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When and How to Practice Mindfulness

Learn how to practice mindfulness so you can access powerful inner resources so you can change the way we see – and ultimately experience – difficult situations. In my current series of blog posts I’ve been examining mindfulness as a way to access powerful inner resources so we can change the way we see – and ultimately experience – difficult situations. You can read the last couple posts to get an overview of mindfulness and better understand the benefits.

Here are two important things to know about when to practice mindfulness:

* Mindfulness needs to be practiced daily in order to have access to the skill when needed. This is true with all new skills. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell in his new book “Outliers” says that we need to practice a skill 10,000 times in order to develop excellence. He refers to Tiger Woods as an example of constant practice leading to excellence.

* Mindfulness needs to be practiced when you are not in crisis. It is difficult to learn or refine a new skill while in crisis.

Here are some suggestions on how to practice mindfulness:

* Start where you are, not where you think you should be. This is the act of developing patience and staying power.

* Maintain a positive attitude. This is not a “Pollyanna” attitude of everything is okay but a willingness to remaining open, attentive and curious. It includes cultivating loving-kindness and sometimes even a radical acceptance of what is instead of what you’d like it to be.

Here are some brief exercises you can use to increase your mindfulness:

* Mindful breathing. Conscious breathing is the key to connecting together body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of your life. The simple act of focusing the attention on the breath for a short time every day calms the body and the mind.

When practicing simple breath meditations, you enter the mind body interaction without judgments or opinions. Instead, you just observe the natural rhythm of the breath. You can do so without forcing it to be longer, deeper, or slower. With attention and a little time, your breath will deepen naturally on its own. Occasionally, your mind will wander off. When your mind wanders, name what it wanders to and come back to the breathing. Your practice is simply to take note of this distraction and to bring your attention gently back to your breath.

* Mindful eating. Eating mindfully means eating with awareness, exquisite awareness of the experience of eating through our five senses. Mindful eating is being present, moment by moment, for each sensation that happens during eating, such as reaching for the food, holding it, chewing it, tasting it and swallowing it.

If you’ve ever practiced mindfulness, you’re familiar with how easily our minds wander. The same happens when we eat. When you begin to practice mindful eating, one important thing to remember is not to judge yourself when you notice your mind drifting off the experience of eating. Instead, just keep returning to the awareness of that taste, chew, bite or swallow. Bringing mindfulness to our eating practice results in a healthier relationship to all foods by becoming more deliberate in our choices and ultimately brings more happiness to all aspects of life.

Simple first steps towards introducing mindfulness while eating:

o Eat with your non-dominant hand.
o Eat without TV, newspaper or computer.
o Eat sitting down.
o Slow down your usual pace by 20%.

* Mindfulness with our thoughts and emotions. Probably the most powerful mindfulness practice is the observation of thoughts and emotions as they arise, coupled with an attitude of acceptance. For example, when we deliberately focus our attention on an emotion such as anger, without trying to change it with our mind, the transitory, insubstantial nature of the emotion becomes evident. We release the tension that prolongs the emotion so that it cannot persist. However if attention slips to the reason for the anger, then the emotion is sustained. Following the ebb and flow of that emotion on purpose, noticing the intensity, frequency and quality, allows you to participate in the experience as if you were just a bystander without getting attached to it or trying to push it away.

You can do the same in relationship with your thoughts, by noting that you are having a thought without identifying with it. This simple practice will undoubtedly increase your sense of awareness, clarity, and insight. As you continue to foster and reinforce these new and healthier mental patterns your sense of mental stability, balance, peace, and happiness will continue to grow ever stronger.

* Bring mindfulness to every activity. Drinking tea, coffee, doing the dishes, walking, and sitting, etc. You can use the same principle of gentle awareness to explore the activity through your senses and introduce more purposefulness in every moment.

If this is a skill you’re interested in really refining please contact me for a private session or to join my mindfulness group. I’ll be sharing additional resources on mindfulness in my upcoming post.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

benefits of mindfulnessIn this post I will focus on the benefits of mindfulness – especially in how we cope with stress. Read my last blog post if you’re interested in learning more about what mindfulness is.

We can’t completely avoid stress. What we can do is work toward developing more adaptive coping strategies. In other words, we can stop reacting and start responding to stress.

Mindfulness provides access to powerful inner resources so we can change the way we see and ultimately experience difficult situations. We’re empowered to participate in these situations – and interact with the world at large – as we work with what arises instead of trying to escape.

Mindfulness gives us a wider range of options for influencing situations. We come to realize that, at any moment, we’re in a better position to do something different. This helps us develop greater resilience in the face of everyday stressors and brings comfort in the midst of suffering. For example, studies on pain have demonstrated that how we relate to pain makes a difference in the degree of pain we experience.

I appreciate how psychologist, Stephen Gilligan reminds us that symptoms are part of the solutions. He explains that symptoms work as mediators between our body and the outside world. Through mindfulness, we truly benefit from an increased awareness of our bodies.

Here are additional benefits that mindfulness brings to your daily life:

Ability to be fully present and engaged

Increase creativity

Reduce emotional charge by introducing more choices

Engage in life more efficiently and effectively

Experience more happiness

Better health

Increase overall well-being

Improve accuracy in predicting future emotional experiences (instead of the tendency to negatively forecast future experiences which adds even more stress)

Develop emotional tolerance by the simple act of observing the experience instead of always engaging in it (becoming the observer can increase your range of options)

Sustain attention to internal landscape and increase emotional stability and vibrancy

Enhance ability to perceive what is experienced through your senses so that your own mental state can be a closer representation to your true nature, versus colored by projections mistaken for reality

Cultivate and refine your ability to introspectively monitor your own mental activities

That’s a very motivational list of benefits! Stay tuned for my next post as I share how and when you can practice mindfulness.

Personal Growth by Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that I’ve found to be a critical part of personal growth. In fact, I have a Mindfulness-Based Group that is based on using mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and improve the quality of life. I will be sharing in a series of blog posts information about mindfulness and how you can practice it daily as a powerful resource in your own life.

Let’s start with an explanation about what mindfulness is. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is responsible for bringing this practice to mainstream medicine. His definition of mindfulness is as follows:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;

On purpose,
in the present moment, and
nonjudgmentally.”

Mindfulness is bringing awareness to the here and now without trying to change it. Dr. Kabat-Zinn equates this practice to tuning an instrument. This means that if we practice this increased awareness of body, mind, heart and soul we are basically tuning our instrument before we take it on the road. To me it sounds really responsible and conscientious approach to life.

The contrast is mindlessness. This is something we’ve probably all experienced — a loss of awareness which results in forgetfulness, separation from self, and a sense of living mechanically. Sounds stressful – doesn’t it? I’ll be sharing the specific benefits of mindfulness in my next post followed by strategies on implementing mindfulness into your daily life.

Blogging for Personal Growth

Healing Through Personal Growth – that’s my philosophy as a counselor and that will be the theme of my new blog. I’m really looking forward to sharing tips, resources and techniques that have enriched my life and the life of my clients.

I have a real passion for learning and exploring new things. You can learn more about my background here.  I think this blog is the perfect medium to share my holistic approach to life. Please contact me if you have any personal questions that come up as you review my suggestions.

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