How to Practice Mindfulness
Becoming more aware of where you are and what you’re doing, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness. It’s a pretty straightforward word. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through. That might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we’re engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future. And that makes us anxious.
Yet no matter how far we drift away, mindfulness is right there to snap us back to where we are and what we’re doing and feeling. If you want to know what mindfulness is, it’s best to try it for a while. Since it’s hard to nail down in words, you will find slight variations in the meaning in books, websites, audio, and video.
The Definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
Mindfulness is a natural quality that we all have. It’s available to us in every moment if we take the time to appreciate it. When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Practice:
When we meditate it doesn’t help to fixate on the benefits, but rather to just do the practice, and yet there are benefits or no one would do it.
When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being.
Mindfulness meditation gives us a time in our lives when we can suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness—to ourselves and others.
8 Facts About Mindfulness:
What You Need to Know Before Practicing Mindfulness:
You don’t need to buy anything. You can practice anywhere, there’s no need to go out and buy a special cushion or bench—all you need is to devote a little time and space to accessing your mindfulness skills every day.
There’s no way to quiet your mind. That’s not the goal here. There’s no bliss state or otherworldly communion. All you’re trying to do is pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Sounds easy, right?
Your mind will wander. As you practice paying attention to what’s going on in your body and mind at the present moment, you’ll find that many thoughts arise. Your mind might drift to something that happened yesterday, meander to your to-do list—your mind will try to be anywhere but where you are. But the wandering mind isn’t something to fear, it’s part of human nature and it provides the magic moment for the essential piece of mindfulness practice—the piece that researchers believe leads to healthier, more agile brains: the moment when you recognize that your mind has wandered. Because if you can notice that your mind has wandered, then you can consciously bring it back to the present moment. The more you do this, the more likely you are to be able to do it again and again. And that beats walking around on autopilot any day (ie: getting to your destination without remembering the drive, finding yourself with your hand in the bottom of a chip bag you only meant to snack a little from, etc.).
Your judgy brain will try to take over. The second part of the puzzle is the “without judgment” part. We’re all guilty of listening to the critic in our heads a little more than we should. (That critic has saved us from disaster quite a few times.) But, when we practice investigating our judgments and diffusing them, we can learn to choose how we look at things and react to them. When you practice mindfulness, try not to judge yourself for whatever thoughts pop up. Notice judgments arise, make a mental note of them (some people label them “thinking”), and let them pass, recognizing the sensations they might leave in your body, and letting those pass as well.
It’s all about returning your attention again and again to the present moment. It seems like our minds are wired to get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the breath. We use the sensation of the breath as an anchor to the present moment. And every time we return to the breath, we reinforce our ability to do it again. Call it a bicep curl for your brain.
The Types of Mindfulness Practice
While mindfulness is innate, it can be cultivated through proven techniques. Here are some examples:
Seated, walking, standing, and moving meditation (it’s also possible lying down but often leads to sleep);
Short pauses we insert into everyday life;
Merging meditation practice with other activities, such as yoga or sports.
How to Practice Mindfulness
While mindfulness might seem simple, it’s not necessarily all that easy. The real work is to make time every day to just keep doing it. Here’s a short practice to get you started:
Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
Set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as 5 or 10 minutes.
Notice your body. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, in lotus posture, you can kneel—all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while.
Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes out and as it goes in.
Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the sensations of the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.
That’s it! That’s the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.
Check out these great resources on Mindfulness: