Healthy Mindset: What, Why and How to Develop Yours

Healthy Mindset: What, Why and How to Develop Yours

My Healthy Mindset Wake-up

I was recently reading my weekly horoscope (yep, I find it helpful), which said to the effect: out with the old, in with the new.

It’s been a challenging few years, and I know I haven’t had the healthiest mindset. So I was ready for ‘out with the old’; a list sprung to mind: isolation, too much TV, too little movement and a heavier starchier diet than I know serves me. 

But what, I wondered, was the new? What is the affirmative vision for myself, my life and my health now? I was pretty close to stumped. This, my friends, can be an indicator of the need for an overhaul.

Heading into my 60’s, I’m changing for the better and….the different. Metabolic issues are knocking, mental health is usually good but…I need more tenderness of care, and to be more gentle with myself.

Where to begin?

My Ayurvedic brothers and sisters say it all begins in the mind. I’ve been skipping the mindset exercise in every training I’ve taken these past couple of years…maybe it’s…

 

Mindset. I want a healthier mindset. 

Mindset & Mental Health

Health is a state of body and of mind (and spirit, energy and more). Mental health is much more than not having a condition like depression or anxiety. A healthy mindset is about being and feeling empowered in life, feeling and appreciating your full range of emotions, having the tools and the skill to manage stress well, and being able to deal with everyday ups and downs.

What is a Healthy Mindset?

A healthy mindset is having a flexible, realistic yet optimistic approach to life. It encompasses things like high self-esteem and self-approval or acceptance, and a willingness to learn from what unfolds in life – even your difficult and uncomfortable experiences. The essential ingredient of your healthy mindset is your thoughts. If you can learn and grow from your own thoughts, and change them, rather than being overly reactive and controlled by unhelpful thoughts, you have yourself a healthy mindset.

Cultivating a healthy mindset helps you to cope with stress and life’s challenges more effectively, so it supports helpful habits. A healthy mindset isn’t a destination or an achieved fixed-state of being. It is a journey; a practice. It is an evolving and ever-changing process you actively work at. It takes time and attention to recognize your areas of focus to develop a healthier mindset, and the process is imperfect, but if you are interested in leading an examined life, it’s very worth it. With time and imperfect effort, you can become a friend to yourself or even feel abiding self-love.

It happens – a lot!

Mindfulness & Healthy Mindset

Mindfulness is one approach (the one I use in my practice) to a healthy mindset. It is a practice that can help you see things as they are, not as you imagine them to be, or as you fear they might become. It’s about being fully present and aware of the moment, moment by moment, without judgment. A person with a healthy, or growth mindset believes their own characteristics like intelligence are not fixed but can change with attention and practice.

The first step towards developing a growth mindset is becoming aware of your current beliefs. Once you become aware of your thoughts and underlying beliefs, you can work on changing thoughts and characteristics of yourself that are not so helpful.

Why Having a Healthy Mindset Matters

A healthy mindset has been shown to improve health including making healthy foods more appealing. It can help you to feel more in control and less stressed in daily life. When you feel able to have more in control (or as though you are participating in what the heck is happening), it’s easier to be wise about solutions to problems (rather than waiting and hoping for someone else to step in, or a miracle). We all know that miracles happen all the time, but creating your own is empowering, and just might make miracles more likely.

A growth mindset can help you to see the best in others, have more realistic expectations of yourself, and see setbacks and difficulties as opportunities to grow and learn. When you have realistic expectations of yourself, you are less likely to become stressed or anxious when you make mistakes or don’t meet your own impossibly high standards. This in turn makes you more likely to be kinder to yourself and help you avoid self-sabotage or blaming others for your problems.

Sounds easy, right? Well, not so much. It’s a practice. So, when you begin, you may not be very good at it. Keep practicing. You’ll get better at it.

We’re all imperfect beings. We all make mistakes – sometimes doozies. Learning from our mistakes while understanding that making mistakes is a natural part of life is part of having a healthy mindset.

 

Annie KAy mindful transformation

What the Yogis Say: Compassion & Witness

Yoga and Ayurveda have a lot to say about mindset. Yoga philosophy and psychology focus on your inner landscape, so naturally address mindset. Recent science suggests that a yoga mindset is a very healthy mindset in today’s world. This quote by Swami Kripalu is a beautiful summary of a yoga mindset.

“The highest spiritual practice,” said Swami Kripalu, “is self-observation without judgement.”

Yoga & Compassion 

Mindfulness, which is paying attention moment by moment, can help you to relax and enjoy what’s happening right now. Taking the bit of extra time that mindfulness requires helps you take kinder, more thoughtful, less reactive action. It slows you down!

When you slow down, relax and tune into what is happening around you, it’s easy to appreciate smells, colors, sounds, tastes and textures of the world around you. You’ll likely enjoy the experience more than if you rush through it, be it having a meal or going through your usual morning routine.

Two guiding principles drawn from the Yoga Sutras, a foundational philosophical text of yoga, are non-violence (Ahimsa, in the ancient language of Sanskrit) and contentment (Santosa). The practice of non-violence or compassion is central to a yogic lifestyle. So, the practitioner pays attention to their own thoughts and choices, and aims to become more and more compassionate with themselves and others over time. Contentment is another tenet of yoga practice – again, not a destination or something you finally achieve, but an ongoing practice happening right now. You can cultivate contentment now. It’s a practice. You get better at it.

Yoga & Witness Consciousness

Do you find it hard to pause in the moment – when you get triggered – before responding impulsively?

Along with compassion, being able to ‘step back’ or take a pause – especially when you get poked or irritated – is called ‘accessing the witness’. When you mentally step back, pause and consider the situation from a broader, less judgemental perspective  – you actually change your consciousness. You access witness consciousness.

As you practice non-judgemental awareness, it gets easier to understand that you are doing the best you can with imperfect information, and that much of what you do is rational – maybe even admirable. Non-judgemental awareness also allows you to experiment with a different response than your emotional self might. Being mindful can help you recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and in need of support.

Setting Intention

With regard to mindset, intention is getting clear on what you are seeking. I often ask people what they are looking to cultivate in life from the habit we’re experimenting with…be it eating well or moving more or practicing healthful habits. Intention speaks to the why – the personal why that motivates your behavior.

Here are a couple of my past writings on setting your intention, and preparing to set intention by letting go of what no longer works.

Here, also, is a meditation practice that can be very helpful in shifting your mindset. It’s called loving-kindness (metta) meditation. Enjoy.

Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditation 

Loving Kindness (Metta) meditation is a tool that can help you, over time, adopt a healthy mindset toward yourself and others. 

In loving kindness meditation, we wish ourselves well, several times until we feel it. Then, we expand our bubble of loving kindness to someone we love who could use it – a sick relative, a struggling friend. You can continue to expand, to your community, country, world itself, then back to you. Here is an easy version of a loving kindness meditation, from my friend and colleague, Stephen Cope (Kavi). 

May I be happy,

May I be healthy 

and May I stand in the light of my own true self.

You might begin this meditation for 5 minutes daily, and slowly increase it to at least 10 minutes most days. Twenty is even better!

Here is an episode of Quickeners, a podcast I host, on Metta Meditation. 

Enjoy. 

Manifestation: Breath, Believe, Receive

Setting your intention, then adopting an experimental mindset of noticing and adjusting is a mindful approach to making change easier.  Breathing and relaxation exercises, meditation, and visualization can all help keep you in the flow of helpful shifts. These practices can also help to keep you grounded in the present moment.

In this process, it’s important to think in terms of learning when things don’t go as planned. Rather than give up, you compassionately examine what happened, and think about how to overcome the obstacle that made the practice too hard to do. There is not failure, just lessons.

Focused attention and helpful affirmations can also support mindset. Imagining a vision of what your future might look like is a great way to keep you motivated. When you feel discouraged or frustrated by setbacks along the way, access your witness consciousness and remind yourself that you’re a human in an imperfect world that is progressing. Whatever you need to do – a glass of water, or saying to yourself “that happened” – to clear and get back to practice. If you can do that, I can guarantee you transformation.

