Wellness and mindfulness: practical guidelines I have gleaned from Scripture

When most people think of wellness, they often think about health prevention, better nutrition, clarity of mind, increased energy, freedom from disease. Goop and other wellness practitioners offer products to enhance wellness as well as a framework for understanding how to care for our bodies and minds.

I grew up around family members who often sought wellness prevention instead of disease management approaches. As a Chinese American growing up, I drank ginseng and herbal soups to maintain health. I was taught that when I ate tendons and ligaments they would build up my body’s own connective tissue; cupping would reduce my po po’s (grandma’s) aching back, and acupuncture was more than de rigueur–it regulated menstruation cycles, and effectively addressed pain without heavy drugs.

Today, wellness practitioners abound. Spa experiences coupled with botanical skincare and herbal teas along with the latest healing practices–the best your money can buy–are marketed and sold.

This is all for the good, but there is more to wellness than fancy supplements and expensive experiences. Wellness as a philosophy assumes a mind-body connection that those of the spiritual persuasion already know. As a Christian who meditates and practices mindfulness, Scripture provides the tincture that produces healing. And, the Word is the infusion of health and wellness, both spiritually and cognitively.

How does the Word offer health and wellness, especially for Christians who are interested in this mind-body connection?

The Word is a grace-filled scripture that advocates moderation in all things, particularly in what we could consider vices. For instance, on drinking alcohol, the goal is not abstinence, but moderation. To be mindful of how much alcohol is consumed and to enjoy libations with the intent and purpose they serve, as part of an offering of harvest (Numbers 18:12), symbol of abundance and God’s blessing (Deut 7:13), as well as a celebratory experience (John 2:3). Excess drink and drunkenness always led to the worst of human depravity (Gen 9 & 19; Habakkuk 2:4-6; 15).

This is an easy one for me because of my Chinese genetics as I’m allergic to alcohol in general. However, I point to good friends and family members along with other cultures, who have a healthy approach to drinking alcohol for enjoying food and life, while mindfully checking in with themselves so they do not fall into the trap of excess.

For wellbeing, the commandment of keeping the Sabbath day holy (Ex 20:8) was to practice a period of rest and holiness. Keeping the Sabbath lends itself to the spiritual to move in our lives and others. Jesus moved and performed miracles on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12);  so we can expect the same if we are to be more Christ-like in our efforts in keeping the Sabbath. As we approach the Sabbath as a time of rest, we can find a restored soul and a practice of holiness in our lives that is often lacking.

A weekly Sabbath day, or a few hours even (if you find it difficult to set aside that time), can lead to greater integration of the spiritual in what may feel like a very secular week. For me, the Sabbath was a challenge I began through as a stressed-out college student, and have continued along with my husband, through job and family responsibilities,  and many other time-stressed challenges.  The Sabbath reminds me of my human limits and my dependence on God for not only time, but all things. The practice can be done, and the Sabbath allows me to find balance. I urge you to try it.

For health overall, nutrition and food choices that may be counter-cultural leads to wellness. Mindfully eating what is nourishing is a healthy choice that can lead to physical, mental, and emotional strength, even in the midst of stress. Daniel’s friends show us this principle of eating right when everyone around you seems to eat in way that is mindless (Daniel 1:14-16).

Some folks will want to choose vegetarianism, but that is not the point of the passage. You should choose a nutritional meal plan mindfully and intentionally. Even better if your choices go against our cultural norms of processed, packaged and convenient, which seem to satisfy the gods of our culture: convenience, hurry, and mindless waste.

These are only three of many guiding practices and principles that are sourced in the Word that mindfulness practitioners can find and apply to their lives. They aren’t the only ones, of course, and if none of these I’ve mentioned seem attractive to you or applicable to your life, there is no judgment here.

If you have other wellness practices, (again, going with the definition of disease prevention and wellbeing in life), then please share them by commenting below (appropriate, thoughtful and mindful responses only please).

 

 

 

Advertisements

My mindfulness “plan”

This blog post title is rather deceptive as the core of a mindfulness practice is the absence of making direct, linear goals when being mindful. True mindfulness is not about accomplishment or goal attainment. Rather, mindfulness practice is allowing the practice to take you to the spaces that you are unaware. As true in most things in life, the journey becomes more important than the end goal.

For instance, this summer I am challenged with large amounts of unstructured time. However, I have some real, hard and fast goals for myself this summer I need to prepare for my Fall class teaching schedule, I need to get some publications out, and I need to put a proposal together. In between, I have lots of plan to do some fun things with my 12 and 9 year old sons. We have some vacations planned, but I also have on my list: cooking with my sons, beach trips with friends, swimming, hiking/exploring, and celebrations with extended family.

I have tried to fit in my own wellness goals as well: continue mindfulness practice, vegetarian meals twice-a-week, visits to the doctor and dentist, assess nutritional goals, good skincare, some mild weight training, and yoga practice.

As a Christian mindfulness practitioner, I am aware of the competing theories of mindfulness: relax and let go, versus, let go and let God; do away with cravings versus living into what God may have me to do this summer; continue in the path towards enlightenment, versus, realize my human frailties as a sinner in need of a Savior (daily!)

What helps me settle into a summertime routine, where all my earthly and personal goals have the fighting chance to be accomplished, is to go into that quiet space where I can experience deep connectedness to God. God points me in the right direction, clarity of mind and purpose come in those silent moments of attention to Him, and noticing how my mind and body reacts to the Spirit’s call. Sometimes, His voice simply says, “you are good enough, just relax my child…let go”, it sometimes questions my motives, “are you doing all these things for my kingdom, or your futile one, my love?”, and, “stop striving, let me open those doors, assist you, trust in me for my yoke is easy and my burden light…”

Now, I have earthly responsibilities, don’t get me wrong, but mindfulness practice allows me to be more….well, just mindful about them. As I cook with my sons, I notice their little but growing hands–more mature in length and size than the last time we cooked together. I notice that my preparation for the Fall becomes about the students more than about my place in the classroom. I notice that I am shedding the selfish desires of these goals to a more outward focus.  The shift inside of my mind and Spirit is palpable.

Therefore, the obvious “plan” of mindfulness practice for me is to spend time in God’s gentle love and correction.  So my other plans this summer are open to discussion with Him–I give all plans up, I lay my burdens and my desires down at God’s feet and I sit in silence, in rest, and refreshment while on the journey. Tea&ToDo

Minding Stress Together (with mp3!)

Stress is bad for the heart and soul. For those of us who can’t seem to escape stress in our lives, we tend to choose three different ways to deal with stress: ignore it, push through it, or store it.

When we ignore stress, we ignore the healthy warning signals in our bodies. Those heart palpitations or kinks in our neck, that tightness in our chests and the rumblings of upset stomachs, together signal,”take care of me”, “time out! Relax! Rejuvenate!”, “pause! you’re going too fast, too strong”.

We also push through stress. We think that we, “just have to get over this one hump, and then relief will come. “If I just get through this project…” “Maybe if I just work really hard late tonight..” or, “I’m not sure this will end, but I don’t have a choice”.

We tend to store stress as well. In our bodies, like mentioned earlier, our muscles ache, we begin experiencing psychosomatic symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, heaviness in our chest, weight gain. During our yearly check-ups, we may find that those markers of health–blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels–together reflect the cumulative effects of stress in our lives.

Stress is something that is a natural part of life but it’s also important to recognize that we construct our own reality of what is stressful in our lives. Perhaps that reality is altogether off.

Leaning into God’s truth to assist us in truth-making by aligning our life goals to meaningful ones (to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves as well as our enemies) helps.  Inviting the power of His Spirit to assist us in addressing the objects of, or situations we are in, is often under-utilized. Seeking clarity in our relationship with Him by steeping in His presence–these are the tools of minding stress in our lives. We do it together with Him.

Stress comes and yes, stress can go. Those markers of our health tell us, remind us, urge us, to consider our limits. While it’s present, stress can help us realize that our whole system is in need of ways to deal. Realigning our thoughts, mindfully attending to our bodies, mind, spirit, become fruitful over time and with practice. Let’s tend to not let those three ways of dealing–ignore it, push through it, store it–be the actions we take. Let us, instead, deal with the objects and situations of our stress with intention, mindful of God’s presence as we seek realignment and as we seek understanding…together.

(I wanted to provide a practical element in this post to support you if you are considering, or are already making mindfulness a part of your journey.  The link here is a 30-minute module I have been working on, as part of my research on mindfulness framed in the Christian tradition (I do hope you may still find support in it even if you don’t identify as a Christian!). Please know that you will need to use Google Drive to open and then download the mp3 file in order to listen to it. Sorry about that! Tell me what you think about it if you try it and follow the instructions in the module and listen through the whole thing.)

The Mindful Working Mom

Each weekday has a set of challenges.

First, the busy mornings of rushing out the door requires that my kids and I are both dressed to face the world. Our bodies need to be fed with nutrient rich food (one of my continued commitments through this new year!) and our bags packed with appropriate tools. For mine: laptop, cellphone, good handcream, sunglasses. For the boys: books for in-class reading, pencils with lead and notebooks. The husband is lucky because he logs in, and instant work, voila…Like making a cup ‘o noodles–add hot water, eat up!

Second, after we have all gone our separate ways, emails are checked, social media is read for up-to-date national news and news of friends, of course. The mental checklist and to do’s are drafted either on paper (if I have a good pen and paper and a hot mug of tea beside me) or in my head. The day charges on–classes, student meetings, emails sent, pages written, laughter with colleagues, a meal…the afternoon comes on suddenly like that car that zooms past your blindspot when attempting a left turn.

