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Rātū / Tuesday: Wairua 

Rediscover everyday wonder – Whāia ngā mīharotanga o ia rā

Wairua is about taking notice and appreciating the beauty around us. It’s about rediscovering things that make us feel awe, hope, strength, unity, and connection. For some, wairua is faith or a higher power. Sometimes our wairua isn’t strong and we encourage you to think about what wairua means to you and ways to strengthen it. When your wairua is strong, it’s easier to feel good, cope with challenges, and build strong whānau relationships.

Why is taha wairua an important way to wellbeing?

Feeling comfortable in your identity, values and beliefs helps you feel secure in who you are and what you stand for. When you are content with yourself it is easier to cope with challenges, build strong whānau relationships and discover the things that uplift you.

  • Identify someone or something that has helped you through the last six months and find a way to express appreciation.
  • Ask your team to share a song that makes them feel good to create a playlist that uplifts and inspires! Share a link so you can listen through headphones.
  • Go for a walk in nature and take notice of your surroundings – the birds singing, leaves rustling and clouds moving.
  • Sing a waiata/song that makes you feel good.
  • Set some goals and think about the things you are proud of, challenges you’ve overcome, people who are important to you and what you hope to achieve in the future.

How do you take notice and rediscover everyday things around you? 

What is Mindful Wellbeing?

It can sound a little bit abstract, but mindful wellbeing the key to living a healthy holistic lifestyle that is both enjoyable and sustainable.  Mindful wellbeing isn’t the “what” to do, it’s “how” to do it.  It’s embracing calmness, balance and mindfulness to bring you energy and happiness.  Applying mindful wellbeing to key aspects of your life can help to improve your mental health, your relationships, your relationship to time, your career, your relationship with food and whatever practices of spirituality you enjoy.

I like to think of mindful wellbeing as the practices, habits, thoughts and behaviours you use to help you get through your daily life.  These things are highly personal, however, at their core is the same principle; you are intentionally and actively seeking to lower your body’s response to stress.

The number one thing people need to remember is that the body can’t differentiate between different stressors.  Whether it’s nutritional stress, chemical stress from our environment, financial stress, emotional stress, physiological stress or psychological stress our bodies can’t tell the difference!

This is important to note because stress isn’t just the result of negative actions or behaviours such as smoking or eating a poor diet.  Sometimes it’s the result of our positive behaviours if we simply do not have the physical or mental time and resources to make these changes for our health.

It is important to start making changes to include the healthy pillars we’ve talked about in previous weeks; the benefits of exercise, clean eating, living a low-tox life, the importance of hydration, getting essential vitamins and nutrients into your diet and eating right for you.

Incorporating these aspects will give you more hormonal resources to deal with this stress.  But, and this is vital, changing everything at once can cause you worry, anxiety or isn’t enjoyable and is also harmful in the long term.

So be sure to be gentle on yourself, take small, manageable steps for your health and wellbeing and check in to ensure you're enjoying the process.

So how can mindful wellbeing help?

Another important premise about the mind is, even though I’m a clinical nutritionist and I believe the body - with the right inputs - can do incredible things, the mind controls the system. 

Whatever is lighting up in the brain the hypothalamus then monitors what’s lighting up and tells the pituitary gland what hormones it needs to produce for the next three seconds.

So, whatever you’re thinking about directly affects the physiology of your system.  Even if you’re doing the right things - but you don’t enjoy it, or you’re doing it with a begrudging attitude - your body will respond with stress hormones.  It’s for this reason you can’t white knuckle your way through a strict diet forever.

"...whatever you’re thinking about directly affects the physiology of your system."

Mindful wellbeing is about acknowledging how important your mental well being is, and finding strategies and practices to help you make positive changes from a place of self-respect and self-love instead of from a place of “needing” to, or eating greens just because you know you should.

Mindful wellbeing and your mental health

Because we know our thoughts and perceptions drive the hormones the pituitary gland releases for survival, actively practicing mindfulness strategies to calm our thoughts is critical for how we feel. 

One of the key problems we see when trying to make improvements to our diet and lifestyle is in our motivations for change.  Often it can feel like we “have” to do something instead of it being something we “want” to change in our lives.  This leads us to feel deprived, stressed and resentful of any lifestyle changes we’ve made no matter how positive they are. 

It’s possible to respect and love where you are on your journey while wanting to make changes for the better.

Mindful wellbeing and your relationships

How do you feel after a fight or confrontation with a loved one?  Anxious?  On edge?  In theory, these alterations are infrequent and are a necessary part of living in a community.  They act as checks and balances as we navigate different opinions and values. 

However, in the modern world sometimes these exchanges aren’t infrequent. In some cases they’re daily and it can affect our whole mental well being.

If you have constant sources of conflict in your life it's important to be conscious of this and start to evaluate your relationships.  Choosing to spend the majority of your time with people who uplift you while making you feel refreshed and energised is a fantastic place to start.

Be conscious of how you feel after an interaction with someone.  Are you uptight, sad, angry, frustrated or unfulfilled?  Or are you happy, upbeat, energised, fulfilled, content or joyous?  Seek out people that provide you with the latter!