It’s All Happening

Mindfulness helps you enjoy your unique journey, rather than constantly worrying about your destination. It can help you to be less attached to outcomes, no matter how important they are to you. It can help you to let go of expectations, and see things more as they are, rather than as you imagine them to be or as you fear they might become.

Most importantly, mindfulness meditation helps you to appreciate the moment you are in, and the one unique wacky painful beautiful life you have. It can help you to be more fully present in your everyday life and for those you love. It’s a tool to help let go of the past and of worries about the future. It can help you to see the beauty and magic in the world around you, and realize that events and experiences are happening in such a way as to benefit your spiritual progress, even if it doesn’t seem so in this moment.

Namaste. Keep going.

What is a healthy mindset for you? 

What helps you notice and shift, reset or keep a healthful mindset? 

We want to know – send us a comment! 

Annie 

 

 

Mindful Eating: The Art & Science of Eating Better

Mindful Eating: The Art & Science of Eating Better

Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a mindfulness meditation practice that has the ability to transform your relationship with food and eating. This simple (though not always easy) practice has done nothing less than revolutionize nutrition therapy, when combined with evidence-based steps that shift lifestyle toward health.

So, What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a meditation practice wherein you:

  1. Adopt a meditative mindset. We humans have the capacity to change our consciousness from our everyday distracted state to a calm, clear relaxed and open one. With this change, you focus attention inward and relax.
  2. Pay attention to what is happening moment by moment. Mindfulness is meditation while…(whatever you are doing). So, you get curious about whatever you are doing – be it walking or eating. Slowing the process down so that you can get fascinated enough that you lose yourself – you lose track of time – is mindful meditative absorption.
  3. There is a particular attitude of mindfulness called non-judgmental awareness. As you practice, you become aware of judgements like comparisons (this food is heathy therefore good, that food is less healthy, therefore not so good, for example). In mindfulness, you aim for a direct, sensory relationship with what you are eating.

Now, Apply it to Eating

In eating meditation, you slow down, breathe and relax, and enjoy your food. Just how might that unfold?
Here’s are a few steps to get you going:

  • Make an intention to meditate while eating. Clear distractions (like TV, phones, internet).
  • Eat with all five senses. Enjoy the beauty of your plate and each food item on it. Take in the aroma.
  • Notice what thoughts and emotions come up for you, as you practice. Breathe, relax and resist the temptation to ‘push away’ thoughts. Just note – there’s a thought. Feel it, honor it, release it.
  • Chew and savor. Can you chew each bite 10 times? 30?

Here is my Kripalu video on Mindful Eating.

Getting Started

Do you need to eat like this evermore? Nope. Think of it as a practice – something you do regularly, and build like you might build a muscle.
When I teach mindful eating at Kripalu, I encourage people to begin where they are, so if you don’t currently do this practice, and you take a few mindful bites each day, terrific.
If you find that you are not practicing, chunk it down until it is ridiculously easy. So, can you take one mindful bite each day? How about one mindful bite on your day off? One mindful breath? If you don’t have the 10 seconds it takes to take one mindful breath, well…you are indeed a busy person, and there’s hope for you yet! Try try again.

What Does the Science Say?

When I wrote my first book, Every Bite Is Divine, there really wasn’t much research explaining the mechanisms by which mindfulness eating meditation or yoga, does what they do. We just knew it worked. Times have changed! Now, places like Harvard are summarizing the science of why mindful eating can be helpful for weight management. Cecilia Clementi of The Center for Mindful Eating compiled a comprehensive list of references on mindful eating last year. Impressive!

If You Liked This…Check out:

Yoga’s East-West Moderation
Let’s Get Coherent

What Has Mindful Eating Done for You?

We want to know! What keep you practicing? Share your tips and reports!

