There is growing recognition that mindfulness-based therapies offer support for our mental health. Perhaps less well known, these techniques also dramatically improve our physical wellbeing. Mindfulness takes us beyond coping and making do. The techniques help us to see the world differently, grow, flourish, and live a more compassionate, fulfilled life. Mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here and now—not what might have been or what you’re worried could be. The ultimate goal is to give you enough distance from disturbing thoughts and emotions to be able to observe them without immediately reacting to them.
At its most basic, mindfulness is about paying attention to one’s present experience at any given moment. We can focus on what is happening in our body, the thoughts going through our mind, or the way the environment feels. It is a means of training your attention and becoming more aware of your own feelings, thoughts, and surroundings and to gain control over yourself and be in charge of your life.
A common mistake that most of us make regarding mindfulness is that it’s constantly trying to bring awareness and focus into the present while avoiding the pain and disturbing elements of the mind that make us anxious and upset. Many people start out with the intention of being more mindful but end up making it uncomfortable. Instead of tuning into their current awareness, they become fixated on bringing their attention to the present rather than allowing themselves to feel at ease and simply noticing their current state of mind.
Mindfulness takes intention(s) and causes them to become real. Meditation aims to create a calm, still, and peaceful environment for us to be fully present in which we can understand our true nature and react appropriately. So how can intention move from being a thought of your mind to being an actual state of being? Traditionally, intention is created when we are in a focused state (like sitting, meditating, or driving). When we are very focused on something, what I call the “I” state, it becomes easier to generate thoughts of doing something (e.g., “I” should go to work and get the mail today). Over time, however, we learn that in order to receive any kind of intention, the mind needs to be in a receptive state. In this receptive state, it is difficult to be either focused or receptive at the same time. The more attentive and focused we make our minds, the more vulnerable we become.
Whether you’re self-aware or not, it’s a good idea to practice a few moments a day just being aware that you are breathing, that you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, and that your feelings and thoughts are just “creatures of your mind.” To start, it is best to begin with a few quiet minutes. For example, if you are in a quiet room, taking a few deep breaths is a great way to start the day. It is also helpful if you start by paying attention to your breath. Feel the air coming in and out without judging it. Focus on the sensation of moving through your abdomen and feel it increase in strength as the minute passes. Pay attention to the open ends of your breath as opposed to the chest that is full of tight muscles. This rate of breath is essential for this practice to work, so make sure to move slow enough with each exhalation. Eventually, though, you will develop a sense of awareness of how strong your breath is. Mindfulness focuses on making the mind and it’s experiences more conscious. A key part of this experience is becoming present and paying attention to what is happening.
If you are interested in getting started with mindfulness and don’t know where to start – here is a link with some practice ideas and techniques.