Here’s the thing – “mindful” has been a big buzzword for a while now, which means that people think they know what it means. But do they?
What is Mindfulness?
This is the dictionary definition:
1.the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
2.a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.oxforddictionary.com
So that is the official set of definitions.
This is my definition:
Being aware, in the present moment, of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations as well as the situation and people around us, without judging any of it.
When I started mindfulness training back in 2002, it was not yet a buzzword. People mostly thought it was about meditation, or Eastern philosophy. Even back then, I preferred to look at it as something all of us do in some ways, every day, and just do not always recognize as mindful. Take walking, for instance. There is a big difference walking the dog, impatient for them to do their business so you can go back inside versus taking a walk in the park and noticing things like the way the air smells and enjoying the sunshine. We have all done both types of walks. The first is not at all mindful or helpful or stress reducing. The second gives us breathing, noticing, kindness, and gratitude – all of which will have a positive effect on our mood.
How to do mindfulness in everyday life
We can do all kinds of things mindfully, big and small – answer the phone, chores, drive, talk to others. The thing is, we do not have to do all of them mindfully, nor should we do all of them all the time. Mindfulness is not a constant state, it is an always changing state. Ever try standing on a balance board? It is a constant adjustment, you are always moving. And if you try to stand on the balance board while also doing something else, physical or mental, it changes the level of challenge. That is what mindfulness is like – not like being a Buddhist monk or some other stereotype.
I like to learn, so I think of mindfulness as a set of skills that I can use when I need them, and just part of the toolbox. As with any tool, the more you use it, the better you are at it. Some of these do need to be practiced regularly to be truly effective, so don’t just try them once and give up because it ‘doesn’t work.’ You have to give them a chance to work!
Here are some of my favorite mindfulness exercises or activities:
Square Breathing – There are a lot of ways to use breathing to be calm, relax, and increase mindfulness. This version takes less than a minute: breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4, and do it 4 times.
Safe Place Visualization – This is the script I use for this visualization exercise. Another favorite script is the Progressive Muscle Relaxation one. I like to use both of them before going to sleep.
Sensory Soothing Kit – after several years of mindfulness activity under my belt, as well as helping clients assemble their own kits, I have different elements of them all around me at all times. I like the smell of Eucalyptus Tea Aromatherapy, pink noise, chai tea, fidget toys, and photos of my travels.
Mindful Walking – there are many versions of this, but one I got from a book years ago, called “Inside of a Dog” where they suggested looking at a walk from your dog’s point of view and letting them wander as much as possible (the way dogs do) to see what you notice about their patterns. I also like any labyrinth walk or botanical garden I can find.
Act like your dog – dogs are super mindful – though I guess it is at least partly because they have no choice! I like to think dogs don’t worry or fret the way humans do, and mine certainly seem chill most of the time. If I am feeling agitated, I like to lay down with one of the dogs and just try to do what they do for a few minutes – kind of like Simon Says but they do not know they are playing. It changes my perspective and confuses the dog, which is usually adorable!
I hope this gives you some ideas about how to incorporate mindfulness into your life and enjoy it the way I do!