We have heard. Mindfulness will help you win Superbowl games, help you be a better leader, lover, and person with enhanced relationships, and so on. Mindfulness will help with those sore shoulders, stiff necks and lower back pains because it brings oxygen to your system and lets those muscles loosen throughout the day. That’s an unintended good consequence of mindfulness. Happiness, calm, and a renewed sense of empathy, are a few more nice side benefits. But what exactly (or even sort of…) is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being where you are, understanding what is happening, really happening, right here and right now. That sounds simple enough until you ponder the one thing that gets in the way of pure reality: thinking. Most of the time while life is going on around us, we are not observing what is actually happening, but rather what our thoughts are. The problem is that our thoughts are not reality–they’re just thoughts or distractions from what’s real. It’s a lot like being at lunch with someone who matters to you and who you wanted to meet but checking your email on your iPhone instead. You don’t mean to do it yet you do. It’s as though it just happens somehow on its own.
The good news is that with some training we can stop that mechanism from occurring and be exactly where we are- perceiving mindfully and reacting with care and appropriateness. When you know and recognize what’s real you can respond so much better than when you are lost in your own head and thoughts–a state in which most of us find ourselves, all too often.
Knowing that and deciding you want to change is really the hardest part.
So now that you’re ready, here are 5 ways to practice mindfulness. You can do these anytime you notice you’re drifting into thinking instead of observing:
1) Take a few deep breaths through your nose (this can be subtle so no one sees or hears) and pay attention to your feet. Put them flat on the floor or the ground, and feel them being firmly supported. This helps you notice where you are.
2) Allow yourself to be silent and feel that silence. When you go truly quiet you are slipping into something real and coming back to your source of power.
3) See what or who is in front of you but don’t react, just look with an open mind. Allow curiosity to spring out of that.
4) Do not be one step ahead in conversation or plan what you will say next. Listen fully to the person speaking as if you will have to repeat back what they said. This will keep you focused on what is really being said so you can respond correctly.
5) Allow your body to guide you. It is your internal compass. If your shoulders are tight or your heart is beating fast then your body is reacting. That means that something is happening which may need attention. Breathe deeply again and stay open but focused. Once you know the source of your body’s reaction you can respond correctly.
To sharpen your ability to be mindful and in tune rather than reactive takes training. To put this into practice, start by working on your breath and feet before an important meeting or conversation so you can feel what it’s like to be present as opposed to being in your world of thoughts. Also do this if you start to feel upset. Just breathe and plant without reacting and you’ll see the difference right away. As you become more accustomed to breathing intentionally, take a minute every day to breathe deeply through your nose and into your belly a few times and ground yourself through your feet. You’ll notice your body being more relaxed and your ability to be calm and mindful will increase. You can do this driving, eating, sitting at your desk or walking. The more you do it your awareness and alertness will increase.
Another thing that can sharpen your mindfulness is simple daily meditation. Even if you can only sit quietly for ten minutes a day, then do that. Do not try to make your mind silent or tell it what to think. Just notice your thoughts without engaging in a conversation with them or reacting to them. This teaches you to settle your mind so you can be alert and observant in the here and now.
Remember that every thing you do can be mindfulness-based training; noticing your breath on the treadmill or after a good game of basketball is mindfulness. Walking, sitting in a meeting or talking to a friend or family member offers you the opportunity to be where you are, absolutely aware and engaged. In so doing you will learn things you never knew before.
So go ahead-take the challenge and start your training. This is one health measure with no negative side effects–and it might even make you happy.
Also by Julie: 27 Carrots – a Story from a Zen Monastery
Photo: AllConsuming via Flickr