indfulness is a word we hear thrown around, but what does it mean and why should you try it?
Mindfulness means paying more attention and being more present in the moment. It’s focusing your awareness fully on yourself, even if for just a few moments. Doing this centers you-- it helps you to control your reactivity to situations and people, and to decrease anxiety and stress. A mindfulness practice means that you are committing to actively engage in mindfulness throughout your day-- just like a yoga practice, you need to keep doing it. Not only will this make you better at it, but a practice will also create healthier habits. How do you incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine?
- Slow down
Focus on Gratitude
How Being Mindful of the Good You Receive Can Help
When was the last time that you brought your awareness to things or people for which you were grateful? Taking a few moments at the beginning and/or end of your day to be thankful-- even for small stuff-- changes your brain patterns to higher, more positive frequencies when done consistently. Making thankfulness a daily part of your routine is called a gratitude practice.
Like any mindfulness exercise, a gratitude practice can happen anywhere in the moment. Doing it as soon as you wake up-- even before getting out of bed-- helps to set a tone for your day. Think of a list of 3-5 things, people, or events for which you are grateful. It can be as simple as “I’m grateful for my K-cup coffee brewer because I cannot make good coffee on my own.”
Once you’ve established the routine, challenge yourself to get more creative and detailed.
Or deeper and more heartfelt. Often gratitude practices focus solely on “love and light,” forgetting the shadows and dark areas of our lives. These struggles taught us something, too, which shouldn’t be discredited simply because of its origin. For example, nearly everyone reading this has experienced an intensely bad romantic breakup. Whatever the cause of the breakup-- or who instigated it-- there was a lesson that you learned. Hopefully, it was one about compassion or setting stronger boundaries. It’s healthy to be grateful for those!
Additionally, make a point of expressing your gratitude out loud-- preferably in a personal way, over a phone call or in person-- to anyone who has done you a good service. You never know if that person actually realizes just how much of an impact they had until you thank them for it. Try it in simple ways: thank your bus driver or Lyft or Uber driver, and look them in the eye when you do it; thank the clerk at the check-out counter (and stay off your phone during the process!); or your pet for loving you unconditionally!
At the end of the day, try to find a different 3-5 things or people for which to be grateful. It can be as simple as expressing gratitude for a comfortable bed or the money to buy healthy food to cook. Even if you had a terrible day, you can be grateful that it’s over and a fresh start awaits you tomorrow.
The Mindful Approach to Adulting
Part of practicing mindfulness is slowing down. Much of our day is spent in a hectic, chaotic pace trying to accomplish as much as we can. Our culture encourages multi-tasking. All of this hurried attitude creates anxiety and stress.
Slow down. Do one thing at a time. Concentrate on one piece of the puzzle before you move onto the next. As the expression goes: do one thing, and do it well.
It helps to make a prioritized list. Check it off as you accomplish each task. And make sure to give your brain a break in between to refresh itself-- concentrating for longer than an hour can cause fatigue. And especially in our instant-gratification society, focusing for that long can be a struggle.
Remember that it’s okay to let your mind wander for a while. The more you poke at and practice awareness, the more thoughts will try to crowd in for your attention. The trick is to recognize when that is happening, and gently steer your thoughts back to the task at hand. Because you can learn to recognize this happening-- and learn to recenter and come back to yourself-- your brain develops some really cool neural pathways that actually improve the health and functionality of itself.
The other part to this piece is letting go of judgement. The more we pay attention, the more our inner critic will speak up and be heard. That little voice isn’t a bad thing, but it can get out of hand. A lot of our negative judginess is learned and internalized from our surroundings (especially at a young age), so part of mindfulness is recognizing when that’s happening and doing your best to unlearn it. Think about where that criticism came from-- what informed it-- and diffuse it.
Learning to do this helps us to control our perspective and reactivity to situations and people. Which in turn leads to healthier responses and less anxiety and stress.
And who doesn’t want that?
