I hear the word, MINDFULNESS, or MINDFUL, regularly. But I actually have no idea what it is, where it came from, or how to do it. How do I start being mindful? How do I know if is it right for me? I am unsure of meditation, and I don’t think I can do it on my own. So, I am looking to get an idea of what Mindfulness is and maybe, a few suggestions on how to get started.
Hi Dana! Mindfulness is a real passion of mine, and I am happy to answer your questions about it, so that you have some clarity and start to cultivate mindfulness in your life!
So, what is all this talk about mindfulness? Typical medical practitioners have explored the benefits of mindfulness in the last 50 years, with Mindfulness rising to popularity in the last decade. However, people in other parts of the world: Yogis, Taoists, Buddhists, and Indigenous populations have been exploring and practicing it for thousands of years. Regardless of where it came from and how long it has been around, the benefits of mindfulness are all evident in areas of science, medicine, education, therapy, sports, and self care. Significant research is showing the advantages of mindfulness; some of which include the improvements in sleep, joyfulness, emotional regulation, and an overall sense of well being, as well as a reduction of chronic pain, stress, anxiety, depression and hyperactivity. In western society, stressful careers, busy lives, and full schedules mean we're often living on autopilot as we move from one TO-DO list to another! This may mean we are stuck in the past or the future or focused on things that we have to do. Over time, this frantic pace of living and being on autopilot can affect our decision making - we may lose the ability to create satisfaction and happiness for ourselves. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of autopilot. In cultivating the practice of Mindfulness, we pay attention in the present moment, where we can nurture a greater understanding and nonjudgmental acceptance of ourselves. It connects us to the idea that life is lived in the moment that is happening right now. There is a well-known definition of Mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the
present moment, non-judgementally,” says Kabat-Zinn. “And then I sometimes add, in the
service of self-understanding and wisdom.”
What Mindfulness is:
Mindfulness is an awareness of the present moment that is cultivated through practice, practice, practice.
What Mindfulness is not:
Mindfulness is NOT A STATE or a place to get to. Stress reduction is often an effect of mindfulness practice, but the goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. Mindfulness isn’t about “fixing” you or about stopping your thoughts. It isn’t about a religion or escaping from your life.
Here are a few ideas to use as you start experimenting with mindfulness:
1. ACCESS the BREATH: 3 times a day, stop where you are. You can sit or stand. Then take a deep breath, allowing yourself to be in the present moment by following the pattern of your breath. Inhale and notice how the breath floats down to your stomach and then floats back up to the exhale. Thoughts will arrive and you can let them go like a gentle breeze, blowing away leaves on the ground.
2. USE the SENSES: Tap into your senses to develop awareness of what you're doing in the present moment. For example, if you are eating, notice the texture, smells, colours, and taste of the food. If you are in the grocery store, access your sense of smell and notice the different smells of produce, fruit, bread, and meat.
3. NOTICE the ZONE OUT: You can also make an intention to notice when you are on autopilot. If you notice that you have floated away into thoughts or dreams (past or future), gently bring your awareness back to the activity that you were doing and begin in the present moment again, without judging yourself.
4. EXERCISE: Stand with your feet shoulder with the part, feel the connection to the earth. • Lengthen your spine with ease as arms hang loosely by your side. • As you inhale slowly through the nose, allow your arms to float up and out to the sides, palms facing down drawing energy up from your feet, until your arms are parallel to the earth. • Gently circle the arms so that palms are facing up, let your breath help lift your arms towards the sky. • When your arms are fully extended overhead, turn your palms toward you and slowly bring them down in front of you as you exhale. • Doing this movement even once (which only takes a few seconds), can immediately calm and reset your nervous system.
“One of the really profound, liberating aspects of the practice of mindfulness is actually recognizing thoughts, and then realizing that they may be true to a degree, but then none of them are actually absolutely true.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Although this article is a short explanation, it offers you a place to start. Remember to start where you are. There is no prescriptive “right way” to practice paying attention in the present moment.