Mindfulness, What Is It?
Wellness Blogger -Teri Socia, Owner of Rae Soap Co.
My daughter recently expressed interest in traveling abroad to Japan next summer. She would like to attend a two-week immersive mindful peace leadership journey. On this trip, students will learn about mindfulness and peace leadership in different contexts and fields, explore the history, take in the culture, and experience an unforgettable glimpse into this timeless country. The students will observe and learn about mindfulness practices and contemplative art with a focus on Japanese aesthetics to help build their leadership portfolio to promote peace, dignity, and sustainability in their personal, social and workplace domains.
To be completely transparent, I had no idea what being mindful meant until my daughter explained what this trip entailed. She has been practicing being more present and it intrigued me to learn more. I am still not 100% certain I fully understand every facet of this practice. By no means am I a subject matter expert on this topic, however; upon researching more, I am appreciating what I am learning and beginning to try it out.
How many times have you been driving and your mind is in a trillion different places for all of the tasks that you have on your do-do-list when suddenly you arrive at your destination and you have no idea how you got there on auto-pilot. You have deadlines for work in the back of your mind. You do chores and follow a recipe to cook dinner while having a conversation on the phone and at the same time you’re snapping your fingers at the kids to quit jumping on the couch. The doorbell rings and the neighbor kids are selling cookies so you disconnect from your call to get the door. You realize in that moment looking at the recipe as you set the phone down that you forgot to get eggs at the store. A sense of frustration consumes you because you were distracted while grocery shopping earlier that day by being annoyed that there was a spill in that aisle. The distraction was going to slow you down so you took a detour in the store, forgetting the eggs. You answer the door and cannot find your wallet to purchase the cookies because you’ve left it in the car as you were hurrying the kids out of their car seats so you could get to your next tasks. Your mind is all over the place and you are thinking about what needs to be done, what happened in the past, and you are stressed out about what you need to do next. I bet your mind is wandering now. Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me. This is why I was intrigued to learn how to be more present and allow my daughter to teach me this practice.
The whole idea behind practicing mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we are sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Example: the spill in the aisle is no problem, I will return after my list is complete and get the remaining groceries.
Mindfulness is now being examined scientifically and has been found to be a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness. That sounds pretty enticing to me. Let’s explore how it works.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
Now that we know what it is, how does it work? Some experts believe that mindfulness works, in part, by helping people to accept their experiences including painful emotions – rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.
It has become increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. This development makes good sense, since both meditation and CBT share the common goal of helping people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.
There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation. Think about what you are doing right now. How are you sitting? What are you thinking as you read this? Are you taking short labored breaths or are you deeply breathing? These are all things that being mindful will make you more aware of in your present.
Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Use this time to pray if you follow a faith. Allow your thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on your breath or mantra.
Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
The Benefits of Mindful Thinking
Mindfulness improves well-being. Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports many attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life. Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on “the here and now” many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past. They are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.
Mindfulness improves physical health. If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
Mindfulness improves mental health. In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How to Become a More Mindful Person
To start a daily mindfulness practice, you need to make a commitment to sit for at least five minutes a day in a quiet space with zero distractions. Once you conquer setting aside five minutes a day, you can begin to practice it in your daily tasks. Here is a short list that may help you to begin becoming more mindful:
- Create a sacred space just for you
- Focus on your breathing and breathe deeply
- Stay present and in the moment, even when you find your mind drifting off
- Replace bad habits with good ones
- Disconnect from your phone
- Let go of expectations and try it out
- Do not multitask! If you drift, find your center (you can spare 5 minutes)
- Be kind to yourself
- Create something
- Have fun and be present!