Mindfulness--What is it? You may have come across Mindfulness around social media, educational articles, self-help books, health magazines, professional training and in random conversations. You may wonder:—How does it work? What Are Its Benefits? How do I do it? And Can It Help Me?
Mindfulness is a practice that can benefit the way you live by increasing your awareness to the present. The practice involves engaging the mind and body with bringing attention to the breath, attuning ourselves to the five senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste) and reducing our brain clutter with relaxation exercises.
We live in a world where life often happens at a fast and furious pace. Stress is often a shadow in our lives, and chronic stress can often lead to burn-out, withdrawal and fatigue. A demanding job, an unhealthy relationship, the loss of a loved one and going through one of life's curve balls can take an emotional toll on our mental and physical health. A regular practice of mindfulness and meditation helps us create emotional resources to manage the daily grind. Mindfulness allows us to take a healthy, mental pause in our day. We can take time for ourselves and the mind and body can relax with a well needed respite.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and author encourages readers to shift from a future-oriented mindset to a present way of living in Peace is In Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life:
We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work hard to get a job, car, a house and so on. But we have difficulty remember that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.
Mindfulness creates the space so you can feel calm, grounded, and connected. In my work as a therapist, Mindfulness can be extremely beneficial in helping clients to relax and reduce symptoms associated with Anxiety and Depression as well as lifting moods. The more we practice, the better we get at calming our bodies and minds, and in turn our default setting for negativity, worry and fear shifts toward feelings of positivity, peace and gratitude.
Have you ever wondered how many times you look at your phone without even noticing? Reaching for the phone has become a default behavior for many of us. One of the challenges to living more mindfully is the abundance of information and images we are constantly bombarded with through social media, email and news outlets. Learning to unplug, clearing your mind and gifting yourself with a chance to rest is a challenge worth pursuing. For many of us who are constantly on the go, over-committed, stressed and/or overwhelmed, here are some 5 Mindfulness tips guaranteed to uplift your day:
1) The Calm App - Practical Meditation at Your Finger Tips
Rule to the Exception—you can use your phone for this one! This app makes meditation accessible and easy to implement during the day. If you've never meditated before, the app features Guided programs led by a smooth, gentle and trusting voice. The woman who narrates the programs gives a little psycho-education and background before she guides listeners through the meditation sequence. I find her brief intros helpful and inviting. For beginners, try programs like 7 Days of Calming Anxiety, 7 Days of Managing Stress or 7 Days of Happiness. You can choose a meditation program that appeals to your mood.
Warning--for the beginners, you might find meditation initially painful. Sitting still is often an excruciating experience for many of us constantly on-the-go. It may take a couple of times for you to let go of the looming checklist and the extra brain noise fighting for your attention. Try small time intervals first and then build up-just don't give up. The Calm App provides the perfect and practical pause in a frantic day. A regular practice of daily meditation often impact both emotional and physical health which can help with the following: reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, increase moods, manage Anxiety, etc. Healthline shares more science-based benefits of meditation. The app does cost, however give one their free trials a go--it is well worth it! For several bucks a month, you have a calm companion literally at your finger tips.
2) Listening to Music
Have you ever heard a song a thousand times and when someone finally pointed out the lyrics to you, you actually HEARD the song for the first time? The song then took on a different meaning or experience. Listening AND paying to music can be uplifting for your spirits. In addition, music has a powerful affect in easing anxiety.
My Spotify app serves as a constant companion in my everyday life. As a Mother, Wife and Therapist I am constantly managing different responsibilities. Whether it's prepping meals for my family, washing dishes working on an article or trying to push through the last minutes of the stair climber, Music is something I can't live without. I can find peace with a powerful Rachmaninoff classic or find mt happy in an upbeat Bruno Mars tune. The right Motown song can snap me out of a funk. And for me, Van Morrison's Brown-Eyed Girl always puts me at ease. So--what’s on your playlist today?
3) Walking in Nature (Without the Headphones)
A nice walk among natural greenery can do wonders not only for your physical health but your brain health! How Walking in Nature Changes Your Brain illustrates the positive impact of nature positive impact on our emotional heath--especially if you consider yourself a city dweller. Try a 30 minutes walk at a local park or simply take a stroll in a neighborhood. For those of you who are a little more adventurous, venture on a hike and ditch social media for a day. Use your senses to really absorb the moment with paying attention to the sounds, smells, and sights around you.
As much as I like music, there are times where I simply want quiet. How many sounds can you pick up when you ditch the headphones? You will be amazed by the little wonders that surround us each day. One more bonus--you might encounter clarity and creativity along the way in this simple practice.
You don’t have to be a Yogini to gain the benefits of Yoga! The great thing about Yoga is the focus on the breath. Often times, we are not aware of our breathing. These days, there are different types of yoga for everyone. Your local gym may offer a variety of yoga classes, and so many yoga studios have a creative lineup of classes. You might have to experiment with a few classes to get your yoga “flow” on. Yoga is known to yield a myriad of healthy benefits. The Mayo Clinic shares three key benefits in practicing yoga contribute to reduced stress, increased fitness levels and managing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension.
5) Savoring a Cup of Coffee (or Tea)
My morning cup of coffee is a not only an experience--it's almost a spiritual ritual that sets me for the day. Every one of my senses are alert and attuned. First, the sound of the coffee peculating and dripping steadily into the coffee pot signals the start of a new day. Soon after, the smells of a fragrant, rich roast slowly permeate the kitchen and fill the rest of the house with warmth. Next, I select one of my coffee mugs and pour the fresh brew into the mug. I feel the coziness and comfort of the coffee and notice the steam simmer above brim. Next, a gentle serving of my Hazelnut creamer into the brew produces a light, caramel color ready for the taking. The experience culminates when I savor and sip this delicious cup of jo. I look out a kitchen window and am in sheer gratitude of the morning and this moment. I absolutely treasure my mornings!
Next time--you have a cup of coffee or tea, really take time to savor the experience. You can really appreciate so many little things that we often take for granted. How many times have you rushed your way out the door or scarfed down a meal because you were already on the next thing on your agenda? Take time, slow things down and really, I mean really pay attention to the world around you. Often--we miss so many of the details, or little moments that bring us sparks of joy.
Mindfulness Will Change Your Life
Our culture often creates a favorable breeding ground for stress and anxiety, and mindfulness provides an antidote for coping with everyday stress and handling intense emotional burdens. My hope for you is that you find your own set of tools that may enrich your daily life. Living mindfully can bring you a sense of peace throughout your day, create the space for joy and allow you to really embrace life at the present moment. Here are some books that you may find useful should you want to explore this topic more:
· Peace is In Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
· Wherever You Are, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
· Awakening Joy, James Baraz
· Sitting Still Like a Frog, Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents), Eline Snel
Tricia Miller (M.Ed., LPC) is a Houston-based therapist currently in private practice at Memorial Counseling Center where she works with adult clients needing help with Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, Relationships, and Life Transitions. In addition, as a Wellness Coach, she enjoys helping her clients with building a healthier lifestyle. Tricia is married and has two young boys. Read more about Tricia's background.