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com
We are in the era of the nutritionist. There is so much confusion around food and nutrition, and so much wacky advice flying around. This while Americans are just not able to make it to the basics of healthful eating. Nutrition-related chronic diseases continue to be the primary health issues, and each of us has our own variation of health and disease.
Because we are in a time when so much that sounds like nutrition is actually marketing and bluster, and so many who call themselves experts are so far from it, confusion reigns. Enter RDNs (Registered Dietitian Nutritionists) and MNT (Medical Nutrition Therapy). If you know me, you know that I am a mind-body therapist – I use things like meditation and gentle yoga practice as tools to help us cultivate the best of ourselves, and soothe us as we gather our courage and strength to sing our song, to sing our note.

What is MNT?

There is a large body of evidence that tells us how to manage a range of health and medical conditions with food and nutrition. MNT, or medical nutrition therapy, uses that evidence and through a qualified therapist, translates that evidence into healing. While there is a range of nutritionists operating today, with various levels of education and experience, and I honestly believe there is room for everyone, I am partial to those who have a 4-year science degree and access to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Knowledge Center for working with people with a medical condition. I am biased for sure, being one who sweated through all that nutritional biochemistry and worked in an ICU (intensive care unit of a hospital) writing TPN (total parenteral nutrition) orders to keep people alive until they could eat. Then I taught at Kripalu for nearly a decade, watching how mind-body used skillfully helped people with the will and knowledge transform. The combination of clinical skills and experiential practice are, in my opinion, the sweet spot when it comes to healing nutrition-related issues.

What conditions are we talking about?

There are guidelines for a range of medical conditions. Those I am well-versed in include:

  • Weight gain – from adolescents to adults, and family-based, for any reason
  • Eating Disorders, emotional eating and disordered eating
  • Unexpected weight loss due to cancer, HIV/AIDS or other chronic condition
  • Pre-diabetes and diabetes
  • Cancer – prevention, management and prevention of recurrence
  • Heart Disease – prevention, management
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Digestive approaches to auto-immune conditions (Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and others)
  • Digestive distress due to:
    • Irritable Bowel
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Colitis
    • Constipation
    • Reflux/Heartburn
    • Food Intolerance (lactose-intolerance, gluten, and others), and Allergies

I use an individualized approach. That includes an initial assessment of nutrition-related symptoms and medical history, review of nutrition-related labs and reports, and development of a custom way of eating that you enjoy and that adheres to evidence-based practice.
We then co-create a plan to get there – your way. There is no such thing as failure, no such thing as relapse in this world – but there is learning, through loving self-compassion, how to navigate your life in its fullness. It’s a dance of mindful skillful effort, and surrender (that’s yoga!).

Within that list, do you specialize?

While I can help address any of these conditions, and they all have relating threads, I particularly like to work with weight, women in midlife, and digestive issues. I have also had a personal experience with cancer, so helping people with that interests me.

How much does it cost?

Depends. I am a licensed nutritionist in the state of Massachusetts. If you have a medical condition and live in the great state of Massachusetts, or another state that does not have state licensure, it is worth it to give your insurance company a call to see if our work together can be reimbursed. For this, you will likely need a referral from your primary care doctor.
If you are not insured, in another state with licensure or your insurance doesn’t cover, then you are what clinicians call private pay. It’s likely that our work together could be included in your health spending account if you have one.
Bottom line, if you value your energy level and lifestyle, it’s worth it to have a skilled coach to help you move forward.
My rates are $150/hr, and most people I work with do an initial assessment, then a half-hour twice monthly for 2 months, then monthly for 4 months.

Tell me about telehealth

I’ve partnered with a practice-management group called Healthie. They provide an interface for us to work through, including journaling, billing and video conferencing. So, we can meet face to face in the comfort of your own home! I think telehealth is part of the future of medicine, and I am excited to be part of it.
Ready to make the change? Let’s do it – Make an appointment now .
Questions? I’m all ears.
Be well,
Annie
What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com

Pinterest

Meditation improves gene expression

This year there are a smattering of studies suggesting that meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices improve gene expression. Gene expression relates not only to family traits like hair color, but to the smooth operation of every cell and tissue in your body for the rest of your life.

