How To Be Mindful
“Listen to the wind—it talks. Listen to the silence—it speaks. Listen to your heart—it knows.”~ Native American Proverb
The word “mindfulness” has been reverberating in my head lately. Have you noticed how much we are inundated these days with messages imploring us to be mindful? Social media platforms proclaim, “the path to happiness is to live in the moment!” and advise us to slow our busy lives. Bookstores have dozens of books on meditation, mindfulness and simplifying your environment. The number of teachers, gurus and experts in this field is mind-boggling, and there is no shortage of courses or retreats to help us learn the techniques to create a mindful life.
Is there anything to this phenomenon or is it just another fad?
Since 1979, when Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) Clinic there has been extensive research into mindfulness and meditation. Studies have shown that mindfulness practice can increase grey matter density, and even a short program can have direct effects on the brain and immune function. Evidence also suggests that mindful meditation can have a positive effect on cellular ageing.
So, it appears that mindful living is not just a flash in the pan, but a lifestyle that can have many benefits.
But what exactly is mindfulness and how do you attain it?
Simply put, mindfulness is the act of focusing our attention on our thoughts, feelings, and environment. When we are mindful, we are in tune with the present — not reliving the past, or dreaming of the future. Sounds straight forward, right? But like any change, mindfulness takes practise and intention. Our lives are busy and stressful. It can seem daunting to slow down and let go. It may seem impossible to live in the moment when we are faced with the many pressures in our everyday life.
Science has shown that living with intention has many benefits to our mental health and well being. If you don’t have an established mindfulness practice and you are interested in beginning one, let’s learn together.
Wake Up to Your Senses
As you begin to awaken from sleep, pay attention to the sensations that surround you. How does your body feel? Heavy? Light? Are you yawning, stretching, wiggling your toes? Does your brain feel groggy or do you feel clear-minded and bright? Bringing your awareness to your state of mind and body is a great start to being mindful. Feel the joy in awakening to a new day.
Learn to Breathe
Meditation is the cornerstone of mindfulness. If you have not meditated before you might think it is difficult and time-consuming to develop the technique. But, it is easy to learn even if you only have a few minutes to spare. Start with a breath meditation. It is a simple exercise that you can practice anywhere. You can do it while sitting, standing, or even walking if you like.
As you inhale and exhale, you can say short verses to help you remain present with your breath. You do not have to change your breathing, just notice its natural rhythm. Breathe naturally. Continue this exercise for as long as you like. The poem below is a breath meditation from the book, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Zen Master, Thích Nhất Hạnh. You can read the long version of this exercise here. You can say this poem as you practice or make up your own!
Present moment, wonderful moment.”
Mindfulness in Every Act
Even the most innocuous activity can offer an opportunity for a reflective moment. For instance, we have been washing our hands a lot these days and those 20-45 seconds can act as a mindfulness exercise every time we turn on the tap. Try this the next time you are at the sink. Inhale — feel the warm water stream over your hands. Exhale — pick up the bar of soap, notice the slipperiness. Inhale — scrub your hands. Exhale — smell the perfume of the bar. Inhale — rinse the soap from your hands. Exhale — dry your hands. There, you just completed a short meditation!
DID YOU KNOW there can be a downside to meditation? Two professors from Brown University conducted a study that focused on a broad range of the effects of meditation. Some subjects reported unwanted experiences during meditation, including feelings of anxiety or fear and a sense of complete detachment from their emotions. For more details on this phenomenon, read this article There’s a Dark Side to Meditation That No One Talks About, by Lila MacLellan.
When you sit down to eat a meal, take a moment to notice the colours and aromas of your food. Breathe in the subtle fragrance of your tea. As you pick up your fork, think about how this meal came to be in front of you. As you take a bite, be mindful of the sensation of the morsel in your mouth — the texture of the food, the crunch or softness as you chew — taste all the different flavours. Engage your five senses as you enjoy every part of the meal. Need some tips? Read this post 6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating.
Be Grateful Every Day
Sometimes, because our lives are so busy, we forget to stop and consider all our blessings. Expressing gratitude is an important concept for living mindfully. Make it a habit each day to reflect upon the moments that brought you joy — you will feel peaceful and serene.
Living mindfully is a way of engaging with the world around you. One way to learn to meditate is through a meditation course or teacher. However, with the current COVID-19 restrictions, it may not be possible to join a class or have one-on-one instruction. Fortunately, if you have access to the internet, there are many resources online including video or live streaming classes that can provide lessons. Your local bookstore will also have books and guidelines to help you live mindfully. By practising mindfulness, you can become a calmer, happier person who can handle any situation with grace and thoughtfulness.
Watch this short animated video from Happify, that explains why mindfulness is a superpower.
How do you find your zen?