People frequently tell us they feel controlled by food, as if an outside force has taken over their body. The mind wants one thing, while the body is doing something else entirely—usually involving some sort of delectable dessert item.
We tell them that the answer to this problem begins with practicing the skill of mindfulness. Mindfulness creates an opportunity to observe themselves—and most importantly—make room for a mindful pause. Within this pause lies the ability to make a choice, rather than acting out of compulsion or habit. Eventually they move closer to mind, body, and spirit acting as one.
So they go home and give it a try. Sometimes they come back the next week and tell us that it didn’t really help change their behavior. If anything, it seems worse. Now, they are aware of difficult emotions, triggers, and defeating self-talk. They are painfully aware of self-sabotaging behavior. What went wrong?
Nothing is wrong. In fact, things are progressing as expected. Mindfulness is not about feeling blissed out and peaceful straightaway. And it does not fit into our cultural “take a pill” mentality. It is a continual process of self-discovery. This article highlights that when beginning the practice of mindfulness, sometimes things get worse before they get better. I’ve written about this phenomenon in this blog, and also in my book as well.
But fear not! Things will get better. I remember when I first started meditating at a Zen center many years ago. I was seeking relief from stress and anxiety. I didn’t get it— at first! In fact, it kind of got worse. All that sitting still only served to highlight how stressed out I was. But I stuck with it. I practiced every day whether I felt like it or not. I attended meditation class every week. I discussed my difficulties with my Zen teacher, and asked questions in class. And little by little, it got better. What really helped supercharge my practice was when I added a physical practice to my sitting meditation. I started Aikido, and the process of “moving meditation” really catapulted me to the positive changes that mindfulness brings.
This can happen for you if you commit to a regular mindfulness practice. There is no mystery to it. It is not esoteric. It is a simple byproduct of consistent effort. The flip side of this is also true: if you don’t practice regularly, you will not see improvement.
Another point the article makes—and we make also in our program—is that there are two ways to practice: formal and informal. Informal ways consist of taking some deep breaths throughout the day, doing an activity with more mindfulness, etc. Formal ways include adopting a regular yoga practice, going to a meditation class, doing tai chi, and so on. You will need to incorporate both eventually.
So if you have just begun to practice mindfulness, and you haven’t noticed the benefits you expected, don’t worry. Just keep it up. The most important thing is consistency. Over time, mindfulness will help you develop a sense of space between your impulses and your reactions. In that space, you can discover what drives your behaviors, and then truly choose how you want to act. There’s a reason why this tradition has been around for several thousand years: it works! But it is not a magic pill. It takes consistent practice. And we are here to answer any questions you have along the way.