Army H.e.a.l.t.h. Arsenal
September, 2015

The Headspace app is a free app that guides you through the basics of mindfulness. Calling itself “a gym membership for your mind”, this app uses easy to follow videos to teach you how to practice mindfulness. This is a great app for beginners as it is easy to follow and includes helpful animations.

The free version of the app comes with a 10 day trial which includes 10 minutes per day of guided mindfulness practice. You can track your progress, connect with friends, and set reminders.

Headspace is available for free in the app store for iPhone and Android.

Sleep Corner

Practice mindfulness during the day...sleep better at night.

If stress and anxiety are keeping you up at night, practicing mindfulness during the day may help you catch more zzz’s. Mindfulness is a tool that we can use to help us relax, and sometimes falling asleep (and staying asleep) is a matter of relaxation.

Research has shown that practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes throughout the day helps us learn how to relax “on command”. When it comes time to wind down at the end of the day and prepare for sleep, it is much easier to evoke our own relaxation response. Just like a muscle that you strength train, practicing mindfulness during the day can help you relax more at night.

One way to start practicing mindfulness throughout the day is to set aside just 5 minutes. You can practice anywhere, although a quiet space is ideal. During this 5 minutes, do not think about the past nor future. Think of how you are feeling in the momenet, without judgement. When your thoughts start to wonder, gently bring your attention back to the present moment.

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How awareness can help you be more mindful

One of the fundamental concepts of mindfulness is awareness. Awareness is the opposite of denial. It means to become "conscious".It is being cognizant of the things we normally think and do on “autopilot”. In being more aware of our thoughts and habits, we can start to change those aspects of our life. This makes sense because in order to change something, you must first be aware of it.

Cultivating Awareness
The first step in practicing awareness is experiencing your situation with all your senses. The key is just to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings without judging, analyzing, or acting on them. Think of your thoughts as passing by on a cloud. No need to brainstorm a solution to anticipated problems or re-live past conversations. If you think about it, most anxiety and stress comes from things that happened in the past or things we are anxious about in the future. By focusing on the here and now, you are eliminating a large source of negative thoughts and feelings.

Our Internal Environment
Look at your internal environment. How do you feel? Maybe you are feeling anxious or excited. Are you feeling sleepy? The key is to not think about something that happened yesterday or in the past. It also means not worrying about the future. Focus on experiencing the present moment with all your senses.

The External Environment
Next, look at your external environment. Think in terms of details. Are you feeling hot or cold? What do you hear? Are you with anyone? What colors do you see? If you begin to think about past or future thoughts, that’s alright. Simply refocus your attention to the present moment. This will become easier and easier as you practice more.

With cultivation of awareness, simply observing what this moment, we begin to take back our mind space. Remember, awareness requires stillness and effort. It often requires taking a step back and seeing something for what it is. Take for example when you are experiencing pain in the body. Sit back and observe that you are not the pain, rather, the you are feeling pain, you are observing the pain. You may find yourself thinking, "I am not my pain, I have a pain".

Try to set aside time each day to practice awareness. You can even do this at work. While you're eating lunch, think about how the food tastes. What smells are present? Are you feeling tired? Do you hear a coworker talking? Is the room hot or cold? As you practice awarenes, it will become more and more natural and will require less effort. But, like all good things, it takes some practice first in order to train the brain.

Mindfulness Vs. Meditation: What's the difference?

We will talk about both mindfulness and meditation throughout this newsletter. It's important to understand the basic differences between these two practices. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in each moment. Mindfulness is something that you purposefully strive for throughout your day, in any given moment. On the other hand, meditation is a specific act that you schedule into your day. For example, you may choose set aside 10 minutes each morning and each evening to meditate. Mediation allows time to clear your mind and refocus your energy.

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Ask An Expert

How can mindfulness meditation help slow the signs of cognitive decline related to aging?

According to a study from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, meditation may help preserve gray matter in the brain (the tissue where cognition occurs and memories are stored) in participants ranging from 24-77 years old.

The study compared brain scans of two groups of people: one group who had mediated for an average of 20 years and the other group who did not meditate. The meditating group experience smaller reductions in gray matter than the non-meditating group.

Although the correlation between preserved gray matter and meditation does not prove that meditating directly caused the gray matter preservation (other factors such as diet likely also play a role), meditation appears to be one factor that can help slow age related cognitive decline.

Mindful Moment

Mindful awareness...or being fully present in the current moment..allows for contentment and joy in your daily life. Practice being fully aware of your present moment. Take it moment to moment, not holding on to the moment that is, not anticipating the moment that is yet to come.

Bottom Line

Practicing mindfulness can benefit both your mental and physical health. This includes helping lower stress and anxiety as well as helping you sleep better. Whether using an app, like Head Space, to help guide you or simply dedicating 5-10 minutes per day to practice mindfulness, it is important that you set aside time each day (several times a day, ideally) in order to practice mindfulness. This can be in the form of meditation or breathing exercises, and many other ways.

Cultivating awareness is one aspect that is helpful when learning how to practice mindfulness. Learning how to be more aware allows us to stay in the present moment. By focusing on both our internal and external environments, we are not allowing room for negative thoughts about our past or anxiety about the future.

Lastly, as we start the transition into fall, it is a great time to take advantage of seasonal produce, such as butternut squash, which is included in our featured recipe. As you start to bring your exercise in doors, try the Bulgarian split squat. This variation is not only a great way to switch up your routine, but it allows you to focus on each leg, individually. It also allows for greater range of motion.

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Featured Recipe: Butternut squash and Apple Soup

In September, apples and squash are both in season. Take advantage of the seasonal flavor, freshness, and price. In this adaptation of the classic butternut squash, we substitute reduced fat milk for heavy cream. This helps to reduce both saturated fat and overall calorie content, without sacrificing texture. The apple not only adds a kick of flavor, but some additional natural sweetness and fiber. Overall, this soup is a filling dish that is a good source of fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.

  • 2 lb. butternut squash
  • 4 tsp. light butter, divided
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 C reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 C reduced fat milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

  • Instructions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the squash in half and scoop the seeds and pulp out. Place the squash on the prepared baking sheet and place 1 tsp. butter over each half. Season the squash with some salt and pepper to taste and place into the oven. Bake for about 1 hour or until the squash is tender.

    Place the remaining 2 tsp. of butter into a large sauce pan and melt it over a medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add in the apple, onion, garlic, sage leaves, and thyme. Saute about 6-7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

    When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. Scoop the squash from the shell and place it into the sauce pan along with the cooked apple and onion mixture. Add the water and broth to the sauce pan. Place the pan over a high heat and bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, then cover and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the milk. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to puree the soup.

    Nutrition Information:
    Servings: 3      Calories: 202      Carbs: 44g      Fiber: 7g      Sugar: 13g             
                           Fat: 3g               Protein: 5g      Sodium: 445mg     

    Featured Exercise: Bulgarian Split Squat

    This variation of the squat is not only a strength builder, but it also helps improve balance. With your rear leg extended, you are allowed a greater range of motion with the front leg, especially targeting the glute muscles.

    Place one leg behind you, elevated about 2-3 feet. Sit back into a squat with your other foot flat on the ground in front of you. Lower yourself until your front thigh is horizontal and then return to the start.

    Featured Recipe adapted from The Skinny Fork.