In the afternoon I evaluate the day so far. What needs to be done before children need to be picked-up? Breathe in, connect with God and self to determine priorities here. I ask, “what are the last tasks, tweaks to the next week’s curriculum, ideas for the next day?” What are the corrections needed, plans that hold meaning ahead?” Mind clear, focus attuned, discernment hopefully reached…charge on, charge on, charge on.

Lastly, children are picked up, they are active on the playground burning off the energy that will allow them to focus on the homework ahead and the discipline needed for karate practice. Dinner is on, hubby is helping, eating together then soon the bedtimes and alone time with my life partner.

 

This is an ideal day, of course. But it’s also typical.  It’s hectic and busy, yes, but, it doesn’t have to feel this way. May I suggest…Breathe in. Ask for wisdom, read a meaningful passage, breathe out the worries of the day. Charge on…but WHY the charging on? For obvious reasons: the gift of life, the gratitude for another day together as a family, the health while I am still capable to accomplish these tasks, the opportunity for influence on younger folks who want to do good work for the kingdom.

 

DeskCupPic

For more reasons: the deep value of lifelong partnership, the smiles on the faces of those still-chubby faces, priorities that go beyond myself (I hope!) the limits of time. Breathe in, settle into quiet and rest.  Receive the feelings and experiences of being nourished and nurtured in mind-body-spirit. THEN, can I charge on, charge on charge on.

Making sense of living in the moment

Yesterday my boys started the school year again. It is the last first day of school at this particular one for my oldest. I get misty eyed when I think about how quickly he and his brother have grown up.

So, today I live in the moment. I feel sentimental about the days I gave birth to them; curious about what life will be like when they are all grown up and independent.

I re-read Rob Lowe’s excerpt from his book about his son leaving for college and it made me tear up quite a bit. He writes poignantly and straight from the heart.   I know those days are coming–my sons will leave the nest and venture into their lives. Though I have years until this happens, it is a reminder for me to savor the moments in our family’s day-to-day lives.

Choosing to live today’s moments mean I will stay mindful of the right now, right away, with right motives.

What I mean by this is that all we have is right now, and that’s a lot. They will come home and we will talk about the kids’ first week of school, we will move through the day preparing meals and spending time around the dinner table. These tiny moments of connection bind us together and I take snapshots in my mind so I can remember them–how little they are still in their seats, how they express themselves. Right now is the moment that I can breathe in.

Right away means that I don’t put off what is important to me and us as a family. Even though school has started we want to still check things off our summer bucket list. The list is a commitment to the kiddos that my hubby and I made to increase their life experiences and learning. Ensuring we make these plans right away holds us accountable when plans are so easily put off by competing responsibilities in life. So, we need to make room in our lives right away so we can expel our energies in the right direction.

Lastly, right motives are important in living in the moment. Childhood is fleeting, sure, but I know God has entrusted me with these two boys’ lives and I want their lives to be glorifying to Him, by the way they love and serve others. Aligning our moment-to-moment lives with right motives is an exercise of faith and the hope that we hold onto for our futures. Right motives allows us to regulate our family’s breath to the rhythms of life.

Green Tea

Green tea is known for its health benefits. An oncologist once told a client of mine to drink four cups of green tea as part of her post-chemo prescription for health.

A healthy lifestyle is one that we many of us strive toward.  We endeavor to eat less meat, choose to drink tea instead of sodas and promise to exercise regularly.  A mindful lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with such efforts as we recognize that the stuff we choose not to eat anymore are not as important to our happiness and wellbeing as we once thought.  As the scriptures say in Romans 12, for Christians, “we should offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”

Many of us have also tried to not just tackle our health but our living spaces. In fact, with the growing popularity of minimalism, many of us recognize that in order to have a more meaningful life, we must pare down materially.  That closet full of shirts we don’t like anymore? The gobs of time spent staring at smart phones? We want to purge ourselves and start anew.

Mindfulness can help us in our efforts but is not another add-on in our path towards a lifestyle of health but should be considered a holistic endeavor. The buddhist practitioners that I have met have said that every effort we make in mindfulness reverberates through the whole system–our bodies, to our loved ones and then to the world around us. They believe that our very thoughts are powerful enough to bring compassion peace, and ultimately, Nirvana, to the world.

As a Christian, I wonder what would happen if I was truly “transformed in the renewing of [my] mind”?  I have seen in little ways how mindfulness helps me to be more compassionate because God reminds me that He is a God of justice but also of great love, mercy and compassion.  My physical and material paring down and choosing a healthy lifestyle is simply an echo of the whole system that needs to be addressed. I can choose to drink tea instead of sodas (this part isn’t hard for me) but can I bring my thoughts more in alignment with compassion and mercy day-in and day-out? As I have shared before, the latter can be more difficult. The intention I have set for myself in my mindfulness practice is to have God help me be more compassionate, which is part of a healthier lifestyle for the mind.

teaandhand

With the mug of green tea in my hand, echoes of God reverberate throughout the whole system, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of God’s hand…Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19: 1-4)