It seems that we are bombarded almost daily with a slew of new, “must-try-this” miracle solutions for all our health-related issues. Some, like hot yoga, salt rooms and replacing grain flour with insect flour, have merit and are worth considering. Others, however, like placenta encapsulation, drinking charcoal and the Twinkie and baby food diet (which of course I tried, because Twinkies!, and spoiler alert: gained 7 pounds in 3 days!) should definitely stay off your to-try list.
One of the current buzz-worthy trends in the wellness field is the practice of mindfulness. Even just saying MINDFULNESS makes you feel almost instantly more centered and calm!
Seriously, though. There’s a reason a-list celebs like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and James Franco are big fans of this trend. And we all know that if celebrities endorse it, it MUST be good, right? (insert winky emoji, here!).
What is Mindfulness?
Basically, the practice of mindfulness entails establishing a constant awareness of our bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts, while at the same time maintaining a consciousness of our surrounding environment.
Mindfulness involves paying close attention to our thoughts and feelings and accepting them without judgment and without assigning them a “right” or “wrong” value. Mindfulness encourages us to live wholly in the present moment while it simultaneously discourages us from dwelling on our past mistakes or imagining our future failures based on those mistakes.
The practice of mindfulness has been shown, among other things, to decrease stress and anxiety, to promote positive thinking and to reduce anger and violent tendencies. In fact, many institutions such as schools, hospitals, rehab centers and even prisons offer meditation and mindfulness seminars to empower their charges to help themselves.
There are several different exercises that can be used to practice or nurture mindfulness such as mindful breathing, mindful observation and mindful awareness.
Most of these techniques begin with sitting meditation and encompass using one of, or all of, the body (sitting comfortably in a quiet spot), the breath (concentrating on every slow inhalation and exhalation), and the thought (clearing our minds and concentrating on the present moment).
One of the most popular techniques for engaging in mindfulness is the very interestingly named Urge Surfing. No, it does not mean that you drop everything and hit the beach whenever you get the urge to surf (hard to do if you have actual responsibilities like, say, a job and/or you live nowhere near the ocean!).
Urge Surfing actually refers to the practice of utilizing tweaked mindfulness techniques to fight negative or harmful cravings or impulses.
For example, as anyone who has ever embarked on a diet (uh, me!) knows, one of the hardest things to do is to try and fight those overwhelming cravings for all those yummy, gooey and not-good-for-you diet saboteurs.
The more you try to block out or ignore the cravings, the more you end up thinking of nothing but! The more you fight against a craving the more it grows to mythical proportions making it progressively harder and harder to resist. More often than not, we end up giving in to our craving whether it’s 3 seconds or 3 hours or 3 days later.
So, not only have you given in to your craving, but that internal battle between “good” and “evil” leaves you too exhausted and vulnerable to put up much of a fight the next time the craving hits. Now on top of all your struggles, you have all the makings of a craving vicious cycle.
Embrace Your Cravings
Instead of fighting against the craving, urge surfing teaches you to “ride it out”, or wait it out, until it reaches peak intensity. The theory is that if you can hold on for only a few minutes until that peak intensity, the craving will naturally gradually subside until it completely disappears into nothingness.
In fact, according to several medical studies, cravings seldom last longer than half an hour and more commonly last even less time than that.
When you urge surf, you are not fighting or suppressing the craving, you are acknowledging the craving fully without self-judgment (I’m bad, I’m weak, I’m a failure…) thus robbing the craving of all the power it previously had over you.
To successfully resist a craving, you must:
- Pay full attention to what the craving feels like
- Maintain awareness of the craving on a second by second basis
- Avoid putting any value judgements on what you are experiencing
Although this sounds daunting and time consuming, with practice, urge surfing will become easier and will, given time, become second nature.
How to Urge Surf in Three Steps
When a craving comes on, sit down comfortably in a place you are not likely to be disturbed. After you take a few deep, relaxing breaths, close your eyes and look inwardly. Ascertain exactly how your body physically manifests the craving and describe it to yourself (i.e. my stomach knots up, my heart beats faster, my head feels heavy…).
Next, chose the one area in your body that seems most affected by the craving and focus intensely on the sensations as they pass by. Stop your thoughts from shifting by describing to yourself what you are experiencing in that body part in as much detail as possible (i.e. my head feels heavy and I feel dizzy like I just spun around, and it’s pounding like a bass, etc. …)
Finally, repeat the process with as many parts of your body as you need to until you feel the craving starting to subside. Before you know it, the craving will have actually passed completely.
As with any new technique, only practice, practice and more practice can make urge surfing work for you. The important thing is to enter the process with a wide-open mind and to forgive yourself completely if it doesn’t work the first few (or more than few!) times you try it. Persevere, and there will come a day when you’ll suddenly realize you have vanquished the cravings monster forever!