There is no need to run outside
for better seeing…
Rather abide at the center of your being
For the more you leave it
the less you learn.
Search your heart and see…
The way to do is to be.
Have you ever wondered how often do you actually enjoy the present moment? How often are you really involved in what is happening around you? Usually, we do not even realize how stuck in the past or present are we, completely neglecting now.
Does this sound familiar? You wake up in the morning and the first thing that happens in your head is a quick overview of the day, immediately jumping into the “work and duties” mode. You go out with friends but you still think about that laundry that you should have done or about tomorrows exam. You try to find a moment for yourself and go for a walk, but you are so distracted by thinking about problems at work that you do not even notice where your legs carry you. You try to fall asleep but you can’t because you wonder what he meant when he said that thing yesterday ….
All the time we are preoccupied with worrying about the past or stressed out the future. Our minds pulls us from one place to another, trying to solve past or forsee future problems. This can easily make us overworked, stressed and irritated.
If you would like to find a moment of rest among all this chaos and learn to better manage your emotions, then I present you Mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
The most popular definition of mindfulness describes it as a “special kind of attention – conscious, non-judgmental and directed at the present moment” (J. Kabat-Zinn, 1990). This is a process that originates from Buddhist traditions.
Practicing mindfulness brings a number of benefits:
- reduces anxiety, worrying and stress
- helps you better cope with difficult emotions
- reduces impulsivity
- reduces ruminations (obsessive thoughts)
- improves concentration
- has a positive effect on sleep
There are many more benefits of mindfulness, here I wrote down a few of the most important ones. Mindfulness meditations are recommended for people with certain mental disorders as well as healthy people who would like to improve their quality of life.
How to practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced in various ways. We can even say that every time (even for a few seconds!) when you transfer you attention (without judgment!) to the moment, it’s the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness practice can be divided into formal and informal.
Below you can find some of my favorite exercises.
I. Informal practice.
What characterizes the informal practice is that it can be practiced always and everywhere, regardless of what you do or where you are. There is no one correct way to do the following exercises, just remember to move your attention to the inside or outside of yourself and … observe. Without judgment.
A mindful walk
Go for a walk. From the first to the last moment, be present. But what exactly does it mean?
Pay attention to what the weather is like. Is it hot or cold? How does the air smell today? How does it feel when the fresh air falls into your nostrils? Note the trees and bushes. Just notice that they are there, observe curiously as they look. Pay attention to the people you pass. For nearby buildings. Try to look at everything as if you saw it for the first time. Certainly there are many things that you have not noticed before, everything around is subject to continuous, tiny changes.
There is an infinite number of things and feelings that you can observe while being present moment by moment. Continue walking in this way allowing your thoughts, emotions and feelings to flow freely. Try not to judge yourself or anything around yourself.
We often eat “on the run”, without paying attention to what we eat or how it tastes. Such “careless eating” may lead to problems with digestion, overeating or unhealthy snacking.
Meanwhile, eating a meal can be a very pleasant form of practicing mindfulness, so book yourself a little more time for the next meal and let’s go!
During the next meal, transfer all your attention to the products you consume. Eat with curiosity. Note the texture, taste and smell of the dish. Pay attention to the process of chewing and swallowing. Do not rush. Be like a scientist who tries to collect as much information as possible about your research subject. Do not judge. Avoid the terms bad / good, these assessments only exist in your mind, they are not a feature of the product. While eating, do not watch TV or browse the internet, try to focus all your attention on the meal.
If you practice this meditation systematically, you may discover that eating gives you real pleasure. Perhaps you will eat less or more carefully choose ingredients, so that what you eat is in harmony with what your body wants.
Breath is always with you, although we usually pay attention to him only when something is wrong. But, what we often fail to see, the way we breathe can affect our well-being. Breath is also a great “anchor” that might help us focus attention on the present moment. You can do the next exercise anywhere, for any amount of time. It can be a long 45-minute session or a few seconds of conscious breathing repeated many times during the day. You can repeat them in the moments of stress, when you want to calm down or relax. Mindful breathing helps also in falling asleep.
