My interest in mindfulness was sparked after attending a mindfulness retreat about 10 years ago. I had just completed graduate school and I was excited to learn about different approaches to self-care. When I learned about a free People of Color retreat in New York, I packed my bags and travelled to a beautiful monastery with my sister and good friend. For several days we were instructed not to talk and not to journal. The goal of this retreat was to cultivate mindful awareness.
So what is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness is, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” In short, it is about being in the present moment. Often we behave mindlessly. Just think about a time when you ate a bag of chips while watching TV. Before you knew it, you’ve consumed the whole bag of chips and all of the calories that came with them. Can you say “serious weight gain”? At this retreat we were instructed to eat mindfully. We actually had to chew our food and put our utensil down after each bite we took. We were instructed to pay attention to the taste, texture, smell, and sound of the food. While I thought this was rather silly at first, I realized that I really did enjoy the meal more when I paid attention to it.
Our mind is a wandering mind! We spend most of our waking hours bemoaning the past or freaking out about our future. We spend very little time in the present. And this wouldn’t really warrant concern except for the fact that spending time in the present- being mindful- has its benefits. Among its many benefits, mindfulness can help relieve stress, treat heart disease, improve sleep, and reduce or alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness cultivates wisdom, generosity, patience, effort and morality. People who practice mindfulness show a better ability to quit smoking, decrease binge eating, and reduce alcohol and illicit drug use. And mindfulness is kind to our brain, positively influencing areas of our brain involved in regulating emotion, awareness and attention. It is not surprising that educators, social service workers and mental health professionals are beginning to see the benefit of practicing mindfulness and implementing this practice in our work with clients and staff.
So what are a few simple ways to step into the present? There are a number of ways that we can practice mindfulness on a regular basis. These five suggestions below are just a few practices that I really enjoy.
- Focus on the breath: Basic relaxation breathing is something we can all find time to do and it is great for stress reduction. All you have to do is breathe in through your nose to the count of four and out through your nose to the count of eight. Do this just a few times and you may notice a huge difference in how you feel.
- Be a good listener: Mindfulness can also help us to form better connections with others. Listening is the intentional choice to fully pay attention to the other person—from the tone and texture of their voice to their emotional state and body language. Next time you ask your loved ones how their day was, make sure to really listen. When they are finished speaking, reflect back to them what you heard. This is a great way to enhance our relationships and show our loved ones that they really do matter.
- Practice mindfulness during routine activities: Try bringing awareness to the daily activities you usually do on autopilot, such as eating, taking a shower, or brushing your teeth. During these activities, focus in on the sight, sound, smell, taste and feel of these activities. You might even enjoy that slice of pizza more or the activity of brushing your teeth by just paying more attention to it.
- Practice mindfulness while you wait: It is good practice to turn challenges into opportunities. When you find that you are stuck in traffic or a long line in the supermarket, it is easy to get frustrated. But the frustration and all of the behavior that comes along with the frustration doesn’t change the traffic or how fast the line moves in the supermarket. But we can change our response to the situation. Waiting is actually an opportunity for mindfulness. Use this time to practice focusing on the breath.
- Stop Multi-tasking: Multitasking is the enemy of focus. When we are talking to friends, while texting, and doing who knows what else, it takes us 50 % longer to accomplish a task and we are 50% more likely to make errors. So practice focusing on one thing at a time.
These are just a few tips that can help you step into the present. I encourage you to take make time in your schedule daily to be mindful and see what benefits you gain from being in the present moment. Try out some of the suggestions above. Share your story by leaving a reply at the bottom of this post. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.