Male Speaker: We spend a lot of our time rethinking the past and planning for the future. There is an old saying, if we could bottle up that time and spend it on the present, we would live forever. In a nutshell, that’s mindfulness.
When you hear the word mindfulness, what do you think of, chanting, incense, a Buddhist temple? Before we learn what mindfulness is, take this quiz with me.
Which of the following is a perfect place for practicing mindfulness, in a zen garden, in your car, stopped at a traffic light, or in your kitchen pouring coffee?
If you have a zen garden, congratulations, but the answer is, all of them.
Mindfulness simply means paying special attention to the present moment. It’s not religious and it’s not connected to any belief system. Getting children ready for school, driving to work, going grocery shopping, making dinner, walking the dog, any of these are perfect for a moment of mindfulness.
You simply pause to observe your thoughts and feelings almost as if from a distance, the most important thing is to not judge them. Your feelings aren’t good or bad, you are simply becoming aware of them. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so powerful.
Studies have shown that just a few minutes of mindfulness a day can relieve stress, anxiety and depression. It can also have a calming effect when life gets intense.
Believe it or not, studies show mindfulness even has physical benefits. Mindfulness can improve sleep and lower blood pressure. It can also increase energy and productivity.
According to scientists there are even more benefits. Mindfulness reduces pain, eases depression, aids in substance use recovery, improves relationships, makes you happier.
If mindfulness is so beneficial, then why don’t we practice it more? In a word, distractions; noises around us, emails arriving, dogs barking, also intrusive thoughts; did I leave the coffeepot on? Did I pack my child’s lunch? How would my hair look parted down the middle? One way to deal with distractions is to realize we can’t prevent them.
Mindfulness teaches us to observe distractions and let them go. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Distractions such as pain, fatigue or extreme emotional states can take more practice, but mindfulness is a journey, not a destination. It’s a state, not a trait. If one method doesn’t work for you, try another. Any improvement, even a small one is helpful.
Here’s one mindfulness technique for tuning in to the present moment. Start by focusing on your breathing. Feel the sensation of the air going in and out, don’t judge it, just observe it.
Now, broaden your attention. You might observe your thoughts as they enter and leave your mind. You might pay attention to how your body feels. You can also focus on your surroundings. What are your senses experiencing at this moment? The technique may seem simple, but it’s powerful, especially in stressful situations it can relax you.
Here’s another way to be present in the moment. The next time you walk somewhere, use the time to practice mindfulness. Try breathing in and out every three steps. Focus on the sensation of walking.
Similar to this, you can practice mindfulness while eating. Observe the color and texture of the food before you start eating. Think about the details, who prepared the food, where was it grown? Notice the sensations of chewing and swallowing as you eat. Try to notice the taste of each ingredient.
Let’s highlight one last technique. It’s designed to make interactions with other people more pleasant and productive. Before your next encounter consider what you would like to accomplish, then commit to interacting mindfully for the entire exchange. Really deeply notice what the other person is saying to you. After the encounter, take a moment and think about what happened. Reflect on the exchange as you replay it in your mind. Did you achieve your goal in the interaction?
There are many more focusing exercises you can use in your daily life, including yoga, meditation, deep breathing, but any practice that helps you slow down and be aware of the present is useful.
The key is to start small. Try pairing a moment of mindfulness with an everyday activity and see how you feel. Mindfulness may seem like magic, but it is something you can learn; like any skill, the more you practice, the better you get.