For some people, the prospect of sitting down to meditate is about as inspiring as attacking a mountain of housework, scheduling that dental check or choosing salad for dinner over tacos… you know you should and you know it’s good for you, but when it comes time to get stuck in, any other option suddenly seem so much more attractive.
Personally, I’m not a full on, saffron robe-wearing, “omm”-changing meditating guru. I should meditate more. We all should. But then again, we should also probably keep tax receipts, move furniture aside rather than just vaccing around it and not leave wet towels on the bed. But with modern life’s ever-growing list of commitments to take care of, one more ‘should’ and we could very well end up ‘should’ing all over ourselves. Not a good look.
I’m all for new, smarter ways to do more in less time and have recently been paying attention (quite literally) to the concept of mindfulness - specifically, how to use it while ‘on the go’ in our daily lives. More awareness, minus unecessary time drain = Bonus!
The Non-Meditator’s Method For Meditating
As mentioned, mindfulness is a great way for you to get some of the benefits of meditation, without having to set aside an extra 30 minutes in your already bursting-at-the-seams schedule. You can pretty much practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime and it’s a great technique if you know you’d benefit from developing a calmer mind and more centered presence in your life, but either have no idea what meditation is or where to begin.
Popular misconceptions about what meditation entails might also have turned you off the idea to date. For some, the word alone conjures visions of twisting yourself up like a pretzel on a yoga mat, amongst a group of similarly-contorted sweaty hippies, choking on clouds of incense. The reality is, bringing the calm focus of meditation into your daily life is really achievable – and no, you don’t have to go all patchouli on yourself to enjoy the benefits. Instead, you can start with something as simple and accessible as practicing mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness originated in the east, where it plays a central role in Buddhist meditation teachings – so much so, it’s believed that when practiced correctly, mindfulness is an integral part of becoming enlightened. While some ancient text buffs argue that the Buddha’s description of mindfulness or ‘sati’ differs quite substantially from the modern psychological approach, harping on about semantics is not as consequential as trying out mindfulness for yourself and seeing what it can do for you.
So – from the teachings of Buddha to the psychologists’ couch, mindfulness has now found a place in the modern world, treating conditions like anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, depression and addictions.
Ok – But What IS It Exactly & How Do I Do It?
The experience of mindfulness is one of those things that’s hard to put into exact words – it’s only by practicing it yourself, that you’ll discover your own truth. However, to give you some pointers, mindfulness can be described as a calm awareness (or observation if you like) of your body, its functions, movements and state.
It has also been described as a nonjudgmental, awareness of thoughts, feelings and senstations (which essentially means that it’s the experience of thoughts/feelings etc. popping into your head and you just being aware of them, acknowledging them and accepting them as they are).
Personally, I experience it as noticing whatever thoughts/emotions my brain is spitting out at any one point in time – without becoming engaged or entangled in them. So, for example, if you were feeling sad, you would notice the feeling, without trying to push it away or distract yourself from the experience of it. You might make a point of noticing it by saying to yourself, ‘there are feelings of sadness there right now’ or, ‘my mind just had a thought about a sad thing’. Mindfulness helps you distance yourself from your thoughts so that you don’t identify with them so much and greatly diminishes the intensity of emotions attached to them. It’s really liberating.
In short, mindfulness asks you to pay attention to the present moment and what it brings, with absolute, unwavering nonjudgmentalism. So, if you ever feel like your thoughts run away with you and snowball into a big messy knot of upsetting emotions, mindfulness is definitely something you should have a shot at.
Don’t worry – mindfulness isn’t all ‘woo-woo’ airy-fairy feel-goodery (Yes, I totally just made that last word up). Many scientific studies have been undertaken that have proven the practice of mindfulness can reduce negative emotional states (for example, stress or depression), boost the immune system, increase happiness and even improve academic performance (sorry boys, female scholars received the greatest benefits). You can investigate this kind of empirical evidence in greater detail here.
