Mindfulness. There was a time when this word intimidated me. A lot. It seemed so… mature. So distinguished. Both enlightened and exclusive. I’ve since learned that it’s one of the most accessible practices for stress reduction out there. And the more it’s practiced, the more its benefits grow. I’m sharing everything you need to know about mindfulness to start seeing its benefits in your life.
What is Mindfulness?
Being mindful is simply being attentive or aware. It’s the opposite of how many of us are accustomed to getting through the day. We live our lives on the clock, it seems. Punching in, plowing through, and punching out.
In fact, we perform tasks all the time in which we get from point A to point Z on autopilot. We don’t even remember doing the steps. Our mind travels to the past or the future, thinking about what happened yesterday or worrying about where we’ll be in a year, and we completely ignore the present moment. The one right there in front of us.
Practicing mindfulness — or being in the present moment — is being attentive to the details, to the tiny truths (and the big ones) — without judgment. Noticing. Acknowledging. Allowing.
With this new awareness and knowledge, we are able to make shifts in how we respond and react to circumstances. We have more control and a better sense of when to use it versus when to completely let it go.
Mindfulness allows us to savor life for all of its ups and downs. It is a lens we look through. A slight shift in how we experience everyday life. How you experience a walk outside, eating an orange, interacting with your kids. Put simply: It’s a choice to direct your mind in a specific way.
Why Should I Practice Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has the ability to build new connections in the brain that allow you to shift the way you respond to external and internal experiences. It’s a tool that lets you experience the joys of life more fully and deal with the challenges in a healthier way.
Here are some specific reasons to practice mindfulness. (And yes, Science agrees.)
- Reduce anxiety.
- Combat stress.
- Sharpen your focus and mental clarity.
- Tune you in to your true sense of self and purpose.
- Allow you to have a deeper and more fulfilling connection with others (including your family and kids).
- Help you take control of your emotions.
- Keep you more in touch with your physical body.
- Boost your creativity.
If we think of mindfulness as something big and new and far out of our reach, something separate from our current selves – we create an unnecessary gap between US and MINDFULNESS. But the truth is, it’s not something you need to reach for at all. It’s in your hands already.
5 Behaviors to TURN ON:
We are all capable of these behaviors. But even the most capable of us don’t always have them turned on.
I feel this challenge when my two-year-old is throwing a tantrum as I consciously remind myself to turn up the compassion, love, and grace. I actually say out loud: “You are only two, and I recognize that you don’t have impulse control yet. You are still learning how to harness your own emotions and desires. I love you, and I’m here to guide you as you work through your big emotions.”
It. Is. Hard. But the more we internalize and even vocalize these characteristics, the more they become automatic.
5 Behaviors to TURN OFF:
- Self Consciousness
Mindful living means reassessing our default mode. It means recognizing that just because it’s the default doesn’t mean it’s working for us. These behaviors often propel us out of the present moment and into a possible future that is undesirable. And it’s not helpful. When you find yourself entering one of these, consciously choose to snap out of that mode into one of compassion, kindness, love, openmindedness, or grace.
Mindfulness Vs. Meditation: What’s the Difference?
Some people use these words interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. Mindfulness is a state of being, while meditation is a thing you do. Meditation does require you to be mindful, and practicing it can boost your capabilities to be mindful. But unlike meditation, mindfulness is something you can take with you into your day-to-day activities.
How Can I Practice Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not a secret club for only the select few. And there are many ways to get started.
You can use guided meditations if you like. Or moving meditations. You can also practice mindful eating, mindful exercise, or mindful listening. You can go on a mindful walk, or just step outside and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Even music can be used as a tool to bring awareness and focus to the present moment. You could stay right where you are and practice mindfulness. This is getting super exciting isn’t it?!
There is potential for mindfulness practice everywhere.
But just for fun, here’s a quick exercise that you can do right now.
A Simple Mindfulness Exercise:
You can do this just about anywhere. I’m not going to tell you to lie down or even close your eyes. Though you can if you want. Challenge yourself to simply stay in the present moment. If you start thinking about a to-do list or something that happened yesterday, just take another breath and steer yourself back to the present. No one is grading you on this, and there isn’t a right or wrong. You can take as long as you want to work through this exercise. (I recommend five minutes.)
We are bringing mindfulness to wherever you are. Not going somewhere else to find it.
Begin the Practice:
- Play the audio track below as you start to help anchor you in the present moment. (Get a free download of the track sent straight to your inbox.)
- Check in with your breath. Take three deep, full breaths to connect your body to your mind.
- Check in with your body. Are you comfortable? Are you tensing up any muscles? What would happen if you release any tension? Simply notice. You can change your position if you want.
- Check in with your surroundings. What’s the temperature like? Is there a lot of noise? What kind of noises? Do you have tons of distractions or are you able to focus easily?
- Check in with your feelings. Are you content? Worried? Peaceful? Agitated? Etc. How do you feel about life right now? Take 3 deep breaths to wrap up this exercise.
Things to Remember:
- Don’t think in terms of right or wrong. There’s merely what works for you.
- Start with the breath. Arguably the simplest way to connect mind and body. Deep breathing has many benefits. If you’re feeling stuck, just breathe.
- Keep an open mind. Be willing to try a type of practice more than once. I’ve learned from experience in this. Sometimes what works for an individual is unexpected to them.
- You’ve got options. If you aren’t sure about a solo practice, there are classes and sessions, guided by licensed practitioners. There are apps, online challenges, and books. You can take a deep dive or just dip your toes. There are benefits in every level.
How Do I Fit Mindfulness into My Busy Schedule?
The good news is, mindfulness doesn’t require props or gear or a dedicated space. All you truly need is the desire to grow and to deal with the challenges of life in a healthier and more effective way.
You don’t have to commit to hours and hours of training, and you don’t have to add long sessions into your already exploding schedule. (Of course, there are classes and courses and ways to learn more, if you so desire.)
But I recommend simply starting with the exercise above. It doesn’t have to be formalized. You may choose to make it a part of your morning routine. What if you woke up five minutes earlier and did this check-in each morning? Or perhaps right before bed, during an afternoon walk, or even while you’re in the shower. You get to choose.
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