Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

“Inner critic, the Doctor will see you now”

Many of us have inner critical voices that come up again and again in our daily lives, undermining our sense of self-worth and causing us to persist in unhealthy habits that we’ve long wanted to change.

It might seem like these negative messages are hard-wired into our minds, but what if they aren’t? What if there is a way to gradually replace our negative mental tapes with messages of self-compassion and kindness, so we feel more empowered to make changes we want in our lives?

It turns out there are well-established, verified techniques that can help us gain more control over our inner critical voices and strengthen aspects of ourselves that are optimistic and compassionate. Most of these techniques have deep historical roots, and have recently been rediscovered, researched and incorporated into the modern mindfulness movement.

Why has mindfulness endured through the ages to become so widely popular and relevant to our modern lives? What are some of the positive transformations that can occur in a person’s mental and physical well-being?

Mindfulness practices were initially developed by ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious teachers, and if you have done meditation or yoga you’ve probably already had a taste of the benefits of these techniques.

In more recent years, therapists and researchers in universities around the world have drawn on these ancient traditions in order to devise techniques that anyone, from any religious, spiritual, or secular tradition, can use to improve their self-awareness, reduce stress, and foster more healthy lifestyle habits.

Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn is a pioneer and one of the leaders of this movement. His Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, headquartered at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has trained many teachers over the last three decades, and has scientifically verified that MBSR techniques provide lasting benefits.

Similarly, Professors Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer, both affiliated with Harvard University, have developed a program on Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) that is certifying teachers to offer the 8-week program in local communities.

Over a decade of research has shown that mindfulness techniques can help a person decrease their levels of stress, anxiety, and shame and increase feelings of confidence, empowerment, and happiness.

One recent study shows that a regular mindfulness practice can be as effective as medication in fighting depression.  Increased positive feelings can translate into a stronger ability for people to engage in improved lifestyle habits, from exercising more, to eating more healthy foods, to having more nurturing social interactions.

Overall, it is becoming clear that having a more positive, compassionate, and empowered mental orientation toward life is essential for creating healthy change and transformation in almost any aspect of our lives.

I’ve witnessed the healing effects of mindfulness in my own life, and in my years of practice as a Naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist.  I practice integrative medicine utilizing both alternative and conventional treatments to treat the whole person-body, heart and mind.

As part of my practice, I introduce patients to mindfulness practices that can foster non-judgmental explorations into underlying factors which may cause unhealthy habits.

It is more likely that changes in eating habits can be sustained if a person becomes more mindful of what mental, emotional and physical cues are motivating what, when, where and how much they eat, and if they are motivated to change out of self-compassion instead of shame or anxiety.

Witnessing the power of mindfulness to enhance or undermine health outcomes led me to become a trained Mindful Self Compassion teacher.

Mindful Eating and Mindful Self Compassion are therapeutic practices anyone can learn. When we pay attention to the present moment, it benefits not only ourselves, but everyone around us.

The next time you hear your inner critic criticizing you for something you did or said, try this Mindful Self Compassion practice. Ask yourself, What would I say to a friend who was experiencing a similar difficulty? Then try offering yourself the same kind words. Then, observe. What do you notice?  How might it help you take better care of yourself?

A free orientation class is scheduled for August 31 and September 1.

Dr. Nina Meledandri, ND, MSOM, LA.c. www.unfoldportland.com. Write contact@mindfulinfo.com