When and How to Practice Mindfulness
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.