Mindfulness is a process of active, open, non-judjmental awareness. It is paying attention in the present moment with openness, curiosity, kindness and flexibility. When some of us think about mindfulness or meditation, it conjures up the image of sitting in lotus position for hours in silence, and we immediatly reject it.
Instead of looking at it as a boring activity, try to think of it as a skill. A skill that you can develop and integrate into your life, making it happier and more focused. It’s a non religious practice, you don’t need to be in the lotus position or burn incense to do it. But you do need to practice it. Basically it’s like going to the gym, the gym of the mind, of awareness.
Your Mindfulness practice can be formal and informal.
The formal practice of mindfulness includes an intentional commitment of time. It can be 5 minutes at your desk in your office between appointments, 10 minutes on a bench in the park on your lunch hour, 20 minutes at home after the kids are in bed. Practicing formal mindfulness changes our brains in ways that helps us to bring awareness to our daily life.
In the course of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction we approach several forms of formal Mindfulness practices:
- Sitting meditation: Sitting (or standing) upright with your heart open in a strong but relaxed way for several minutes just “being” and experiencing stillness. Practice noticing your thoughts, emotions and sensations with curious, open, compassionate, nonjudgmental awareness.
- Awareness of breath: Gently guiding your focus to your breath as you naturally breathe in and out.
- Walking meditation: Experiencing your feet making contact with the earth with each step that you take and noticing the sensations in your body.
- Eating meditation: Focusing mindfully on a raisin or other piece of food as you fully experience the smell, texture, taste and other sensations of the food as you eat it very slowly.
- Pleasant/Unpleasant: Noticing with interest, openness and curiosity the physical and emotional sensations around you. Noticing what you experience as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and gently nodding or acknowledging in your mind to your awareness of that.
- Sensory-guided meditations: Paying attention very intentionally to what you’re hearing, touching, smelling, tasting and/or seeing in an open, nonjudgmental and expansive way.
- Body scans: Slowly and intentionally scanning your body with your mind focusing from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and radiating out from your heart space. The focus is on being relaxed and aware as you reclaim a connection (rather than resistance) to your body and the sensations that you feel. If you’re experiencing pain, for example, the practice is to notice the sensation and not try to block it—practicing noticing rather than judging—practicing being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Yoga: The integration of mind, body and spirit through breath, poses, flow, movement and mindfulness. Yoga often includes a strong focus on letting go of resistance and grasping while accepting where our minds, hearts and bodies are with patience, acceptance and love.
All of these formal practices can also be adapted into informal practice or “everyday Mindfulness”, instead of the “everyday Mindless” that we are used to : running around like in auto-pilot, endless nonsense scrolling on our phones, eating the 12th cookie of the package, screaming with the kids and not knowing why or going for dinner with a friend and not paying attention to what he is saying. Can you relate?
When we practice mindfulness in a more informal way we are noticing our experience from moment to moment and bringing our attention to one thing as many times as we can throughout the day.
Informal practices of mindfulness can include:
- Breathing: Your breath is your anchor. It is always with you and you don’t need a formal practice to benefit from breath awareness. Pausing at any time throughout our day to connect to our breath and noticing ourselves inhaling and exhaling is an important part of informal as well as formal mindfulness practice. You can use this 3 steps exercice.
- Listening : deeply listen to people in your life with a open heart and mind, not giving advices or judging, just listening.
- Noticing nature :Listen to the sounds of the birds, the colour of the flowers, the noise of the leaves in the trees, the stars in the sky at night. Nature as a way of reminding us of our ability to be fully present.
- Doing your domestic chores: washing dishes, cooking, gardening. Notice your movements, pay attention to your body sensations. Notice your thoughts. Notice the feelings as you take in the entire experience.
- Driving: Pay attention with focused attention on what you see, the feel of the steering wheel in your hands and what you’re hearing around you. Relax your shoulders and notice what you’re feeling and experiencing as you mindfully drive. Try to desconnect the radio one time.
- Parenting: Pause as much as possible and bring your full intention and attention to your parenting. Research shows that mindfulness can strength parenting skills and impact children in positive ways.
- Movement: While walking out of your home, going into your workplace, walking up the stairs or during any other movement throughout your day, bring your focus to the sensations in your body. While running, swimming, during Yoga or at the Gym, connect your breath with your body.
- Horse riding: we can develop greater self-awareness, by becoming mindful of our breath, our emotions, body language, touch, smell of nature, and everything actually, when working with horses.
- Self-Compassion: Notice when you’re being hard and judgmental with yourself and guide your thoughts toward self-compassion. When you notice judgmental thoughts on yourself you can simply mentally say “I am enough” “I am doing the best I can”. It’s a game changer.
Mindfulness is not a “technique”, it’s a way of living that is in every one of us. We all have the capacity to practice mindfulness in our daily lives.
Practicing formal and/or informal mindfulness as often as we can helps us to learn the skills to live a happier life and to be better prepared to face difficult times.
Take good care of you.