Where do I Start?
To recap, mindfulness is “the act of being fully presents, aware of where we are and what we are doing and not overly reactive to what is going on around us”
We are all capable of being mindful, but the majority of us lose this ability when we constantly find ourselves dwelling on past and future issues; often the result of the fast-paced style of living most of us are accustomed to.
How to be Mindful
Imagine you are sitting on the side of a busy highway and that the cars driving by are our thoughts. We tend to try and latch onto the positive thoughts and push away the negative ones. The problem is that the cars just keep whizzing by.
This clearly isn’t working, so you try a different approach. As the cars drive by you simply acknowledge them and then let them drive away. You no longer try and hold onto positive thoughts or push away the negative ones. Eventually you find that the cars start to slow down and that the highway becomes less busy. You are finally present.
The right side represents your thought pattern when you first sit down to meditate. Over the course of meditating your thoughts don’t disappear, but rather start to slow down; much like the traffic on the left side.
This metaphor is the key to mindfulness training. It is not about blocking out all thoughts, but accepting them (positive or negative) and not dwelling. You will begin to notice that as you maintain this mindset, your thoughts start to slow down and your mind becomes clearer.
This is obviously easier said than done, but we can train ourselves to maintain this mindset by following this plan:
Step 1: Mindful Breathing
The most common way to practice mindfulness is through mindful breathing. Simply follow these steps:
- Sit in your chair with your back upright against your backrest and your feet firmly grounded on the floor. Hands can be facing down or up on your lap
- Begin to focus on your breath
- Do not try and change your breathing pattern, but simply observe it
- As your focus begins to shift, acknowledge the thought or thoughts you had and gently bring your attention back to your breath
Remember it is not a failure when your attention waivers from your breathing and wanders to your daily checklists and things you have to do before you drop the kids off for school. The act of mindfulness is actually this process of realizing we are having these thoughts and bringing it back to our breathing or present moment.
Follow this training regimen to help you stay on track:
Week 1: 2 minutes everyday
Week 2: 3 minutes everyday
Week 3: 5 minutes everyday
Week 4: 10 minutes everyday
Week 5: 15 minutes everyday
At first you may find it impossible to remember to bring your attention back to your breath. You may just find yourself getting lost in a day dream and before you know it your timer goes off. That is perfectly fine and very normal. I recommend using an app like Headspace which provides 10 minute guided meditations for every day of the week. The first 10 are free, so check out the app, by clicking the link below:
You can also try the short guided breathing meditation below:
Step 2: Mindful Living
At this point, if you haven’t already found yourselves doing so, begin to apply your mindfulness training to everyday life.
The next time you are washing the dishes, don’t dwell on how much you dislike doing chores or what you have to do next. Instead focus on the sensation of the water hitting your skin and the cold dish on your hands. Try and keep your focus on the activity at hand.
The next time you are out for a walk, think about the muscles you are engaging as you lift your foot off the ground, while maintaining your balance on your other leg. Feel the sensation of the foot making contact with the ground. Try and hold this attention for a period of 5 minutes.