We as a populous have at one time or another been in a similar situation where our chain of thought is obsessively steered by a particular thought so much so that we observe almost nothing else. In this hyperconnected world, losing ourselves in the haste of life is pretty easy. This state of unawareness is what is referred to as mindlessness.
Defining mindfulness and what exactly is it?
So, mindfulness should just be the exact opposite, right? It is. Mindfulness is often defined as the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever you are doing in the moment – free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
To be more mindful in our lives – is to live in the present, taking a breath, taking control of our reactive thoughts and feelings – which is especially handy when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations.
Mindfulness, thus is a state that can be brought about through practice. It is not static, nor are some people ‘born more mindful’ than the others. It involves being aware and impartial about what we gain from this awareness. In this social media age, with a craving for likes and where opinions are more than forthcoming, it is easy to see how a non-judgmental reflection becomes a welcome change.
When we practice reflection without judgment, we can discover more about our motivations, our feelings and how we tend to react to them and become more deeply aware. That is, we can even become attuned to what we are thinking about, with the purpose of knowing rather than passing any judgement.
As a result of ‘knowing’ our own thoughts, we do start to explore ways to be kinder and more forgiving with ourselves. We cultivate the ability to be more relaxed in spite of the ensuing chaos swirling all around us.
Making it Practical
Practicing mindfulness can be a great way to manage stress levels and boost compassion, focus, empathy, patience, energy and ultimately, happiness. If you’re just beginning, a guided mindfulness meditation may be the way to go. Having a trusted, experienced teacher guide you through the basic steps and showing you the ropes may prove to be quite helpful.
Though there are infinite mindfulness techniques – each rooted in rich traditions and with a unique focus – most have one thing in common: they are aimed at cultivating a sense of calm and clarity, with the intention to remain focused and hone a natural quality of awareness.
Here is a breakdown of 8 of the more popular mindfulness techniques. Some will sound more appealing than others. It is up to you to decide which one is your cup of tea.
Focused Attention: Likely the most common form of meditation, it involves the use of breath to anchor your mind and maintain awareness. Focusing your attention on the rise and fall of your chest with each bout of inhalation and exhalation and returning your focus back on your breathing whenever the mind seems to wander.
Body Scan: As the name suggests, this technique involves meditating to connect with the body and scanning for any discomfort, sensations or aches that exist as they could be indicators of stress and anxiety.
Noting: The act of noting down a particular thought or feeling when you become distracted during meditation helps to create space and learn more of our own habits, tendencies and conditioning.
Loving Kindness: Instead of focusing on breath, this technique involves focusing on the image of people we know, people we like and people we don’t like. We channel well-wishes and goodwill to ourselves first, and then, as a rippling effect, onto others, which helps us to let go of any unhappy feelings or negative emotions that we may be experiencing.
Skillful Compassion: Similar to the loving kindness technique, we focus on a person that we know or love and pay close attention to the feelings that resonate from our hearts. It helps open up our hearts and minds for the benefit for others, which in-turn fosters a sense of happiness within our own hearts,
Visualization: Visualizing someone or something abstract that holds your attention, is what this technique calls upon. The thought of something familiar helps create and maintain a state of relaxed focus.
Resting awareness: Rather than your breath or a familiar visual image, this technique involves letting the mind rest; thoughts may enter, but instead of being a distraction and nudging you away from the present moment, they simply leave.
Reflection: Ask yourself a question such as, “What are you most grateful for?” Asking yourself a question in the second person, you will discourage the intellectual mind from answering it rationally. Be aware of the feelings, not the thoughts, that arise on focusing on the question.
Do you have to extend beyond your routine?
Whichever technique you wind up selecting, know that experiencing moments of mindfulness during meditation is a great first step. After a round of meditation we are most likely to experience distractions throughout the day. The more our mindfulness practice is honed and matured, the more we are able to catch ourselves from being distracted and the more we are able to shift our focus back to the present moment. After all, that is the whole point of his exercise – to make us more mindful and less distracted during the day.
