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Before you begin to read or skim through this post let’s take a moment to get present.
Take a deep inhale through your nose.
Fill your lungs, expand your belly.
Hold for just a moment.
Now e x h a l e.
Notice the weight of your body on the seat you are sitting in, or in the bed you’re laying in.
Feel your back pressed against the chair.
Notice the weight of the phone or tablet in your hand.
Feel your eyes gaze at this screen.
How are you feeling? Relaxed? Excited? Curious perhaps?
Take another deep breath and this time focus on expanding your lungs.
When you’re ready, exhale.
You are here. Now. In this very moment.
You are present.
And this is mindfulness.
But What Exactly Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present. To be focused in the very moment you are living. Not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Not overwhelmed or annoyed. Just being in the moment.
It’s a basic ability that we all possess but definitely don’t practice enough. When we are mindful often, it becomes easier to tune in and let go of the thoughts that seemingly run through our minds.
What is the purpose of mindfulness?
While there are many benefits, which we will get into in just a bit, the purpose would be to take a rest from the auto-pilot mode we all seem to unconsciously be in.
Sometimes being on autopilot can be caused by lack of sleep or being overwhelmed but it has been linked to mental health issues such as prolonged stress and trauma.
Practicing mindfulness will allow you to actually participate and process everyday life, instead of just going with the flow and potentially pleasing others to avoid tension, or actual participation in the world.
Autopilot is the mind’s way of being lazy in life. Little effort goes into following the flow of things.
Mindfulness stimulates new concepts. It forces you to be the commander of your own life and address what you’re feeling.
Three Focal Points Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness uses three main focal points to help bring awareness to the present moment. Each focal point allows a different aspect of mindfulness. They are our body, our feelings and our mind
We often go through the day without acknowledging our bodies as separate from us. It is likely that the only time we bring awareness to our bodies is when there is pain or discomfort.
Mindfulness of the body is being fully aware of your body for what it is, a vessel. It’s focusing on the breath, bringing your attention to how you are sitting, walking or standing. It’s also focusing on the various body parts, like performing a body scan.
Taking time to assess our body and bring awareness to its general function allows us to experience the presence that is needed to practice mindfulness.
Feelings – Emotions & The Senses
I think we all know the importance of sitting with your emotions. It’s been widely encouraged to pause and breathe when upset, or even allowing tears to flow when sad. This kind of presence is also important when we aren’t feeling anything particularly noticeable.
Being mindful of your less apparent emotions brings awareness to what you are feeling in that moment. Sometimes when we are mindful of our emotions we can discover some deeper long term emotions we wouldn’t normally address. Like being unhappy with a job or relationship.
There’s how we feel and then there’s how we f e e l.
Being mindful of your senses is bringing attention to your five senses. What are you looking at? Can you focus on the detail of the object? What does it feel like? Is it soft? Rough? Does it have a smell?
This kind of awareness that uses our senses really brings us to the reality of the present moment.
Our inner thoughts and dialog are usually thought of as something we can’t control. That mental chatter we often try to quiet at night says a lot about how we think of ourselves and the world around us.
Practicing awareness of the mind and consciousness is being aware of the quality of your thoughts and how they can be better. It’s introspection.
When was the last time you asked why you held a certain belief? Or Why a certain thought came up. Not just ask, but doing so without judgement. Allowing the thoughts to come up and pass while taking the time to honestly know yourself and master your thoughts.
The difference between mindfulness and meditation
Meditation is taking time to sit and focusing on nothing. Allowing your thoughts to pass without judgment but always bringing your awareness back to “nothing”. Mindfulness is focusing on something at any time. Like we mentioned, it can be focusing on body parts, sounds and feelings.
There is a form of meditation called Mindfulness Meditation where you sit and focus on your breath, a mantra or even perform a body scan where you bring awareness to each body part from head to toe leading to full body relaxation.
How To Perform A Body Scan/ Body Scan Meditation :
Along with practicing mindfulness, performing a body scan can also be a great form of meditation for relaxation and releasing tension. Body scans can be done sitting or laying down. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
- Find a quiet comfortable space to sit or lay.
