internist, I see patients with a variety of ailments and issues, and while there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for everything, mindfulness helps to create the kind of equilibrium that allows us to overcome anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that affect our overall physical health.

To cultivate mindfulness in my patients, I start with myself. I let them know that I am giving them 100 percent of my attention. I’m actively listening, and not mentally scrolling through my to-do list or thinking about the patient in the next room.

This is important, I tell patients, because the present moment is what we have now. It’s a gift. Anxiety and depression pull your thoughts into the dark past or the uncertain future and squanders the gift of the present.

Starting with that shared moment, I encourage patients to foster mindfulness through whatever method works for them – yoga, painting, running – whatever makes their hearts sing. Studies have found that cultivating mindfulness helps people improve their concentration, boost their immune system, decrease anxiety and promote overall health.

This is easier said than done. During my consultation with patients, I sometimes find that it takes them awhile to focus and pay attention. I create a mental note of that and try to bring them to the present, with questions like, “Do you agree? Do you have a question?”

When we are both focused and present, we can create a partnership that will help lead them to better health.

Breath work, meditation, yoga, these things help us alter our responses to life’s stressors. By practicing mindfulness, you find that rather than allow yourself to react to each trigger, you respond from a place of calm.

This calm greatly affects our health, as study after study finds that the ways our bodies respond to stress affects everything from catching the common cold to the spread of cancer. The road to health can seem long, but it begins in this moment, with this breath.