What the Heck is Mindfulness?!

“If we are not ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Happy Winter Solstice everyone.. the shortest days of the year, making room for the sun and the light to slowly come back out later and longer. This is a really great time to turn inwards and begin reflecting on the year of 2015, and what you hope for for the coming year. This brings me to today’s topic, mindfulness. It’s everywhere nowadays, but how many of us can say that we genuinely understand its meaning?

dog-meditation

Mindfulness does not necessarily mean you have to be sitting cross-legged with incense burning, candles lit, in an empty white room outside of a rainforest in the Amazon, although that would be nice. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who teaches mindfulness for stress reduction, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Let’s deconstruct that. Paying attention can mean many different things – it’s getting in touch with your five senses. Paying attention to the smells of the holiday season, and to your favorite scarf. Noticing how your cat’s fur feels in your hand. Truly enjoying the taste of the apple crisp. Feeling the tension in your upper back so you remember to relax your shoulders. Hearing the quiet sounds of a colder winter night. While it may sound a little hokey, this moment is all we have. We do not know what the next moment may bring, which is why it is important to appreciate what is going on right now instead of waiting for the “perfect” circumstances. Noticing nonjudgmentally is not placing labels or blame on yourself or your circumstances. For example, if you’re in a yoga class and you hold a headstand for five seconds and then let go, you may feel incredibly proud of yourself, until you see your neighbor hold the headstand for five minutes, while she is also performing magic tricks, painting her nails, and making her headstand seem really easy and nonchalant. (I’m being dramatic but you know what I’m getting at.) And then you start to think… Wow, I’m a failure. I should quit yoga. I stink. She’s so much better than me at this. And the negative thought spiral can happen so quickly until you catch yourself thinking about the time in forth grade when you messed up in a spelling bee! Instead, be mindful and notice that you’re having negative thoughts and remembering that thoughts are simply that- thoughts. They cannot hurt you, you have the power to bring your thoughts back to the present and to focusing on yourself and the hard work you did with your headstand.

Dee_and_Tula_Monstah_Flickr

As I write this blog post, I am also boiling water for tea, texting friends, creeping on my cat. We live in a society where multitasking is the norm and somewhat expected and mandatory. It would be awesome if we all had an extra hour to climb to the top of a mountain each morning to clear our heads and get in touch with nature and ourselves, but that is unrealistic for most. Here are some tips to be mindful in the modern day:

  • Notice your breath. That is the easiest and most effective way to be in the present. Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, allow your lungs to be empty for four seconds. Brene Brown discusses this breathing method in her most recent book, Rising Strong. If you’re focusing on counting, you aren’t able to get caught up in mindless or stressful thoughts.
  • Body scan several times a day. Start with your eyebrows, notice if you were unintentionally raising them, and if so, let them lower. Loosen your tongue from the roof of your mouth. The most common culprit is raised shoulders and a tight upper back, so relax them down. As I was typing this, I noticed that my thighs were flexed without my knowledge. Noticing and relaxing your body parts help connect you to your body, and also help you feel more at ease and relaxed.
  • Pay attention to the everyday, mundane activities. Create a ritual to say positive mantras as you brush your teeth, and take the time to cherish your family dinners. Appreciate the errands and chores you do each day, because these are really the moments that you will look back on and smile. When you’re walking to your car, enjoy nature. Breathe it in. Rather than racing to your vehicle to get to your job or the gym, enjoy the small little steps that make up your life. Try not to jump to the next minute, but enjoy the minute right now.

What have you started noticing when you started being mindful?

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