- Take a few slow deep breaths. Inhale in from your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on filling your lungs and expanding your belly.
- Now bring your attention to your toes. Notice any sensations and continue to breathe. Spend a few breaths focusing on your toes and slowly move to your feet.
- Breathe through anything that comes up. If there’s tension, paint thoughts just acknowledge them and breathe them away.
- Move on when you feel ready. From your feet to your calves, knees, thighs and so on until you reach the top of your head.
You can perform a body scan anytime you are feeling stressed or even for a quick check in. Personally I do body scans in bed every night and I usually fall asleep before I finish. It’s also a great way to ground yourself if you have anxiety.
You don’t have to lay down to get the relaxing effects you can sit and even stand.
Some Benefits Of Mindfulness:
- Improves Sleep
- Stress Reduction
- Eases Anxiety/ Panic Disorders
- Positive Outlook On life
- Self Awareness
- Improves General Health
- Decreases Burnout
- Enhances Job Production
3 Daily Activities To Start Practicing Mindfully :
Beginning your day with purpose is an easy way to begin practicing mindfulness. When you open your eyes, be present in that moment. Don’t rush to shut your alarm, don’t scroll. Just sit or lay and take a few deep breaths. Take notice of how you feel. Are you rested? Is your neck a little sore? It’s okay if you just want to go back to bed. Just be in that moment. Ask yourself what your intention is for the day.
An example would be: “ Today I will be grounded”. Sit with that thought and make sure to revisit that intention throughout the day.
Mindful eating is probably one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness. Being fully present with your meal allows you to really enjoy each bite. Start with a few deep breaths as you sit at the table. Can you smell your food? Look at the colorful plate and focus on how you’re feeling. How hungry are you?
This exercise is actually very helpful with starting up your digestive functions.
As you begin to take bites, allow your breath to remain slow. Feel the textures, the flavors. Take time to chew each forkful and really indulge. Are you enjoying this meal?
As you eat make sure to check in and notice if you’re full. Oftentimes we eat until our plate is clean. However when we practice mindful eating, we allow our body to communicate when it’s reached satiation.
Driving is probably the one activity we all do on autopilot. We turn on the radio, gps and go. Usually we are frustrated and tense because of traffic and being late, which brings us further away from the present moment.
When you find yourself stuck in traffic, or even if you’re not, just start with a few deep breaths. Make sure your radio is off. Do a quick body scan and check in. How are you feeling? Why are you feeling it?
Feel your hands on the steering wheel and your foot on the pedals.
Feel the motion of the car. Or if you’re in traffic, feel your weight against the chair of the car. After a few deep breaths look around and spot the many other drivers in their car, possibly feeling the same way you do.
Intention, Attention & Attitude
Mindfulness also has three mental aspects that when formed together generate the perfect environment for mindful awareness.
When you decide you want to practice mindfulness, ask yourself why. You might want to relieve stress, become more introspective or even dissect some emotions. This is your intention.
The aspect of attention will be the focus on whatever action you are doing. This could be walking in nature, driving to work, or even just sitting in your chair. The goal is to have your attention focused on that experience as mentioned above, involving your body, senses, emotions and mind.
How do you feel about practicing mindfulness? It could seem a bit silly when you’re first starting, however your attitude is a very important aspect in your practice.
You want to be accepting and non judgemental, not just in your experience but also in your own thoughts and feelings as well.
Going into mindfulness with all three aspects aligned will ensure a positive outcome and a better chance of experiencing the many benefits.
Mindfulness might seem mostly like a spiritual practice but the benefits are scientifically proven on the mind and body as well. Here’s a study showing the positive effects on psychological health.
I hope this information encourages you to be more mindful, whether it be practicing body scans before bed, or utilizing the above focal techniques while stuck in traffic.
And though mindfulness might seem difficult, we know it’s just another habit we need to reprogram. If done often enough it will become our regular state of consciousness. We’ll spend more time in the real world and less time on autopilot.
If you’ve tried mindfulness before or decide to give it a shot come back and leave a comment below with your experience. Did you notice a difference? Was it difficult for you to be present?
Just remember, be here now.