When you imagine the word 'mindfulness,' what images come to mind? Do you imagine sitting cross-legged on top of a mountain? Meditating at a secluded retreat center? Undergoing years of intense practice? Sitting in silence for hours on end? While these can be components of a mindfulness practice, mindfulness is a tool that’s accessible to everyone on a daily basis.
First, let’s bust the biggest myth about mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not about getting rid of your thoughts
Mindfulness simply means acknowledging the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. It does not mean emptying your mind of thoughts, but rather noticing them and letting them pass without judgment. And in doing so, we allow ourselves to be more attentive, aware and awake to all that surrounds us.
Not only is being mindful amazing for our mental health but adding a practice of mindfulness to our daily routine can have profound physical and emotional benefits. With the rise of the digital age, social media and a 'busy is better' culture, the importance of mindfulness is more paramount than ever.
Being able to disconnect and tune in to thoughts, patterns and inner dialogue is the antidote to an over-connected lifestyle.
From guided meditation to online courses, deep breathing exercises to mindfulness-based stress reduction classes — there are endless ways to get more conscious of our habits. Let's explore how to get into this mindset and establish a mindfulness practice.
Start with your 'why'
Before jumping into a mindfulness practice, stop to consider your reasons for seeking this out in the first place. Establish goals for yourself. Hoping to improve your focus or work performance? Maybe you're looking to strengthen bonds or relationships. There are countless reasons to practice being more mindful. By breaking down the 'why,' as well as setting personal benchmarks, you'll be able to track your progress and measure your growth. Coupling mindfulness with intention-setting is another way to narrow down your focus — read more about that here.
Set attainable goals
Consider outlining easy, bite-size goals to work towards in your mindfulness practice. A great place to start is simply committing to five minutes per day of mindfulness. This number can grow as your attention span grows. Beginning with a digestible goal is an effective way to stay accountable for progress.
Define what mindful success looks like
Revisiting our idea of finding the 'why,' beginning a mindfulness practice requires a strong understanding of what you're hoping to achieve. Say you begin your practice in hopes of noticing when the mind wanders, or just to notice when you're operating on autopilot. When you find yourself catching these thought patterns, that's a win. On the flip side, perhaps you're aiming to lessen stress, unease, anxiety or negative thoughts. Take stock of your current state before implementing simple mindfulness practices. In this way, you can reflect back on how far you've come.
Benefits of mindfulness
Being mindful breaks the cycle of getting caught in our own heads. Have you noticed we often replay stories in our minds — stuck recounting an old conversation or scenario, caught worrying about what may happen in the future? In mindfulness, we stop the mind wandering and focus our full attention on the present. Including mindfulness in your day-to-day has endless benefits for your well-being, including:
- Better sleep quality
- Ability to focus more fully on a given task
- Less stress
- Increased self-awareness
- Compassion for yourself and others
- Less emotional reactivity
Explore the options for a mindfulness practice
With so many different ways to practice mindfulness, you're sure to find an avenue that suits your needs and lifestyle. Don't be afraid to experiment or mix-and-match based on your mood or environment.
If you're new to meditation, mindfulness meditation is an excellent and accessible place to start. In this type of meditation, you'll gently guide your thoughts back to the present as they wander. These mindfulness exercises can be done lying down, sitting up, during your commute, even before you open your eyes in the morning. You can self-direct this type of meditation practice — closing eyes, noticing thoughts, corralling thoughts back to the here and now when you realize they've wandered. Or, you may consider a guided meditation for mindfulness. Audio or video recordings are available in apps like Insight Timer, Calm or YouTube.
Who knew starting a mindfulness practice could be as easy as breathing in and out? Since breathing is automatic — and essential — we don't often notice the quality of our breath. The idea with controlled breathing exercises is to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system — our bodies 'rest and relax' response. Simple acts, such as counting 1-2-3 on the inhale and 1-2-3-4 on the exhale, encourage our nervous system to take it easy. Other examples of mindful breathing exercises include diaphragmatic breathing, taking big inhales deep into the belly to fill up as much as we can — then completely exhaling the air out. In its simplest form, mindful breathing could just mean stopping to take a few deep breaths.
Can't stand to sit still? A walking meditation technique is another way to invite more mindfulness into your daily life. As you wander in one direction, you slowly and mindfully connect with the sensations you feel. What does the air smell like? How does the earth feel beneath your feet? What's the temperature around you? Calling out these seemingly obvious factors draw you back into the present — the exact goal of mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a meditation course backed by scientific research, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
There are countless other options for mindful exercises to explore, so take the time to find one that resonates with you.
Mindfulness in everyday life
Mindfulness is often referred to as a practice because it doesn't happen instantly. Mindfulness exercises teach you presence, but also grow into other areas of your life — from relationships, to work environments to self-compassion.
Mindfulness perks for you and others
As you become more mindful, don't be surprised if others notice a change within you. Interpersonal mindfulness can manifest in many positive ways, including:
- Becoming a better listener: Instead of thinking about what you'll say next, or allowing the mind to drift to other priorities, being mindful helps anchor us in a conversation.
- Experiencing less quickness to anger: in challenging situations: Being mindful slows down our response reflex — allowing us a pause before responding. In doing so, we can answer predicaments in a more thought-through way.
- Improving memory and recall in conversations: As our presence grows, so too does the ability to remember the details of past dialogue.
- Developing more thoughtful solutions and responses: Creativity and ideas flow when we're in the present moment.
Cultivating greater empathy for others: When we truly listen, it's easier to imagine ourselves in other's shoes. Mindfulness gives us the gift of hearing another person's perspective — often resulting in greater communication and understanding for another's situation.
Mindfulness at work
Work is a leading driver of stress — even in the most healthy work environments, it's essential to safeguard your mental health and well-being. One surefire way to do so is to practice mindfulness at work. Not only can you combat work stress with being mindful, but you may also just improve your work performance as well. The American Psychological Association says mindfulness can encourage increased memory, lessen stress, boost immune function and cognitive flexibility.
In conclusion, learning how to practice mindfulness is a win all around. Being more mindful benefits you as an individual on physical, mental and emotional levels. In addition, those you interact with can also reap the rewards of you being more mindful in everyday interactions. There isn't just one way to be mindful. Take your time to explore different habits for higher consciousness to find something that clicks — in doing so, you're sure to find a lasting and impactful mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is just one piece of your toolkit for optimal mental health. Learn the other essentials and explore how talking with a professional can help. Explore the benefits of therapy and book a consultation with Two Chairs here.
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