Understanding The Practice of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is to maintain a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, sensations, feelings and environment. To be mindful is to be fully present in the current moment, instead of going over the past for the billionth time or worrying about what is going to happen in the future. These moments of awareness are peppered into our lives; think of a moment of your life that took your breath away, the birth of a child, the summit of a mountain, your wedding day. With practice, we can train ourselves to be more mindful, more present and as a result, live a more breathtaking life.

Mindfulness has both a formal and informal practice. The formal practice is an intentional practice of keeping the attention on the breath, body, sensation or thought that arises with each new moment. There are three main practices:

  • Body scan meditation- typically a 30+ minute guided practice, done laying down, moving the awareness through the of the parts body 
  • Seated meditation- time devoted to sitting quietly focusing on a chosen object of attention, most commonly the breath
  • Mindful movement- movement tied to breath, such as yoga, Tai Chi and walking meditation

The informal practice is taking that mindful attention into daily activities. You can do just about anything mindfully. As you are reading this article you can choose to notice your posture and without moving or changing it. If you find that it is in fact uncomfortable, then make a correction and settle in again.

 Now notice that you are breathing.

 Do you feel your breath in your chest?

 Your belly?

 Is this the first time that you have noticed that you are breathing today?

 Continue to hang out for a bit, just noticing the breath.

 Feel any different? 

 You can bring mindfulness with you to the office by making an effort to be present in what you are doing. Are you in a meeting? Then be there, listening, attentive and engaged. Are you working on a presentation at your desk? Then flip your phone to silent, close down your 50 browser tabs and focus on the task at hand. Single-tasking is mindfulness at work! Besides, multi-tasking is a fallacy that only makes you think you are getting more done. Create opportunities for mindfulness in your workday by taking three deep breaths before you respond to an IM or answer the phone. Before you dive into the next item on the to-do list, check in and see if it is really moving the work forward or if it just about crossing things off the list. Provide opportunities for your brain to shift from it's lifelong reactions, into it's higher thinking responses. Taking just a few moments to feel your feet in contact with the ground and take a few deep breaths in will change your interaction with the next person.

Mindfulness is everywhere right now and it can be a little overwhelming, but don't be discouraged. Here’s a list of things to incorporate mindfulness little by little in to your world:

  • Introduce yourself to a few app options like Headspace, 10% Happier and Insight Timer and see if any of them are a fit to support your formal practice.
  • Setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and sitting in a comfortable upright position and watch your breath, when a thought arises, see if you can just let it be. When you do find yourself in thought, just kindly let that thought go and come back to the breathe. You will be amazed at what this simple practice can do. 
  • Make a 30-day challenge for your mind: limiting social media usage, no screens 1 hour before bed, decluttering your space (check out Marie Kondo’s book on that) 

The first step to mindfulness is to look inward and ask the following: Why do you want to practice mindfulness? What can it do for you?

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