Advance with MUSC Health

How to Practice Mindfulness

Advance With MUSC Health
November 01, 2022
Three people meditating

Featuring: Alyssa Rheingold, PhD

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and sleep and alleviate some symptoms of depression. Experts say it can also help lower blood pressure and reduce headaches, chronic pain, and GI issues. Mindfulness is also linked to improved outcomes in treating addiction.

But what is mindfulness, exactly? 

What is Mindfulness?

“People have misconceptions about what it is and what it’s not,” says Alyssa Rheingold, licensed clinical psychologist and director of the new Mindfulness Center at the MUSC Health & Wellness Institute.

“Mindfulness is the practice of learning to be present in any given moment without judgment. It’s accepting the moment. Because so often, we’re focused on the future, planning what’s next, or on the past, ruminating about what has happened,” says Alyssa.

Being mindful is something you can easily do daily, she says, like fully engaging in activities, even mundane routines, such as washing dishes or clothes, driving to work or school and tidying up.

“Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking,” says Alyssa. “But because we live in a world that highlights multitasking, being mindful can be difficult.”

The good news? Becoming more mindful can be integrated into the day-to-day. Here, Alyssa tells us how and shares tips for sticking with it.

Tips for Getting Started on a Mindfulness Practice

In her work with clients, Alyssa suggests an easy way to start a mindfulness practice is linking it to your daily shower. She says attaching it to an already existing routine makes it less of another to-do, less daunting.

“Taking a bath or shower is something most of us do regularly,” she explains. “You don’t have to carve out extra time for it.”

  • The next time you get in the shower:
  1. Smell the shampoo before you put it in your hair.
  2. Notice the feel of the bottle in your hand.
  3. Pay attention to the way it feels when you’re lathering the shampoo in your hair.
  4. Notice the temperature and pressure of the water hitting your back.

“Just being in that moment, even when your brain wants to be somewhere else, is a great way to begin your mindfulness practice,” says Alyssa.

  • Making your morning cup of coffee or tea is another routine to which you can link your practice.
  1. Take a moment to pause and smell the coffee grinds or tea leaves.
  2. Notice the sounds of the spoon as you stir.
  3. Feel the weight of the mug in your hand.
  4. Feel the steam or heat coming from your beverage.
  5. Smell the brewed coffee or tea.
  6. Focus with intention on that first sip.
  • If you have pets or animals, pause to really notice the texture and softness of their fur. Pet them with intention.
  • When you walk out of your home to begin your day, pause and look up at your surroundings, at the sky and trees. “Try to be engaged with some of the small moment-to-moment experiences.”

Stick with It to Reap Benefits

Often, says Alyssa, people get frustrated about their ability to practice mindfulness. “Or they may say, it didn’t help, I didn’t feel calm after.”

Her Advice:

  • Recognize it’s an ongoing practice. Stick with it.
  • Be compassionate with yourself. There’s judgment in telling yourself you’re not “getting it.”
  • Being mindful is often not about immediate results.
  • It’s about how to engage with our environment and what’s going on inside us in a different way.
  • Practicing day-to-day might not initially bring a sense of calm. “It might highlight things that stress you out, which is OK,” explains Alyssa.
  • The goal is not to get rid of the stress you’re feeling in any given moment, but to engage with it differently.

“So if you’re feeling anxiety, you’re going to engage with the anxiety. Allow yourself to sit with it, not to push it away or get rid of it. Accept it instead of fighting it,” says Alyssa.

Over time, if you’re able to practice that, the less anxious you’ll get. Sitting with the anxiety (or stress, or anger, or other emotion) will quiet the waters, will allow it to come up with less intensity. “A lot of the stress we feel is the struggle, the trying to push it away, so it gets worse,” explains Alyssa.

Opened in Spring 2022, the MUSC Health Mindfulness Center in Mount Pleasant offers evidence-based coping strategies that can improve quality of life and overall well-being by helping patients learn to manage life stressors. The center offers virtual and in-person, one-on-one consultations, classes and retreats. To learn more, call 843-985-0802.