So how do you remember to be mindful when you are not actually meditating? With every practice, try and recognize how your mind feels and then carry that feeling into the rest of your day. Some people find it useful to form a clear idea of what they are going to do next – maybe take a shower or get a cup of coffee and then perform the next task with the same level of awareness they experienced while meditating.
It doesn’t matter what you do after meditation, as long as you look for opportunities throughout the day in which to recognize the space and mindfulness you experience during your practice. Such instances are sprinkled throughout our days, whether we travel to and from work, or if we are at home.
While meditation will have to be incorporated into our routine there are scenarios where we may practice mindfulness in our day to day activities. You may already be familiar with some of these, or draw upon them in situations that you frequently encounter.
Walking from one place to another
Drawing on the mindfulness tips above, there are ways that awareness and non-judgmental reflection can transform the most mundane of activities into experiences we may begin to embrace. While walking to work or home or the shops, note each step.
Rather than letting your mind wander into thought patterns and processes draw your awareness at the task at hand. Notice how each step feels, how the breeze caresses your skin or tugs on your shirt. If you walk past trees or a river, focus on the sound of the rustling leaves and the babbling river and note the colors. Experience them all with mindfulness on the here and now.
When talking to others
While talking to someone who isn’t as clear with their words but is in turn more emotional, you can try to listen without judging them. Without reacting emotionally, and by paying attention without crafting a response in his mind. Instead, you can focus on what they are saying and respond in a more compassionate, meaningful way. Rather than arguing without listening, this helps both to reach a more productive outcome while deepening your relationship and building trust.
Before a big speech
Public speaking may seem daunting to many of us and that’s okay. If you’re wanting to practice mindfulness to help you deal with the stress that you feel, start with some gentle breathing. Find yourself somewhere quiet to take a moment and focus on what you are feeling. Instead of fueling the negative thoughts, try to accept and acknowledge your feelings but also that is not who you are.
Focus more on the sensations emitted by your body, focusing on each part as you let it relax. Notice how it feels when your muscles unwind and let go of the stress.
How to practice it daily.
Here are some tips to help you delve into the practice of mindfulness right away. Hopefully, these will help you get a great start to your mindfulness practice
Take a few moments to be aware of your breathing. Become aware of how your breath flows in and out, how your chest rises and falls with each breath that you take.
Take a note of whatever it is you are engaged in. Notice the here and now. For example, if you are stretching, note how your body feels with each movement. If you are eating, focus on the taste, the smell, the color and the texture of your food.
Focus on the here and now. Pay less attention to the destination and focus more on the journey, on each step that you take and how your feet feel. This one would be great to try on sand or on grass.
It’s okay to just exist. Just exist and relax. You don’t need to be doing something at every moment. Again this is about here and now.
If you notice your mind wandering just remember to breathe. It is only natural that your mind drifts away caught up in various distractions offered by this world. Just return your focus to how your breath comes in and out of your body, and if you feel yourself relaxing while doing so, that is even better.
Try listening in a way that is without judgment. You may notice that you are becoming more aware of your own feelings and thoughts. Don’t judge them, just accept them.
Search for the activities that make you tune out. This is another example of how mindfulness practice can flexibly become part of your day to day routine. You can practice mindfulness while driving, walking, swimming or even just brushing your teeth.
Take some time to enjoy nature. Relaxing surroundings can help you to zone out with ease. Plus, being in nature has so many of its own advantages.
Let yourself notice when you slip back into passing judgement. Remember that this is only natural and doesn’t have to be a part of yourself. You may find that this becomes easier with time and practice.
Take Away from this
Mindfulness has numerous demonstrated benefits. For physical health, mental well-being, for treating illnesses and managing stress and anxiety. And, perhaps the best thing about being mindful is that we can tap into this state of being almost anywhere and at any time.
To learn more about other meditation techniques and how to get started, click here.