Do you have worry thoughts that create anxiety? Do your emotions get in the way of communicating or effective decision making? Do you live in the past or the future? Do you act impulsively? Is it difficult for you to focus on tasks because your mind wanders? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, mindfulness can help.
What is mindfulness? It is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is used to help take hold of your mind so your mind doesn’t take hold of you.
What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness? Mindfulness can reduce stress, elicit healthy communication, increase productivity, and increase effective decision-making.
What we do to practice mindfulness:
- 1. Observe – Just notice and sense the experience without putting words on it yet. Notice what comes through your senses. Let experiences, feelings, and thoughts come into your mind and slip right out.
eg. Watch your thoughts coming and going like clouds in the sky or on a conveyor belt.
- 2. Describe – Put words on the observation. Describe to yourself what is happening either externally or internally. Don’t get caught in content. Describe factually like making a police report.
eg. “My shoulders are tense” “The flower is blue and white” “The cookie tastes sweet” “I feel sad”
- 3. Participate – Get involved in the moment. Enter your experience.
eg. Cry when feeling sad. Listen to music and watch the band play when at a concert.
Now that you know what to do to be mindful, it is also important how you do it.
How we practice mindfulness
- 1. Non-judgmentally – Unglue yourself from opinions and perception. Accept and acknowledge each moment as it is. Focus on just the facts.
eg. “That is an ugly chair” (judgment) vs “The chair has a white and black striped pattern seat cushion with four wood legs” (non-judgment) or “I feel pissed” (judgment) vs “I feel angry” (non-judgment)
- 2. One-Mindfully – Do one thing at a time. Let go of distractions. Focus your mind on the very moment.
eg. When eating, focus on your food. When in a conversation, focus your all your attention on the other person.
- 3. Effectively – Do what works for you in the moment. Keep your eye on the objective of the situation. Let go of what does not work in the moment and meet only the needs of the situation.
eg. Would it be effective to participate in anger in the middle of a work meeting?
Start simple. Don’t set the bar high. Choose one moment each day to practice. Here are a couple of mindfulness exercises that will give you an idea of how you can incorporate mindfulness into your life.
Mindfulness Exercise #1: Mindful walk
Choose a location you want to practice a mindful walk. It could be around the block, down the hallway or walking to the car. Begin by observing how your feet hit the ground (soft or hard) and how your body moves (legs moving fast, arms swinging at your side). Observe and describe your surroundings including all your senses (grass is ticklish under my feet, smell of coffee, dark storm clouds, red brick, etc). Your mind will naturally wander. Simply acknowledge the thoughts without judgment and bring your attention back to your walk in the present moment.
Mindfulness Exercise #2: Mindful breathing.
Sit in an upright and relaxed position. Close your eyes. Take a breath in through your nose and then out through your mouth. Breathe from your belly rather than from your chest and try to exhale longer than you inhale. Focus your attention on your breathing. Observe what the air feels like in your nose. Observe your belly expanding as you breath in and compressing when you breathe out. Notice when your mind wanders. Don’t judge the thoughts, just bring your attention back to your breath. Try this for 2 minutes. Not only will it calm your mind, mindful breathing also calms your nervous system.
Contributed by Marriage and Family Therapist Staff