Mindfulness. You've heard the word, but do you really know what that means? You may be wondering: Can anyone do it? When should I do it? I’m not sure how to do it or where to start.
Mindfulness is more than meditation or presence of mind. Literally speaking, we can get distracted by our thoughts and habits. Sometimes, it’s as if we’re running on autopilot. Continually thinking about what you have to get done, or what will happen next can consume you. You might be missing out on some important life messages. It’s easy to be thinking about your growing bigger by the moment to-do list, but you can tread a thin line to dwelling on something…and that’s not healthy. This is when practicing simple mindfulness can help you to not be overly reactive about the craziness around you.
In short, mindfulness is being in the moment or being aware. You may have heard the term; being present. This is not just awareness of what you are doing, but of how you are feeling. You are aware of your thoughts, but don’t get caught up in your emotions and feelings. You are paying attention in a particular way. You are not trying to make change, except to be aware of the situation you are in and how you are feeling. As Jeffrey Brantley explains, the degree we can practice being more aware in our life, we will in turn, be more informed and responsive and less likely directed and consumed by the habits of reaction and inattention. (Brantley 2019).
What happens then, is we handle stresses in our lives differently, and with more success. We become empathetic and feel calmer when faced with challenges in our life. Becoming aware and acknowledging how your body and emotions react to stress, then, allows you to change how to behave when faced with challenging situations. For example, when you have a stress trigger, you may notice your shoulders tense up, you get a headache, your heart races, or your stomach is in knots, reflective of your mental state. When you notice those physical things happening to your body reacting to stress, that’s when you need to change your focus. You’re are mindful of the physical reaction your body is having. Now you need to focus your attention on your feelings. This is where being mindful comes in, changing your mindset to allow you to be present and relaxed.
You might be wondering when is the best time to practice mindfulness?
“While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis.” (mindful.org)
You can do it throughout the day. Just noticing your breath while your doing cleaning the floors, while your washing dishes, while your having a coffee is quick and simple ways of practicing mindfulness in your daily life. While your waiting at the doctor’s office, or at the bus stop, you could be mindfully focusing on your breathing.
When you first start your day, take 5 minutes just to focus on breath. Focusing on your breathing for 2-5 minutes before starting a new project is a great way to clear your mind of distraction and approach your project more enthusiastically (maybe try this before a budget meeting or your annual work review?).
Make some time each day to meditate. You don’t need a cushion on the floor. You can do it while sitting in a comfortable chair, feet flat on the floor, sitting straight, and resting your hands on your thighs. I personally like to close my eyes, but you don’t’ have to. It’s important to let your mind wander, and be aware of when it does wander, to then return your thoughts to your breath.
Before I began washing the dishes the other day (my least favourite task), I was feeling somewhat anxious that the sink was full of dirty dishes and frustrated because no one else took the initiative to wash them. As I stood there, agitated, feeling like “I have so much to do and I need this done so I can get on to something else”, I had to stop myself from getting wrapped up on this one small task. I took a deep breath and started to fill the sink. I watched and waited for the sink to fill with bubbly water, then got to it. I became aware of my hands in the water. I enjoyed how the warm soapy water felt on my hands. As I held the cloth and wiped the plates, I noticed my hands following the circular shape of the plate. I watched my hands making circular patterns with the soapy cloth in the water. I looked at the bubbles that filled the sink. I watched them disappear slowly. As they vanished, I was aware of my breathing, almost in sync with the bubbles popping. A calmness came over me.
When I feel stressed at work, I’ve practiced a quick, 5 minute breathing exercise in the bathroom. The answer to where should you practice depends on the situation. As I mentioned, you could focus on your breathing while waiting for the doctor.
Mindful meditation requires more time and space. Although not required to practice every day, it is so beneficial to your life, that I imagine you may find yourself wanting to, in fact, looking forward to daily meditation practice.
I’ve given several scenarios that explain simply how to practice mindfulness:
· Start by focusing on your breathing
· Pay attention to how your body reacts to stress
· Be aware of your emotions and feelings
· Do not focus on change, rather pay particular attention to the world around you, without
· Practice meditation
There are several meditation techniques that promote mindfulness. Focusing attention, Visualization, Resting awareness, and Reflection are just some of the styles that I practice. Each one helps me to settle my mind, depending on what challenge or struggle I may be facing, if any. To explore these techniques, visit www.headspace.com. This website is dedicated to helping you learn all about a mindful practice and bringing it into your life.
I’ve noticed significant change in myself since practicing meditation. My sleep has improved, I have less pain, my approach to the world around me is more positive, less stressed and less hurried. The best part about practicing mindful meditation is that there is no right or wrong. It doesn’t have to be a group exercise. Anyone can do it, and it’s totally personal. It’s about you and your journey, your body, and your mind. Just know that you are enough.
Brantley, Jeffrey. “How Do I Bring More Mindfulness into My Life.” Mindful.org, 24 Jan. 2019.