As we near the end of the year, it’s a good time for going back to some mindfulness basics.
Mindfulness is far more than being aware of an experience — it is also understanding why we are aware of it. Mindfulness is the human capacity to process a situation and approach it with kindness and warmth. By having a firm grasp over where your focus lies, you can gain a far greater insight into the meaning behind the experience. This idea of open interest within the experience is called “simple knowing.”
As experienced teachers of mindfulness, we have seen so many different people from different walks of life come to us for different reasons. Mindfulness knows no boundaries, stereotypes or prejudice. Some open themselves to the idea in order to manage pain or anxiety, for others, it can improve moods or reduce stress. One man may look to cope with isolation, while another woman may want to relate on a closer level to a loved one. We all have our own reasons.
We have seen students experience life-changing results following their training, supported by our vast experience and research. Scientific studies have begun to back up the benefits of mindfulness in the battle against pain, depression and even cancer. In the face of what can seem like an impossibility, mindfulness opens a path to the light at the end of the tunnel. We can take our minds off autopilot and avoid impulsive reactions, instead taking a firm grasp of the wheel. Mindfulness is not just about avoiding or navigating away from moments of pain, but also savoring those moments of pure joy.
We appreciate that it can be difficult to know where to start on your mindfulness journey. With so many options available to you online, in books, via apps, in person and through other resources, it can seem a little overwhelming. The truth is that so many resources exist because mindfulness has helped so many people to improve the way they go about their lives. As with any newly-learned skill, it takes practice!
The way in which you practice mindfulness is personal to you. What works for some may not work for others, so engage in a way that steers you toward a goal. Take a look at our guide below to explore some of the most popular ways in which people learn, practice and reap the rewards of mindfulness.
Start your day the right way — As you get into bed each night, be sure to actively concentrate on an intention to be aware as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. Take the time out to experience the atmosphere around you. Feel the soft duvet against your skin. Feel the softness of the pillow beneath your head. Listen to the chirping of the birds outside your window. If your mind begins to wander, concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing to relax and refocus.
Your daily tasks — Pay attention to your daily tasks. Take enjoyment from the little things. The freshness of your breath after you brush your teeth. That first sip of coffee in the morning. The softness of your shirt against your skin. Savor each smell, taste, sound and touch!
Don’t be afraid to use cues — The most important thing is to actively remind yourself to experience everything around you. If you find yourself forgetting, use existing daily reminders to pull you back in. For example, train yourself to think about mindfulness every time your phone buzzes.
Don’t be afraid just because it is difficult — You may not always like or enjoy what you experience. However, that is part of it! Experience the reality rather than a dream world. As you pay more attention to your experiences, you may become more aware of certain distresses. Try to inject some light and humor into your day if you are struggling. Just remember, it will get easier.
Formal sitting practices — Formal practices can require a little more time and dedication, but they are worth it. Meditation has been proven to focus your attention and is known to open your eyes to experiences around you. Either meditate in silence or invest in some kind of audio guide. Starting with 10-minute meditation sessions can work well before you figure out what timing responds best with you.
Focus your attention — Put yourself in an upright position and switch to an alert mode. Close your eyes in order to focus your concentration. What can you experience around you? What can you touch? What can you smell and taste? What can you hear? Recognize these bodily sensations and make a mental note of everything about them.
Never fight your own thoughts — Your mind will often wander, especially at the start of your mindfulness journey. You may think about the past or the future. Regrets may shift toward the forefront of your mind. This is natural. Observe these thoughts for what they are and do not add to them. Do not resist the distractions, just let the thoughts come and go without pushing against them.
Always observe — Thoughts make up just one part of your overall experience. Observe your mood itself. How are you feeling? Focus on your body — what physical sensations are there? Is your back aching, for example? Take the time to experience the now.
Breathing — Let go of your mood, thoughts and body. Focus on your natural breathing and nothing more. Focus on the flow of the air through your nose and mouth. Focus on your rising chest. Do this for three to five minutes. Focus on your feet or hands if paying close attention to your breathing makes you anxious.
Practice, practice, practice — Meditate as often as you can/want to. You will get better with practice.
Mix up your meditations — There are so many forms of meditation out there, so feel free to explore. If something isn’t working for you, mix it up!
Anthony Cupo is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years. Our article is also published in ParentingOC’s Magazine!