Gene expression and epigenetics

Epigenetics is the big news in genetics that no one seems to be talking about. Me and my colleagues at Kripalu, however, are very excited. The concept is that we each have an internal environment, and we have much more control over that internal “soup” in which our genes unfold that we’d thought, is good news for those of us in the yoga lifestyle world. Everything you do in life – the food you choose (and choose not to) eat, the way you work relationships, how you feel about yourself and everything around you – influences your internal environment. Epigenetics is the environment – the internal environment – you create through lifestyle.
There’s a shamanic teaching that you become the result of all the vibration you surround yourself with. So, love that car. Love that apartment, and really love all the foibles of your spouse. Life (and your health) will be better for it. This ancient teaching sounds modern and true in the age of epigenetics.
These are early, small studies but are fascinating enough to point the way for larger trials.  There is geek drama here. In one study, in the journal Psychoneruoendocrinology, a group of 19 people with a regular ongoing meditation practice were tested before and after a day of intensive mindfulness meditation practice. A control group of 21 people who did not meditate were tested before and after a day of leisure activities. At the beginning of the study, people in each group had similar test results for genetic markers.  After the intervention the meditation group had  significantly improved levels of  epigenetic regulatory enzymes, lower expression of pro-inflammatory and other chronic disease promoting genetic markers.
After one day.

The take home

Everything that you do matters. You create much of who you are by what you do and how you feel.  Eating a whole-foods plant-based diet, learning how to deal with the ever-increasing levels of stress in our worlds, and doing what you can to enjoy your life matters. There are a growing number of quality resources to help you – find an author or teacher of yoga, meditation or mindfulness that resonates with you, and practice.
Here are just a few:

  • Kripalu is filled with wonderful teachers, many of whom now have CD practices and books available in addition to offering workshops.
  • I love Sally Kempton. She has been practicing and teaching for decades, and has a rare combination of wisdom, kindness and clarity. She’s in the zone.
  • Then there’s me. My book, Every Bite is Divine uses yoga and mindfulness in combination with nutrition awareness to help find peace in the war on weight.
    • Yoga and Diabetes: Your Guide to a Safe and Effective Practice, my second book, with co-author Lisa Nelson, MD comes out this summer. More on that later.
    • I put time and energy into my almost-montly newsletter that aims to inspire and guide a mindful and botanical integrative whole-foods lifestyle. Yoga, Botanicals, Nutritional Science, Fun and Creativity. That’s me. Check out the newsletter here.
    • You might also enjoy:
    • Begin a yoga practice: tips for a happy introduction.
16 Ways to love your body

16 Ways to love your body

… And escape the self-defeating diet-binge cycle for good 

  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude: Remind yourself of the people and things that make you feel grateful.
  2. Develop your compassion: Try to be kind to yourself and others.
  3. Get outraged to get motivated: check out www.aboutface.org to see just how soul-destroying advertising can be.
  4. Reward yourself: Develop a list of non-food rewards and honor yourself liberally.
  5. Empower yourself: Remember each of us is responsible for the life experience we create.
  6. Celebrate you body right now: What is beautiful about it? What is your best feature? Let how you feel about your best feature inform the areas you don’t feel so good about.
  7. Trust yourself: You know who you are and what to do to let your truest self shine.
  8. Be a flexible gatekeeper: can you eat and care for yourself in a loving way that allows for everyday health and occasional healthy splurges?
  9. Cultivate positive thoughts: when you notice a judging or negative thought, can you turn it around and make it a positive one?
  10. Nurture yourself: What can you feed your body and your soul and your spirit to let it grow.
  11. Relax: Take one-minute or even a five-breath pause though the day to center yourself and release tension.
  12. Nice n’easy: Make small easy changes, and over time you’ll see big results.
  13. Be yourself: Avoid adopting habits that you just don’t like to do – you can find enough things you enjoy to make the difference
  14. Connect: Cultivate positive relationships with family and friends.
  15. Celebrate your uniqueness: There has never been another being just like you, and there never will be again.
  16. Develop your strengths: what do you feel passionate about? How can you bring more of it into your life?