To do this exercise, all you have to do is simply become aware of the breathing process itself. Take a deep breath, pay attention to the route the air travels, moving through your nostrils, throat, as it falls into your stomach or lungs. Note that there is a short break between inhale and exhalation. Follow the air as it leaves your body when you exhale. Notice how your chest rises and falls. The moment you notice that your attention has gone somewhere, do not worry, it’s completely normal, just notice this fact and come back to tracking your breath.
There is also a relaxation variant of this exercise. If it’s something you care about at the moment, try to breathe engaging your belly, not just the chest. Extend the exhale, to make it as long as possible. Such breathing has a calming effect.
Stay in the exercise for as long as you need, and finally slowly move your consciousness back to the outside world and things that are happening around you.
II. Formal practice
The following exercises should be performed in a place ensuring peace and quiet. Since the goal is to focus on yourself, I recommend closing your eyes or fixing the gaze on one point on the floor to minimize the impact of visual distractions. You can sit or lie, but if you notice that you are falling asleep, choose a more straightened position.
3-minute body scan
Take a few minutes to check “how are you”. Often, we do not realize what is happening to us. We act on an autopilot without noticing that we are angry, sad or in stress. Spend a few minutes a day to get in touch with your body, emotions and thoughts, in order to expand your self-awareness and take care of your well-being.
Stop for a moment, sit down and close your eyes. Start practicing simply letting all thoughts, emotions and feelings come to life. Register their presence. Without judgment, without choosing which ones are okay and which are not. Let them be. Notice how thoughts flow, almost without your participation. How do they change? Check if any signals from the body are coming to you. Perhaps your emotions are trying to tell you something through tense muscles or aches. Observe what appears for several minutes.
Finally, thank yourself for doing this practice. This is a step towards improving the relationships with yourself.
Clouds in the sky
This exercise can be especially useful for people who have problems with detaching from their thoughts. Our minds constantly produce huge amounts of thoughts and evaluations. About any subject, important or not, past or future. All you have to do is think about one thing, let’s take the word: mother. Probably in your mind appeared a number of associations with this word: the image of your mother, when you last saw her, what it means to be a mother, what is your emotional attitude toward mothers, whether you are a good mother, and perhaps a mother in culture and art of the nineteenth century, if you study art.
And all this because of a word I wrote here, completely randomly.
The consequences of this are huge for our well-being. All we have to do to experience the painful event again and again – is just thinking about it.
If you would like to catch a break and learn how not to always “buy” what your mind is ‘’selling’’ you, I recommend this exercise to you.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes (or focus your gaze on one point on the floor). Transfer your attention to the internal world. Direct your attention to the breath. Notice each inhale and exhale. Then, imagine that you are lying down on the grass and there is a blue sky above you. Make yourself aware of the emotions and thoughts that arise. Place each thought or emotion on one cloud in the sky. In the form of words or pictures. Then let the cloud float away and allow next one to appear. If you’re having any thoughts about this exercise, also place them on the clouds. Try not to stop at any thought. Remember that you are lying on the grass and watching what you are experiencing from a distance. No reaction is needed, try not to judge or analyze. Thoughts, like clouds, appear and leave, you have no power over it.
It is perfectly natural that every now and then, instead of observing thoughts and emotions, you will find yourself on one of the clouds. Do not worry about it, just return to the exercise, right after you notice that you have become a participant in your thoughts rather than the observer.
At the end of this exercise, transfer your attention to breathing again. Note that the breath has accompanied you all the time. Move your attention to your physical sensations and to the sounds that you can hear. Open your eyes.
Continuing the practice
There are many, many various forms of practicing mindfulness.. There are no restrictions here, you can find other suggestions in literature of the subject or come up with your own. Do what works best for you. Remember that the only thing that is really important in the practice of mindfulness is to focus on the present moment without judging or evaluating. You can practice being present durin other daily activities, such as washing the dishes or taking a shower. Or while exercising. Yoga, for example, is an exercise system that works perfectly with mindfulness.
You can train as long and often as you like, but remember that the best results you can achive while practicing at least 30 minutes, once or twice a day. That will help you achieve better emotional and cognitive control and well-being. Do not be discouraged – practice makes perfect, even in “doing nothing”;).