We don’t know about you, but we have been hearing the buzzword “mindfulness” for a while now. It is easy to get lost in the complexities of a new philosophical trend, but this one is blissfully simple. In fact, simplicity is the name of the game.
Mindfulness is the practice of intentional awareness. Is it a prescription for mental serenity and ease. Mindfulness is the choice to keep your mind in the immediate present, not to be distracted by the past, the future, or the infinite minutiae that the mind clings to.
Scientists have shown that five minutes of mindfulness a day is enough to create neural shifts. This means that in the time it takes you to check your email or scan your Facebook updates for the fiftieth time, you could actually alter your frontal brain activity, guiding it towards a state that cognitive scientists associate with positive emotions. So five minutes of mindfulness and happiness is yours for the taking!
If you are like us, though, anything that resembles sitting in lotus pose wrestling with your monkey brain sounds miserable. So here is a list of easier, less painful ways to practice mindfulness.
That’s right, just breathe. You might think, “but I already do that all day, every day, and I don’t feel any more mindful.” The key is to breathe with focus. With every inhale, feel the sensation of the breath. Feel the way it tickles your nostrils, notice how it races past your septum, feel how it inflates your chest. Without trying to exert control, notice the length of your inhales and exhales. The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it any time, anywhere. We love to practice this while stuck in traffic. You will quickly notice that the cars and honks and frustration around you dissolves into total irrelevance as you bring yourself into blissful awareness of the breath.
The body scan is a great way to tune into your body. Begin by noticing the physical sensation at the tips of your toes. Move slowly into the spaces between the toes, the sole of your foot, the arch, heel, Achiles tendon. The key to body scanning is to move slowly and with intention across the vast spaces of our physical bodies, lingering at all of the spots that are eady to forget about: the back of the knee, the underside of your fingernails, the space behind your ears. Spend a few minutes traversing your entire body with finely tuned and kind attention.
This exercise will actually work with any morsel of food, but Jon Kabat-Zinn, modern mindfulness guru, popularized the raisin. Eating mindfully is a multi-beneficial activity, since you get to increase your levity and you get to eat, too. The trick is to approach the raisin, or whatever you decide to eat, as if it were your first encounter with it. Approach the raisin as a novelty, something you have never seen or tasted before. Observe the raisin. Notice its color, texture, smell. When you actually put the raisin in your mouth, notice the way it feels on your tongue. When you bite, notice the way it tastes. Observe the feeling of chewing, the sensation of flavor on your taste buds. The point of the exercise is to approach even the most mundane of daily tasks with novelty and attention. If we approach all of our lives with such clarity and awe, we can see life from the joyous, open-minded curiosity of a child. Children have no concept of past or future. They are not overwhelmed by distraction. They are only absorbed by each moment in its infinite potential. This is mindfulness at its best.
We have found this to be the most counterintuitive and challenging mindful practice. It is much easier to practice mindfulness alone, with your raisin and your breath, than in the company of others. Mindful listening allows you to turn any conversation into an opportunity to practice your new skill of mindful awareness. While another person is talking to you, rather than reciting your to-do list in your head or planning what you will say in response, try just listening. Listen to the other person's voice, to their choice of words. When you feel your mind shifting back to your own preoccupations and away from their words, gently bring it back. Not only will this help you move towards a peaceful mind, but this will make you a wonderful partner and friend.
We are huge advocates of walking, and walking mindfully has twice the benefits. Not only is it great to counteract our sentient lifestyle with some physical movement, but you can turn your daily stroll into a cognitive adventure too. Use the time to cultivate mindfulness. Walk with intention and attention. Notice the way that your feet make contact with the ground. Do you tend to step on the outer or inner foot? Can you feel your toes as you move? Do your arms swing freely or are your shoulders tense? Don't try to change or control anything, just notice what it feels like to walk. The beauty of this practice is that it can be done just walking to and from your car, if you absolutely can't allot time for more. Ideally though, you can take a blissful break to amble on the beach or stroll down the street, all the while practicing mindful awareness.
Let us know how these easy mindfulness tools work for you!