In the past, it was synonymous with monks, yoga masters and "Woo Woo" new age spirituality. Which, by the way, I heart some "Woo Woo" rocks and crystals but more on that some other time. Today mindfulness is getting more recognition, especially in the mental health sector, as a way to combat anxiety and depression. It is also said to aid in creativity, pain reduction, and cognitive clarity.
Mindfulness is believed to originate from the religion of Buddhism. Although, you needn't be a Buddist to reap the benefits of this mind-calming practice.
Mindfulness is all about being present in the current moment and not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. It isn't a skill you acquire overnight. It will take practice but with continued effort, you can become more aware of your thoughts and, in turn, calm your mind which can greatly benefit your mental and physical health.
Meditation is a practice in which you can cultivate mindfulness through focusing on your breath to help bring your focus to the present moment. By focusing on your breath, you become aware you are in a physical body and each breath is happening right now and you are an active participant in bringing oxygen into your body.
Our lives are filled with information overload, meetings, schedules, and social engagements. Meditation isn't easy. In fact, I used to think in order to meditate "properly" I needed to be a Zen master and have a completely quiet and calm mind. When I tried meditating and my mind started to race it just meant I couldn't do it. So I stopped trying for awhile thinking, "This just isn't for me." Although, in fact, even being aware that you have racing thoughts is the first step to building this skill. If you can be aware that your thoughts are racing, it also means you are conscious you have racing thoughts. See what I did there?
Another thing to keep in mind is that as you become more aware of your thoughts, it is good to recognize that your thoughts are simply thoughts and you don’t need to believe them or react to them. These exercises are just putting you in a place of awareness. You don't need to do anything beyond that to get started.
There are a bunch of great apps available for your phone as well as YouTube videos that give guided meditations as well as music-only versions. Set aside 5-10 minutes today to sit, stand or walk comfortably and relax before carrying on with your day. If you find it helpful, try making a daily practice out of it.
"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
I tend to hoover my food as quick as a cowboy holds on to a bull he's riding in a rodeo. So, this skill takes some serious focus for me but to do it you just need to slow way down while you eat. So, at your next meal try and savor each bite. Become aware of what the texture is like for each food. How do the flavors mingle upon your tongue and how does each bite make you feel? What color is it? Where did it come from? Is what you're eating going to give you the energy you need? If not, what can you add to make it better? This exercise is a great one for helping to bring your mind to the situation at hand and, as an added benefit, it will help aid in better digestion too!
Getting all the things done at one time has been a goal of mine for quite some time. I've even heard people being praised for their multi-tasking. Hell, I've been praised for it but that doesn't necessarily mean it is a GOOD thing. When you multi-task you're literally splitting your attention, which means you aren't completely focused on anything. You're actually partially focused on everything you're doing at once. This exercise is to help bring your focus to whatever you're doing in the present moment.
If you're currently doing the dishes, then just focus on the dishes. The shape of each glass, the color of each plate, or maybe the smell of the dish detergent. If you're sipping tea, hold the cup close, become aware of the heat from the mug, the nuances in spice in each sip and the way it smells.
If you jam-pack your schedule every day it is just a recipe for stress and burnout. Try and break up your schedule a little so the few things on your list can be done and done a little more slowly. This way you'll be able to slow down the daily rush and put more focus on each one of your to-dos individually. This is a double-win exercise as it also helps with reducing multi-tasking.
I think we've all at some time been with a friend or family member and while they are talking our mind wonders to remind us of an upcoming event or even just thinking ahead to what we should say in return. This means we're not fully invested and aware of what our loved-one is telling us. It means we could miss out on their story or completely miss a silly facial expression that may have made us laugh out loud and share a special moment. For this tip, try being completely involved and participate in the next conversation you have with someone. You never know what you may learn about them that you may have missed if you weren't being present.
Ok, this is my favorite especially when the weather plays nice but it can work if you're in a raincoat too! Get yourself outside and take a nice leisurely stroll. While you're out there observe the world around you. Are the leaves turning color? Can you see your breath? What sound does your foot make as it touches down each step? Steve Jobs, Beethoven, and Mark Zuckerberg have all used walking to increase creativity and help increase mental clarity and a Stanford study written on Oregon Live confirms it.
There are a ton of variations for practicing mindful breathing. In fact, a lot of folks use it to help meditate. The breathing exercise we enjoy using is called 4-Square breathing. It is when you breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four and then hold for a count of four.
These are just a few tips to help with becoming more mindful right now. There are countless other recommendations out on the interwebs to help broaden your mindfulness practice and, if you enjoyed these, I highly recommend checking them out. If you try these, we'd love to hear if they helped you.