Mindful wellbeing and your spirituality

Sometimes when working with clients there isn’t a lot you can say or do to reduce the stress they feel.  Sometimes they have lost a child, can’t conceive a baby, have recently divorced or are struggling through unimaginable hardship.

In these situations I find it incredibly important to have an empowering spiritual model so you can release those stressors onto your spiritual beliefs or practices to remove the physiological stress from the individual themselves. 

This doesn’t have to be a religious belief, or belief in a higher power.  It can simply be knowing that when you feel overwhelmed or overcome you have a practice or a place you like to go to relieve that stress. 

For some people, it’s yoga or meditation.  For others, it’s walking in nature.

In Japan studies have demonstrated that exposure to nature positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system.  In addition, the level of the hormone serum adiponectin is also increased.

Every study conducted so far has demonstrated reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness amongst the subjects who have participated.  In Japan there are now 48 accredited Shinrin Yoku - or nature therapy - forests.

Mindful wellbeing and your relationship to time

Time is an invaluable resource.  It gives us space in which to do the things that truly matter to us.

However in the modern world we spend a lot of it doing things we don’t want to do.  Part of this is life; we have to take the rubbish out - it’s part of being an adult - but some things we can cut from our life to free up the mental space and literal time to include more things we love doing. 

More is not more.  You can never be productive (or arguably, successful) if you take on too many commitments.  You simply won’t be able to get anything done.  At least not well, or on time.

But demands on our time confront us every-day, all-day.  We don’t switch off communication channels so invites, jobs, contacts and requests filter through our phones, social media and email. 

One of the best strategies we have for creating more downtime is to switch off technology two hours before bed every night.  It creates space for you to reconnect with your partner, take a bath, read a book or process your thoughts from your day.

We will never find time if we don’t make it ourselves.  Carve out small pockets in your day to prioritise what’s important to you.  Maybe you leave your phone in the car during school pick up so you can concentrate on your child?  Maybe you allocate one day a week as a day solely to do what you want to do? 

The last point to remember is you have the power to reframe your language around what is currently taking your time.  How you think, matters.  Saying “I’m busy and I have no time” will create a rushed and anxious state in your brain.  Acknowledging that you feel overwhelmed, while actively seeking strategies to make time for yourself is actually doing something about it.

Mindful wellbeing and your career

This point directly relates to the point about your relationship to time.  We need to work to generate financial security for the things we need to survive and the things we enjoy.  That doesn’t mean we will always feel satisfied or happy with the work we are doing. 

I love my job.  I find it incredibly rewarding.  However, that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes find it a challenge.  Or that I don’t enjoy my breaks away from work. 

Again it’s about expectations.  How you think about, and talk about, your career affects your mood and the time you spend at work.  You can’t change your boss or the work you’re doing in the short term but you can make small changes to improve your experience while at work.

Try and connect with a colleague with similar interests.  Start a social sports team or meet up for a coffee on your work break.  The interaction will help break up your day.  We have a daily meeting with our whole clinical team to talk through the day ahead.  It helps us bounce ideas off each other if we are unsure about something.  It also helps to get different ideas and perspectives if we have a client with a particular health concern.

Actually take your lunch break. Move yourself from your working space.  Go for a walk outside and take half an hour to recharge.

Find ways to liven up your office space.  Buy a plant, keep some nice teas in your desk for a quick pick me up.

The most obvious solution is to find a career or job that truly excites you.  This isn’t something that can be undertaken quickly.  You might not know what it is you really want to do and responsibilities or finances may require you to stay in your current situation even if you do know.  However, taking small steps towards your goal overtime is still a great idea.

Mindful wellbeing and your relationship with food

There is nothing inherently wrong with having the occasional indulgence, provided it is occasional, doesn’t trigger disordered patterns around eating and is well tolerated by you.

However, often our ‘treats’ or ‘indulgences’ aren’t all that enjoyable or an experience to savour.  How often do we eat something and then feel immediately guilty?  How often are we eating past being full?  How often are we eating just because it’s time or because we can?  How often do we sit there lamenting our choices and promising that the clean eating will start tomorrow? 

Our food choices are important, we can’t deny this.  What we eat changes our physiology at a cellular level.  But our food choices are arguably less important than how we are eating.

One of my favourite quotes is from a sensational blog on groundorganics.com:

“Food is a beautiful thing, and if you eat it then you certainly won’t be hungry.  But don’t ever fall in the trap of thinking that it will save you from anything.  If you want health and happiness, that’s an inside job. Just like your mind shapes your reality, it also shapes the way food is assimilated into the body.”

Taking time to eat away from the distractions of technology, work or in traffic in the car is critical for creating an enjoyable culinary experience to ingest those nutrients.  Slow down, chew each mouthful and when you do have a “sometimes food” portion it out onto a plate, sit down and enjoy it slowly and then move on without guilt.

Take the challenge

As you can see, there are many small changes you can make to incorporate mindful wellbeing.  For this challenge we want you to choose one area of your life from the list above and include one new practice or strategy to improve your physical or emotional response to stress.

Maybe you go for a walk on your lunch break.  Maybe you commit to eating at the table without technology.  Or maybe you could switch off your technology two hours before bed. 

Whatever it is know that every small change you make adds up.

 Ben Warren, Clinical Nutritionist and Director at BePure.