In my last column published in June, I wrote on the power of mindfulness. The essence of mindfulness is full awareness of the present moment and what it offers. However, it is difficult to tune into the here and now with the distractions we encounter all the time. This month, I would like to address more specifically exercises that practice mindfulness techniques. With practice, we can become better at non-judgmentally observing the moment — be it a positive or negative — and respond more effectively.
I generally think of mindfulness exercises in two groups: times of more extended meditation and brief practices to use through our day that help us stay centered in the moment.
Meditation is simpler (and harder) than most people think. Meditation may be accomplished using various techniques. A simple approach is sitting in a calm/quiet place — this may be in a chair with feet on the floor, sitting loosely cross-legged, or kneeling — whatever works best for you. Set aside even 5-10 minutes and follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out. Inevitably, your attention will drift. When you notice this, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. When you are closing your session, open your eyes/lift your gaze and take a moment to notice any sounds around you. Notice how your body feels. Notice your thoughts and emotions. It’s as simple as that. Also, there are apps that will walk through a body scan — a time that you lie on the ground and focus on different parts of your body and releasing tension of each part. There are also techniques that use focal points other than our breath — like using our senses to focus on the sounds around us, or a breeze or warm sun on our skin, or the feeling of rubbing a stone in our hand. There is no “best path.” The most important thing is that you take the time to do it — it is in that moment that you are saying to yourself that you believe in change, you believe in caring for yourself, and you are making it real.
Now, the next piece is how to integrate mindfulness into the cadence of our day. It helps to start the day with meditation, or at least several cleansing breaths. Consciously begin the day with an intention — a positive focus for navigating the day — such as “I will feel kindness toward others and myself.” The possibilities for positive intention are infinite and will likely vary with the challenges in your life. Try to develop routines that incorporate brief moments of focus, like savoring the first several sips of coffee — the aroma, flavor, heat. The commute to work can be done with a calm focus noticing your surroundings instead of fretting about the past or what the day holds. I won’t go on further about these routines, because each of us needs to look for opportunity in our varied lives. But the next step is finding something that helps take down stress as it begins to mount. Examples are the use of several cleansing breaths, focus on shifting weight from one foot to the other, focus on rubbing fingers together. It just needs to be something that slows us down briefly and allows us to approach our situation with a calm consciousness.
Mindfulness is a practice. Like most things, the more we practice, the better we become.