How To Be Mindful
So, you’ve heard the theory, maybe followed the link and read some evidence about how it works and now want to get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to use mindfulness in your day to day. Here goes…
Focus on The NOW
Whether you’re eating a crunchy salad, going for your morning jog or walk, mindfulness is about concentrating solely on the task at hand. Sounds simple? Give it a shot. Rather than wolfing down your food at your desk or in front of Neighbours, sit without distractions and focus completely on each bite. Identify the textures, notice the different tastes and temperatures.
photo credit: jeffreyw
Chew for as long as possible before swallowing and appreciate every bite. Look at the colours of your food and breathe in the aromas deeply. Allow thoughts of being present with your food (and these thoughts only) to fill your mind – forget about the project you have to complete by next Tuesday.
When you exercise, focus on the movement of your body – how each joint moves, how the wind feels on your face, how your heart beats and your lungs expand. Be mindful and in the moment with your movement.
Other ways to practice mindfulness might be to focus on the intake and exhale of your breath as you sit on the bus, just noticing it and not engaging in any thoughts that might arise. If you find that you become distracted with pesky thoughts about whether or not you turned off the iron, just return your focus to your breath and how cooling it feels on the way in and the warmth you feel in your nostrils on the exhale. Notice everything you can about your in and out breath, without judging any part of it. Just be with your breath in the moment. This exercise in itself is incredibly centering and relaxing.
Choose Cues To Inspire Mindfulness
At first, remembering to be mindful can be difficult. That’s not surprising given most of us have lived our lives identifying with and attempting to modify the psychological content of any given moment. Gently changing a state of consciousness doesn’t happen overnight and besides, you don’t need to be mindful 24 hours a day to benefit. Instead, choose five minutes here or there to practice mindfulness. An easy way to do this is to earmark an activity you’ll undertake mindfully, on a regular basis. Alternatively you can select an external, environmental ‘cue’ which will remind you to be mindful.
So, your mindful activity might be the washing up or taking a shower. Likewise, your ‘cue’ might be changing traffic lights, the start of a new hour or crossing the threshold of a door. You might use your ‘cues’ to bring a minute of mindful breathing into your day, wherein you just notice thoughts as they arise, pay attention to the sensations of the moment and when your mind wanders, bring it back to the here and now.
Having these cues helps you integrate mindfulness into your day to day so that it becomes more of a habit than a chore – best of all, you don’t need to set aside time to fit it into your routine, you just do it as you go.
Practice Mindful Walking
Another great way to practice mindfulness during the course of your day is to engage in ‘mindful walking’. This means that whenever you walk, you simply focus solely on the sensations that arise. Focus on the rise and fall of your feet as they lift and plant, the curl of your toes as they help to steady your foot, the sensation of the closeness of your shoes, along with the feeling of warmth as the sun shines on your face and the breeze as it blows through your hair. Each of these things can be focused on individually to bring you back to the moment – back to where you are and back to the beauty of just ‘be-ing’.
What Does Mindfulness ‘Feel’ Like?
Everyone derives different benefits from their practice of mindfulness, so I can really only report on my own findings in terms of what you could expect to experience. Personally I found that when I became more mindful, I stopped identifying so much with everything my brain ‘spat out’. Suddenly, I didn’t have to engage with every single, random little thought my brain created – instead, I could just acknowledge it and let it go. It was a new, liberating experience and I felt a lot less stressed. You sort of notice a quiet calm take over your moments of mindfulness, which is really comforting – and in some ways, you start to take yourself and your thoughts far less seriously. (And let’s face it, who can’t do with a decent dose of that?)
photo credit: Johan Brook
Moments Of Mindfulness All Add Up
You can start on your ‘mindfulness journey’ simply by including a few of these exercises into your daily routine – either when you realize you have a few spare moments, or when you’re feeling frazzled. If you do them for 5 mins a pop, either on the bus on the way to work, waiting in line to be served at lunch, when someone is late for their meeting or while you’re in an elevator, all your moments of ‘being present’ will add up. Who knows, if you take every opportunity that presents itself, you might end up being mindful, present and peaceful for up to 30mins a day!
I hope you have fun with these mindfulness techniques and if you have any of your own, please share them in the comments section below. (Also – for the more die-hard, sit down, pretzel-yourself-up meditation fans looking for new ways to jazz up your normal routine, I have a post coming especially for you, VERY soon, so stay tuned!)
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