For all of you anxious and stressed out folks out there (and who isn’t these days?) I wanted to provide a simple how-to for practicing mindfulness and incorporating it into everyday life. In theory, the practice is rather simple, but in practice, in can be tricky. Like everything else in life, it gets easier over time. I’m no expert but I have attended a few classes, interned for Paul Harrison (themindfulnessmovie.com) and have been researching it for my final research project in graduate school. I think I have gained the most insight on mindfulness however, through being an anxious person who has used the technique as a way to regain focus and find clarity.
Mindfulness is all about being in the moment. A common misperception is that mindfulness is “not thinking.” I hate to break it to you anxious ones but to have a completely clear mind is impossible. But who wants to have an empty brain anyway? Wouldn’t we all rather focus on the beauty around us that we may not otherwise take notice of? Here are a few different ways I practice being mindful:
1.) I have tried to get into the habit of laying out my yoga mat first thing after I get out of bed and sitting quietly for atleast five minutes. Sit indian style, back straight, arms relaxed, eyes closed (or open if you prefer) and focus on what flows your mind. If your days to do list begins to run through your head, don’t immediately shue it away. Recognize it. Don’t judge it. Don’t yell at yourself for thinking about it. Just observe it. It is a challenge at first but slowly the thought will float away. If thoughts of your afternoon doctor appointment begin to arise, do the same thing. Observe the thought and release.
2.) You don’t need a yoga mat to be mindful. Today I practiced it for a few minutes on the train. Instead of allowing myself to be flooded with thoughts of things I needed to get done once I returned home, I listened. I listened to the guy across from me talk on his phone excitedly about his job. I listened to the sound system politely request that passengers don’t litter or assault one another. This pulled me from my inner chaos to the present moment.
~Focus on your breath. Try breathing from the depths of your stomach. Observe the inhale and then release of the exhale. Feel your body begin to calm and muscles relax.
~Morning commutes are a great time to practice mindfulness. Rush hour traffic makes us all angry. What better time to practice being calm? Turn off the noise of the radio and put your phone on vibrate. Even two minutes of breathing and observing techniques will calm you.
~I have found that choosing one sense to focus on is a great way to direct my attention. As mentioned above, sometimes I focus entirely on what I hear. Or turn your attention to everything you see. Observe the car in front of you, the person sitting next to you (but don’t be creepy about it), the buildings your pass, the color of your socks, anything you see! Try not to judge what your are observing, rather stay in the present moment of just noticing.
I could go into further detail but want to keep this post simple as I understand practicing mindfulness can be overwhelming at first. It can be frustrating initially but it honestly gets easier every time you do it. Practicing for just a few minutes a day is a great start. Maybe think of the time of the day you are most stressed or anxious and set aside a few minutes to practice then. Or before bed or after you wake up. Experiment and stick with it. Life is intended to be lived in the moment and mindfulness is a great reminder of that.