by Christine Stephenson, LPC
There has been a lot of hype lately about mindfulness but it really isn’t a new concept, it has been around for thousands of years. Many people wonder what mindfulness is. In a nutshell mindfulness is paying attention to your life in a very specific way; in the present moment, intentionally and without judgement. It is making the effort to be in touch with yourself, with others and with your surroundings in the present moment. You are maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. Sounds simple but it is not always easy.
Often we spend our time on auto pilot or blasting through our present moment to get to a better moment in the future. Mindfulness is slowing down and savoring the here and now. Noticing not just what is going well but also attending to unpleasant emotions that come up and instead of trying to escape them using that awareness to explore those emotions.
Much research has been done on the benefits of a mindfulness practice. Some of the benefits that have been discovered include decrease in ruminating thoughts and increased stress reduction. Through an increase in grey matter, it improves working memory, increases focus, and decreases emotional reactivity. Mindfulness increases cognitive flexibility, improves relationship satisfaction, improves immune function, and improves sleep. Studies have shown weight loss and an overall better quality of life as benefits. It also has been shown to help foster compassion and altruism.
Mindfulness can be cultivated though several practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation. Don’t worry if these activities are not your cup of tea; incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life is not as hard as it seems. The following are five easy ways to become more mindful during daily routine activities.
First, breathe with focus and attention. Start by paying attention to your breath. Feel the sensations as the breath moves in and out of your body. Focus on how the breath feels as it enters the body, filling the belly and the chest cavity. Feel your breath as it exits the body all the while relaxing into the spaces between the breaths. This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process, sometimes focusing on just a few breaths will bring you back to the present moment.
Second, eat with mindfulness. Take the time to taste and savor your food. To practice this, you can do the famous Raisin Exercise. Hold a raisin in your hand and look at it. Notice the way it wrinkles and puckers and the different shades of color that are there. Bring the raisin to your nose and smell it. Describe the smell without judgement and notice any changes that may be happening in your mouth and stomach. Place the raisin in your mouth and roll it around while paying attention to the taste and texture. Chew the raisin slowly noticing the subtle moment by moment changes that occur with time. When you feel ready to swallow the raisin notice if you can first detect the intention to swallow before you actually follow through with the act of swallowing.
Third, walk with mindfulness. This is not rushing to your next destination but placing each foot on the ground with purpose and intention. Feel the sensations of walking including feeling your foot make contact with the earth and any other sensation that comes up in your body. It does not have to be in slow motion but it does have to be thoughtful and focused.
Fourth mindfully release tension that builds up over the course of the day. When you become more aware of your body you will start to notice tension and stress. Take the time to care for yourself with deep soothing breaths followed by light stretching, gentle massage, or use progressive muscle relaxation. This is done by tensing a tight muscle for five seconds followed by a release that allows all the tightness to flow out of the muscle. Take the time to notice the relaxation.
And finally, practice mindfulness while you wait. While you are standing in line or stuck in traffic, take time to notice where you are and who is around you. Bring your attention back to your breath and notice how you are feeling. If there is irritation or frustrations, just notice the feelings without judgement and let them be.
If you are interested in incorporating more mindfulness into your daily routine and would like more structure and guidance, look for a group that incorporates mindfulness into its activity. Joining a yoga class, meditation group, or tai chi class is a great way to increase your fitness level, social interactions, and mindfulness. If you are ready to live more in the moment, find a class today.