Practicing Mindfulness

Many of us have heard about the benefits of mindfulness…so much so that we can get tired of hearing about it! While we’ve all heard about mindfulness and meditation, understanding and actually implementing these skills can be hard…just one more thing to add to our daily routines. We’re constantly being told about things we should add to our lives (Drink more water! Get more exercise!), and it can feel exhausting to add one more thing.

So, yes, it is hard to even think about practicing mindfulness or meditation. However, if we had to choose just one thing to try to add, I would argue that mindfulness or meditation would be the most beneficial. I’m not talking about doing a deep-dive transcendental meditation that is 40 minutes long. Just taking a few minutes (say 5-10 minutes a day) to check in with yourself has been proven to have surprising benefits to your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Mindfulness skills can have many psychological, cognitive, and physical benefits, often increasing our happiness, capacity for compassion, satisfaction with work and life, and sense of meaning. Cognitively, mindfulness meditation has shown to improve our attention span, memory, focus, and problem solving ability. And surprisingly, mindfulness has even been shown to improve our immune system, reduce hypertension, and decrease chronic pain and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. With all these benefits, it’s worth it to take a few minutes of our daily lives to devote to mindfulness meditation.

The next question you might be asking is, Where do I start? If you’re like most of us and not a meditation guru, getting started can be a daunting task. However, the act of being mindfulness or doing a short meditation is really quite simple. You can always build on your practice if you find it helpful, but making it a habit is usually the hardest part.

To clarify some terms, mindfulness basically means being fully aware of the present moment: our surroundings, our sensations, and even our thoughts. When we are mindful, we are an observer of all that is going on in the present moment. Mindfulness can therefore be practiced at any time, no matter what you’re doing. Mindfulness meditation means we actually sit down and take time to focus on our experience, often to observe the sensation of our breathing while also observing and letting our thoughts pass by without engaging with them.

To practice mindfulness, try starting with a daily activity like your morning shower or washing the dishes. See if you can increase your awareness of your senses as you do the activity. For instance, as you are washing the dishes, feel the warm water on your hands and the smooth texture of the plate you are scrubbing. Listen to the water as it splashes into the sink and the clicking of plates and silverware. Look at your hands as you are washing. Take a moment to try to zero in on that moment in time. You can also focus on your breath to practice mindfulness during the day. You might pause just for a moment to breathe in for five counts and out for seven, or to just breathe normally and feel your chest and abdomen rise and fall.

If you would like to start a meditation practice, it’s usually helpful to block out the same time every day to meditate. The beginning or end of the day is often best, when the busyness of daily life is less likely to take over. The main idea in meditation practice is to be present in stillness. Focus on noticing, observing, and accepting the presence of your thoughts with curiosity, rather than “thinking” them, and use your noticing a thought as a reminder to gently shift your focus back to your breathing. The goal is not to “get rid of thoughts” but rather to observe and accept their presence and gently refocus your attention on your breathing.

Some find it easier to start with guided meditations, which give you something to listen to and focus on while you are meditating. If this seems like the easiest way to get started, a meditation app (such as Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer) may be helpful. If guided meditation isn’t for you, you can just sit in silence for a short time (eg, 2-5 minutes) each day.

Whatever route you try, the goal is not to get discouraged. Mindfulness and meditation aren’t competitive sports! If your mind goes off into what you need to get done for the day while you are trying to meditate, just notice that and bring your mind back to your breathing. The act of noticing that your mind veered off course is a sign that you are being more mindful!

If you can begin to incorporate these practices into your daily life, you will notice a positive shift in your attitude, focus, and mental health. You may even get to the point where you look forward to this time of quiet that you are setting aside for yourself each day.

Tips for Building a Better Relationship
Understanding Your Attachment Style