Most of our stress comes from our minds traveling to future worries or past regrets. Mindfulness involves resting our attention in the present. Due to the demands of our current lifestyles, caring for ourselves by being mindful at first may feel peculiar, difficult, or even boring. Like developing any skill, the cultivation of mindfulness takes time and practice. Consider how long it took you to play an entire song smoothly on an instrument you were learning, or to begin to acquire mastery in a novel sport. It is no different with the inner art of mindfulness. Trust that every time you practice you are rewiring your neural-circuitry for enhanced wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a way of life. There are both formal and informal elements to the practice. Formal practice refers to setting time aside for the sole purpose of being mindful of a particular activity such as breathing, stretching, or walking. The informal practice is developing the habit of cultivating clear, present moment awareness throughout the day, while driving in our car, sitting in class, or spending time with a significant other.
Beginning a Practice:
• Create a quiet spot that enjoy spending time. Many people enjoy decorating this spot with special pictures, statues, or colors.
• Pick a specific time everyday for the sole purpose of being mindful - And make that gift to yourself a top priority.
• You do not have to always like it, just do it. From a certain point of view, once you have your set time for mindfulness, its none of yourbusiness what happens during it. Some days you will feel relaxed, others tense, others successful, others like a failure, just sit and watch these states arise and pass.
• No need to advertise. You can do yourself a favor and focus your energy on your own practice and not on being a spokesperson for mindfulness. This usually only serves to diffuse one's energy and confuse one's friends and family.
• Find a teacher or group that can be supportive. The process of cultivating mindfulness is best done while in dialogue with an experienced teacher. Further, the exercises described below are best understood and used within the context of the 8-week MBSR course that I offer.
When first beginning the practice of mindfulness, it is usually necessary to begin with a practice that harnesses one's concentration and steadies one's awareness. Most traditions suggest the practice of focusing on one's breath. Since our bodies are breathing at every present moment of our lives, it can serve as a direct connection to this moment’s experience.
The practice is simple, but not necessarily easy. The instructions are to pay attention to the raw sensations related to the body naturally breathing in this moment. When our mind wanders, we simply notice where it went, and then gently and without judgment escort our attention back to the bare experience of the breath in this moment. And repeat the instructions.
This guided meditation provides an opportunity for one to care for oneself. In our busy lives, we often push ourselves to the limit. Consequently, our bodies, emotions, and minds are neglected and criticized by ourselves. This inner battle with our thoughts, bodies, and emotions leaves us feeling sore, numb, or exhausted. As an alternative to pushing away unwanted parts of ourselves, this meditation provides an opportunity to open and transform our relationship with our inner world. This leads to increased vitality, clarity, and self-esteem.
WORKDAY 5-MINUTE ANCHOR MEDITATION
The following meditation is broken into three steps: 1) getting in touch with what you are experiencing now 2) letting go of reactivity and dropping into stillness by focusing on the breath 3) reconnecting with the outer world from that place of balance.
It may help to imagine a metaphor involving the ocean. During the day, we oftentimes find ourselves consumed in the waves of our current thoughts and emotions. We are caught up in reacting to what today’s weather brings. It is important to be able to anchor ourselves in our full depths. From there we can simultaneously feel the waves of our experience as well as the vast still ocean beneath.
We will begin by dropping beneath the outer world, becoming mindful of the waves of our thoughts and emotions present now. We will then proceed to drop deeper into the ocean, finding our inner stillness by concentrating on the breath. We will then ensue to reconnect to the outer world. As we reenter the next moment of our day, we are aware of the waves of our emotions and thoughts while feeling stabilized by the stillness of our inner depths.
Most of the day, we are engaged in some kind of movement (whether it is walking or typing keys). We would not want to wait until we are perfectly still to be mindful, for we likely would only be consciously living a very small percentage of our lives. This activity provides an opportunity for you to practice bringing mindfulness to your body in movement. It is a chance to get to know and befriend this body that will be accompanying us throughout your lives. This kind of intimate knowledge of the body naturally facilitates taking better care of it.
Mindful stretching invites us to pay attention to the distinction between reacting to our assumptions and responding to our bodies. We constantly limit ourselves by fixed images of ourselves (i.e., “I’m not an athlete”, “I can’t manage people”, “I can’t ask for what I want in a relationship”). Our world becomes a little larger every time we stay with the present without reflexively reacting to past notions. Mindful Yoga invites us to linger in the present, that space where the mind says, “I can’t,” or “I should” and instead to listen to our bodies.
he body scan cultivates awareness and intimacy with our bodies. Many of us do not truly inhabit our bodies and thus have little skill in listening to its symptoms or utilizing its healing capacities. We often live in a world pervaded and colored by our thoughts, leaving little room for truly opening to the experience of our other senses (touch, smell, sound, taste, sight). Tuning into the body can serve as a window out of the endless thought cycles of worry, regret, or self-judgment. As with the other formal mindfulness activities, the body scan works best when done for the purpose of becoming intimate with our bodies without judgment and not for the purpose of attaining some particular way of feeling (i.e., relaxed).sensations.
The following meditation has been part of a well-researched program shown to be helpful in reducing stress, enhancing concentration, bolstering the immune system, and lighting up the part of the brain related to positive wellbeing. It also has been found to be as restorative as sleep in many ways. It is a valuable use of your time.
As human beings, our bodies effortlessly drop into sleep roughly every 16 hours. Oftentimes, we operate more as human-doings than human beings. We do our work, do our chores, do our exercise, do for our relationships, and sometimes try to ‘do’ sleep. The effortful ‘doing mode’ that helps us in certain situations during the day will only serve to arouse our nervous systems and block us from sleep at night.
For most people, trouble sleeping is associated with a condition called hyper-arousal, where people are keyed up in a ‘doing’ mode 24 hours/ 7 days a week. We need to re-teach the nervous system how to downshift at the end of the day from a 'doing mode' into a ‘being mode’. In the ‘being mode’, sleep happens on its own.
Using this meditation to try to sleep will make it less effective than if you use it to reconnect with the joy of the ‘being mode’. Sleep happens on its own when we move from the ‘doing mode’ into the ‘being mode’. Thus, anytime you do this meditation you are making an investment in better sleep. You are rewiring your neural circuitry to provide more access to the ‘being mode’ where sleep happens naturally.
Whereas the meditation can be a valuable practice for anyone, the introduction is specifically for people who have been having some trouble with insomnia. For those with insomnia, the meditation will likely be more helpful if you continue to begin with this introduction. In addition, be sure to read and apply the tips for insomnia.
Our feelings of shame and self-blame are often the biggest barriers to our efforts to grow. In order to step free from old patterns and experience deep change, we must begin the process of opening up to our pain with self-compassion and forgiveness, rather than judgment.
This practice trains our brain to relate to ourselves and others with more kindness. Exercising the part of the brain related to compassion in this way is like planting a seed that grows over time into an ability to relate to the world with more love and less fear.
Research has revealed this practice elicits sustained feelings of connection to others, numerous positive emotions, as well as reduced depression, overeating, and physical health problems (i.e., back pain).