How to practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere

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.

More tips:
~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.

Epiphany on my yoga mat

ImageAn interesting thing happened this morning as I was sitting quietly on my yoga mat trying to slow down the chaos that is my brain. It seems as though the morning and night time are when my thoughts decide to go into overdrive. So, I have been trying to spend atleast 5 minutes every morning, sitting quietly before diving into the day. As usual, this morning I was having a difficult time not focusing on the research paper I need to finish today or the many blog ideas that keep popping up. I was trying to not focus on all this as well as tune out the construction guys across the street who are loudly drilling holes in the road when it occurred to me, this moment is all I have right now. This minute, this second is it. I have zero control over what happens 30 seconds from now because it is in the future. How much happier, not to mention more productive, would I be if I focused on the very moment that I am living in rather than the next 2,000 moments? This seems like such an obvious conclusion to come to, but how many of us are really mindful of this fact in our daily lives? As someone who suffers with occasional (make that very occasional) anxiety, worrying about future events that have yet to occur is a habit I am all too familiar with. No matter how much I worry, plan, control and prepare for the moments ahead, I am still in the present moment. What if we simply just did our best in the present and hoped it would benefit our future? Isn’t that really all we can do? Do our best in the present and hope for the best in the future? Again, this seems like an obvious aha! moment but actually being aware of this, could eliminate a great deal of our daily anxieties and suffering.

The Mindfulness Movie

Paul Harrison has an incredible new documentary coming out called, The Mindfulness Movie. I am helping him spread the word, as I have found mindfulness to be an extremely helpful practice in my own life. The following is an article I wrote to help promote the film. Enjoy!

We in a fast paced world; there is no question about it. People walk quickly, drive at illegal speeds and perhaps most damaging, think at an outrageous rate. If a song played every time a thought entered your brain, imagine how much noise you would be resonating. Personally, I would be a walking mariachi band. Since graduating college and moving from my safe, comfortable childhood home in Ohio to the big, uncertain city of Chicago, anxiety has become a constant battle of mine. Perhaps the entrance into adulthood and all of the responsibilities it brings triggered it, or maybe it was moving away from friends and family, but nevertheless, anxiety found a home in my brain and quickly settled in. For almost three years now, I have tried everything from therapists to self-help books to medication. They have all helped in their own way, but by far the most calming and easily accessible tool to help calm the chatter has been practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the act of living in the present moment, focusing on your thoughts and emotions at a distance rather than judging and labeling them. At any particular moment, you are simply nothing more than present. You are not the water bill you keep thinking needs to be paid or the job deadline you have no idea how you are going to meet. It is impossible much more difficult to hear all of that noise while in this state of peace and serenity Perhaps one of the biggest perks of practicing mindfulness is that it can be done anywhere. You can practice on your long commute to work or while waiting for the Starbucks barista to make your morning latte. Unlike so many other tools and methods I have tried over the years, mindfulness requires no prescription and is free of charge. That alone makes it worthy of trying.

In his new documentary, The Mindfulness Movie, author, Paul Harrison, has created a two-part series to not only encourage people to use mindfulness in their everyday lives but also includes a training program in which viewers are trained by an unprecedented group of 35 world-renowned experts in the fields of neuroscience, psychiatry, relationships, sports, psychology, and quantum physics from around the globe, as well as major bestselling authors. In addition, it includes testimonials from a random group of participants in the program.

For more information on the film and how you can contribute, go to http://www.themindfulnessmovie.com/ and click on the Indiegogo button to help.