Take Mindfulness Back to the Basics
Another super-simple way to bring more awareness into your life is to pay attention to your breath. Periodically, throughout the day, pause and examine your breath and posture. Is your jaw tense? Are you slouching? Are your breaths shallow and quick?
If you’re physically uncomfortable, bring your awareness to areas of tension and relax them. Sit up straighter. Stretch, if you need to and are able.
But breath work is easily accomplished in any setting, with very little tell-tale to the outside world. Correct breathing has a multitude of benefits, including: soothing the nervous system, equalizing your body’s rhythms, and even reducing pain!
First, remember to breath in through the nose. Your nasal passages are full of membranes and air purifiers, so breathing through your nose ensures that the air that hits your lungs is pretty darned clean! Mouth-breathing doesn’t do that, so more pollution and heat/cold suckerpunches your lungs and throws off your breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing is best. Your diaphragm sits under your lungs and above your digestive system. By consciously breathing down into your diaphragm instead of expanding your rib cage out, you’re sucking in loads more air and decreasing the workload of your heart by jazzing up your circulation.
Try this simple choir and theatre trick: imagine that there is a silver tube running from your nose down into your belly, where it is attached to a red balloon. As you breath into the tube, try to expand the red balloon. If you’re doing this properly, your breath should expand the upper belly area. If you’re breathing incorrectly, your chest will rise and lift.
If you’re feeling reactionary, taking a few seconds to discreetly breathe deeply instantly begins calming your nerves so you can think more clearly. Do it for the count of three in, three on the release, and repeat it three times. Unless the situation is an emergency requiring immediate action, taking this time to pause allows immediate reactions to pass and focuses your mind on producing a more appropriate response.
By the way, yawning isn’t always an indication of exhaustion. If you’re yawning for no apparent reason, it’s probably because it’s your body’s way of deeply drawing in more oxygen.
Just a Few Minutes of Meditation Can Do Wonders for Your Mental Health
Getting your dose of daily Om is important to mindfulness. Meditation often brings to mind images of people sitting serenely in Lotus Pose, holding their hands in a Mudrah and chanting. While that is classic meditation, you don’t have to be a yogi to do it.
In fact, most people avoid meditation, or think that they’re bad at it because they “can’t stop thinking.” That’s NOT TRUE.
True meditation is the art of mindfulness. Meaning that it’s not about stopping thoughts from happening-- that is, after all, the brain’s natural function-- it’s about recognizing when that happens and simply observing it without getting caught up in it.
Your brain is a lot like your favorite show-- it has characters, plot, and movement. The trick to meditation is sitting back and watching the show-- being in the audience-- instead of acting in the show.
To start a basic meditation practice, pick a short amount of time-- say, 3 to 5 minutes. Get comfortable, but sit up so that your airways are free and your feet are flat and connected with the floor (it’s called “grounding”).
If you like, you can take off your shoes-- this can help signal to your body that it’s time to meditate, which sets off a chain reaction that makes it easier to slip into meditation mode the more you do it.
Decide if you want to do this on your own or guided-- there are some really good apps out there and playlists on social media and digital music platforms.
Do a body scan-- notice areas of tension and relaxation. Breathe. Continue to do scan and breathe. Notice how your body feels when you breathe. Listen to your breath. Follow it from your nose, down into your lungs, and out again.
Repeat this until your time is up.
Meditation-- as with any mindfulness practice-- gets easier when repetition. It’s also something that the brain has to learn how to do, so setting a slow and steady practice-- and showing up for it-- is more beneficial and meditating a whole bunch all at one go. Think of it like eating-- it’s healthier to eat three smaller meals a day rather than one large meal.
Our brains are designed to do two things REALLY well: think and learn. By practicing mindfulness, you’re teaching your brain how to recognize thoughts and to learn how to control them. The benefits of little mindfulness practices add up, resulting in less anxiety, stress, negativity and fatigue. Try some of our suggestions, and be sure to leave your own advice in the comments!