Many people seem to be interested in mindfulness these days- there are so many self-help books touting it, yoga classes incorporating it, and people talking about its benefits.
I admit that I was once a skeptic of mindfulness. Every time it was mentioned, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “what a waste of time”. I tried several mindfulness exercises and either felt like a total failure due to my inability to clear my mind of thoughts, or wanted to go to sleep.
This leads me to the definition of mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as “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, used as a therapeutic technique”. Mindfulness and meditation are terms that are often used interchangeably and mean basically the same thing, meditation just being the act of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness can be thought of as a way of being in the world that is more conscious.
I learned that mindfulness is about letting thoughts go- it is not about not having them. Instead of making you sleepy, mindfulness done right actually makes you more awake and aware.
The benefits of mindfulness are many- studies show that it reduces stress, improves focus and cognitive flexibility, helps with working memory, lessens emotional reactivity, and more. Knowing what mindfulness can do for you, why not give it a try?
Here are some tips for people just starting out with practicing mindfulness:
- Let go of judgment and expectations. Trust me, as soon as you sit down for the first time and try to think about nothing, all you will be able to do is think about things. It happens, and it’s okay. The point is just to try. Every time a thought comes into your brain, acknowledge it as neither good nor bad, and then calmly dismiss the thought. Don’t go into it with expectations that you will feel a certain way or last a certain number of minutes without having a thought. Just let yourself be.
- Start small. Set a timer for just a few minutes- even just three minutes can be a good mindfulness session. Setting a timer can also help because you don’t have to worry about how much time has gone by when you are trying not to think and to be present in the current moment.
- Create a peaceful environment. Mindfulness is a useful tool because it really can be practiced anywhere. However some settings are definitely better than others- preferably a quiet area away from others equipped with a comfy yoga mat. Create a space of tranquility in your home where you can go to meditate. Once you are more used to practicing mindfulness, you will be able to create serenity wherever you are- in your car, at your desk at work, or in a crowded subway.
- Set a routine. Set aside time in the morning and/or evening to practice mindfulness. Just like going to the gym or following a diet, you need to schedule time or it will likely fall by the wayside. As stated before, even three minutes can be enough- at least it is something.
Using a guided mediation is easier for beginners, and experienced practitioners use them too. Here are some suggestions:
- Listen to music or a guided meditation. Usually slow, instrumental songs with no words work best for mindfulness meditation. They can be calming and provide the mind something to attach to that is in the moment instead of thoughts and worries of your day. Guided mediations are also helpful and can be found in the form of CD’s, podcasts, or online.
- Say a mantra. Many people use the simple phrase “om” while meditating. It is a soothing, neutral word that provides a powerful feeling of vibration when spoken. You can also just repeat it to yourself and not out loud. Other words you could use are “peace”, or “shanti” in Hindu.
- Focus on your breath. Concentrate on breathing in, and out. Feel it in your body as you inhale peace and exhale the tension from your body. Focusing on the breath gives your mind something to focus on and is quite calming. This can be combined with a mantra for a powerful mindfulness meditation.
Whether you are a beginner or a skeptic, learning more about mindfulness and giving it a try can only benefit you!
Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT