Ashley Norwood, a wellness coach and mindfulness instructor, teaches the course “Mindfulness & Health Coaching Strategies for Weight Loss” at our Harvard Vanguard Kenmore location. To understand what mindfulness is and how it can help you with your weight loss goals, we asked Ashley some questions, and below are her answers. If this sounds like an approach that you’d like to try, information about signing up for the class is listed at the end. Best of luck to you in reaching your health goals in 2020!
Q: We hear and read so much about mindfulness these days. Can you give a working explanation of what mindfulness is?
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It means you’re right here, right now, on purpose, paying attention to this present moment. It’s very different from our usual mode of operation, where the mind is constantly wandering away and thinking about the past and the future.
The second ingredient in mindfulness is a little trickier to describe and to experience. It’s about coming to this present moment “without judgement.” You are open and curious about how things are right now because you realize you’ve never been in this particular moment before.
As you start a mindfulness meditation practice, it’s helpful to know that our human minds don’t take to this practice easily! Most people benefit from the camaraderie and support of learning and practicing in a group environment.
Q: Could you give some examples of how mindfulness works in day-to-day life?
I make a distinction between a formal meditation practice (for most people, this is when you use a recording to focus on a primary object: your breath, “touch points” where the body is making contact with an object, sounds, walking, etc.), and an informal mindfulness practice, in which you purposefully bring your attention to whatever you’re doing. You can use your senses to bring mindfulness to any daily activity like mindful showering or mindful driving.
To shower mindfully, you notice how the water feels against your skin and the smell of your soap or shampoo, you listen to the sound of the water, and you feel sensations occurring in your body like your muscles softening and relaxing. When your mind jumps into the future and anticipates the coming day or gets lost in a story, bring your attention back to your body standing in the shower. It’s a fun example because from a sensory perspective, it’s usually quite pleasant!
For mindful driving, you purposely feel your body making contact with the seat of the car (contact made by the thighs, buttocks, back), the steering wheel underneath your hands, the feel of your foot pressing down on the pedal. You can listen to the sound of the traffic (make sure the radio is turned off) and notice what you are seeing (the other cars, the sky, trees, etc.). When the mind wanders away – which it will! – it’s not a problem, just choose to come back to the moment through your senses. It’s actually a very safe way to drive.
Q: Can you explain how mindfulness impacts eating and how it can help with weight loss?
Most of us practice eating mindlessly every day. This means we eat while we’re doing something else, like looking at our phone, watching TV, reading the news, or answering email and text messages. The result is that we don’t actually taste and experience what we’re eating, and we’re left feeling uncomfortably full and unsatisfied. Cultivating the opposite practice – eating mindfully – can make a huge difference in what and how much we choose to eat. When you eat mindfully you purposefully put everything and everyone else aside and truly focus on your food. You look at the color and texture, smell the aromas. You take one bite at a time, putting the food or the utensil down in between bites so you can keep your full attention on the bite in your mouth. You ask yourself: how does it taste? Is it sweet, tangy, creamy, savory, or crunchy? Can you hear yourself chewing? Do you feel the impulse to swallow when it arises?
Your mind is going to tell you, “I don’t have time for this!” so tap into your curiosity and experiment with doing it just once while timing yourself. Believe it or not, eating a mindful snack or meal only takes about 5-12 minutes, and you will be surprised by how much it changes your experience of eating, and how much less you need to feel satiated.
Q: Many people have tried to lose weight many, many time in their lives – how is this approach different from going on another diet?
Humans have evolved to be problem solvers, which has clearly worked out for our species in a wide variety of ways. However, this evolutionary impulse to “fix ourselves” can be counterproductive – it reinforces an aggressive, inner dialogue that actually makes changing our behavior very difficult. Many people believe that they can change if they just mentally beat themselves up enough about something – but we now know that lasting behavior change comes from bringing a kind, compassionate awareness to the present moment over and over again. Only then can we see clearly what we are doing and why – and choose to do things differently.
Q: How can I learn more or sign up for the course?
The course begins on Monday evening, March 2, 2020. Meeting weekly (with a few skipped weeks for holidays) for 7 sessions, the program includes guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices, group dialogue and weekly home assignments. The classes are held at our Harvard Vanguard Kenmore practice in Boston, located at 133 Brookline Avenue. Please call Tracey Hubbard-Fox at (617) 421-5805, and mention your interest in the Mindfulness/Weight Loss course. She can confirm dates, times and cost as well as register you. If you have any questions about the course, please contact Ashley Norwood at (617) 816-1770 or firstname.lastname@example.org.