Mindfulness is a buzzword that seems to be flying around the health and wellness world, but what exactly is mindfulness? Why is it something that we practice? How do we find it?
What is Mindfulness?
There are plenty of lengthy definitions about what mindfulness is, but essentially, it’s the ability to remain fully present, mentally and physically, with one’s environment from a place of non-reaction. That sounds nice, but what does that really mean? It’s our ability to stay right here, no matter what “right here” is. It’s choosing to do one thing at a time and be a full participant in your tasks, no matter how small, and to do those tasks with little attachment to the outcome.
Why Practice It?
Practicing mindfulness gives us the opportunity to live fully, moment to moment. Frequently we are rushing to the next moment and missing life unfold before us. We miss opportunities to connect with those around us because we’re hurrying to the next task, and then the next, and then the day is over. Each morning, we wake up and start it all over again. It can feel like we’re just going through the motions of life; it’s stressful and exhausting.
One of the biggest benefits of mindfulness is stress reduction. Allowing yourself to be fully present in your task is freeing. There’s no stress about what’s next, and no stress about what you forgot yesterday. You’re choosing to be right there, fully engaged.
Imagine your brain is like your Internet browser on your computer. Sure, it can run all those tabs simultaneously, but it will take your computer a longer time to run many programs at once. Choosing to be mindful is like choosing to close some of those tabs and dive completely into the one program running now. We’re all over-stressed, overworked, and over-medicated. Mindfulness puts some of that power back into your hands. Think: I can choose what I spend my time doing; I can choose when to do certain tasks; I can choose how I’m interacting with this present moment, regardless of what’s actually happening.
Some of the stress we face every day is from wishing things were different. Wishing steals your focus and a lot of your effort instead of letting you give full effort to whatever it is that you are doing. Practicing mindfulness give us the tools to let go of wishing and to just do the one thing.
How Do We Find Mindfulness?
Often times, people believe they have to take a course, go on vacation, go to yoga class, go on a retreat…the list continues. We think, “I will relax and be mindful after I…” That can be filled with anything, “I can be mindful after I answer these seventeen emails, after I drop the kids off at soccer, after my second glass of wine, after, after, after.” When you find your thoughts on this track: stop it! You absolutely can find mindfulness in everyday life. You can still be mindful and complete all your tasks. In fact, those irritating tasks could even be joyful if you tried doing them mindfully. We can choose mindfulness without stopping what we’re doing. But how?
There are many techniques that help us cultivate mindfulness: meditation, yoga, breath work, zen practices (getting in the “zone” because a task doesn’t really require executive brain function), but my goal is to give you a few easy steps to start your mindfulness practice. It’s approachable no matter your skill level, and it’s free, so there’s no excuse.
Step 1: Notice: scan your body. What’s your posture like? Are you holding tension in your face, neck, and jaw? What’s the quality of your breath? What are your emotions like?
These are usually indicators that we’ve lost our body awareness and mindfulness. When we’re not aware of our breath and our emotions, chances are we’re not doing the one thing. At this point we’re probably multi-tasking and making little messes along the way.
Step 2: Make a change: step away from what you’re doing! Move your body around, even if it’s just a walk down the hall, or some shoulder shrugs. If you can’t get up and move around, close your eyes (if available) and take some deep breaths.
The whole point is to give yourself a break from that task, without taking on another. If you’re at the point where you’ve lost your mindfulness, forcing yourself to stay there and trying to refocus is hard. The movement gives your brain a break from the over-thinking, and helps get out the squirreliness.
Step 3: Check-in. Notice how you feel now and notice the difference between feeling mind-less and mind-ful.
Now that you’ve felt the difference, see if you can stay in that feeling of being mindful. See if you can stick with your breath, even as the moment starts to get challenging. You know what it feels like to be mindful, so find it again. Allow step three to be your functioning level of mindfulness. Let your breath be your guide to stay in the flow.