Mindfulness has become a hot topic in the past few years. Scientists are studying it, therapists are incorporating it in treatment sessions, schools are using it, and people are trying to practice it in their day to day lives. Ok, that’s cool and all, but what is it?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the foremost leaders in mindfulness practice, provides this definition: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” One of my college professors described mindfulness as “Not only stopping to smell the roses, but stopping to experience them.”Photo by Billy Cox on Unsplash
The nonjudgmental part of Kabat-Zinn’s definition is really what makes mindfulness stand out to me from other practices, such as relaxation techniques. Have you ever tried to clear your mind? It’s ridiculously impossible, right? I try to focus on my breathing, then I start to think about all the things I need to do, or about how my child has a propensity for trying to eat the dog’s food, or about how I really want a milkshake. Then, I get upset at myself, because I’m supposed to be relaxing and only focusing on my breath. Then I get anxious and tense and the whole exercise is a wash.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. Let’s take the breathing example. If I’m trying to be mindful while I’m concentrating on my breathing, I will pay attention to my breathing on purpose, while focusing on the current breath (not the previous one or the next one). If my mind wanders off somewhere else (i.e., milkshakes), instead of berating myself for losing focus, I will notice where my thoughts wandered off to without tensing up and then gently redirect my focus back to my breathing. My thoughts pulling my focus away from my breathing are part of the present moment, so I simply notice them as they pass by (kind of like clouds or butterflies… or farts), then return my thoughts to my intended point of focus. Mindfulness is a wonderful way to practice how to be kind to yourself.
Keep in mind that mindfulness is not the same as relaxation techniques. It can have a relaxing, calming effect, but the goal of mindfulness is to become aware of and center yourself in the present moment. Humans tend to focus on the past or the future. Mindfulness helps us learn how to live in the present.
Below is a list of mindfulness practices that you can do during your day. Most of these take about a minute or less. The next time you find yourself feeling stressed as you worry about all the things you need to do in the next 24 hours (the future), try one of these things out. Maybe it will help you center yourself in the present (and maybe help you feel a little calmer, too).
- Take two deep breaths (Note: Deep breaths, not shallow, gonna-make-you-hyperventilate breaths.) Next, take notice of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell (be prepared), and 1 thing you can taste. You’ll likely need to slow down to notice these things. You may not enjoy what you notice, but that’s not the point. The point is to take the time and focus to notice them.
- Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing for 5 (slow) breaths. See if you can feel your breath as it enters your nose, fills your lungs, and exits through your nose or mouth.
- Sit comfortably. Close your eyes and take a few calming breaths. Notice how the ground feels on your feet, how your chair feels on your seat and back, or how your clothes feel on your body. Notice any sounds that maybe you hadn’t paid attention to earlier. Take a quick inventory of how you feel physically and emotionally. Maybe you hear the A/C unit. Maybe your stomach is singing the song of its people and letting you know it’s time for lunch. Take a few more deep, calming breaths, then open your eyes.
- Tap your toes. Focus on the tapping for a few seconds. Feel free to break into a tap dance if that floats your boat.
- Use a glitter jar. HeartMindKids has great, easy-to-follow instructions for how to make one here. Shake the jar, then focus on the glitter as it falls and settles. Notice its speed, how it moves in the liquid, how it shimmers, its highlights and shadows. Resume whatever task you were doing after all the glitter settles. I had one of these at a former job in which I was often faced with stressful situations and crises. The glitter jar was a great way to center myself in the midst of stressful situation.
- Try to take an entire minute to eat a piece of chocolate (such as Dove). Notice the texture, the taste, the feeling of it dissolving and changing, the aftertaste, etc. If you get tired and eat that one before the minute’s up, don’t beat yourself. Just remind yourself that means you get to try again. Mmmmm. Chocolate. ♥♥
- Try a mindfulness/relaxation app. I really like Stop, Breathe & Think and Calm.
Please feel free to ask any questions you may have about mindfulness in the comments section! Do you regularly practice mindfulness? What are your favorite mindfulness exercises and/or apps?