A huge component of “mindfulness” is being aware. Taking things in and letting them touch you, feeling them genuinely. Your body is constantly sending messages your way, but a lot of times we get caught up and distracted by other things, so we manage to ignore signs or symptoms that our body may need us to pay attention to. I learned recently an astounding fact: people who are in end-stage renal failure often don’t seek medical attention until their kidney function may be as low as 10%. How can this be? Well, one thought is that we get used to pain and we get used to any circumstances that change slowly over time. Then one day, you realize: I didn’t used to be this tired. I have a family member with late-stage Lyme’s disease, who sensed something was wrong, but for years wasn’t sure what it was. And part of the disease itself caused her to doubt her own feeling that she wasn’t well. She just got used to feeling out of sorts, exhausted, forgetful, and myriad other symptoms.
I’m not suggesting mindfulness alone is preventive care, but it can certainly augment it. Don’t let symptoms fester. Don’t just accept pain without knowing its source. Don’t assume that ache will “go away.” A lot of times it will, certainly, but what if it just slowly gets worse, until you can hardly remember what it was like to have a pain-free day, or even hour?
Take time to listen to your body. You can do this anytime: just check in. Maybe in the shower, or just after you turn out the light to go to sleep, or while you’re waiting in line at the supermarket. There are plenty of moments throughout our day where we can’t do much except wait. So use that time! Instead of checking email or social media, take two minutes to run down how your body is feeling: head, eyes, neck shoulders, heart, lungs, stomach, legs, feet, etc. Top to bottom, see where any aches or pains are and try to think when they began to bother you. If you can’t remember how long you’ve had that ache or pain, it’s time to address it. At the very least, continue to monitor it and be aware of how you’re feeling, physically. At the very least, this kind of mindfulness practice has zero negative side effects!