How many of us actually take the time to just sit and be? To be aware of where we are right here and now, to focus on our breathing, the sounds and smells around us, to connect with our own bodies and our environment? My guess is that this doesn’t happen very often for most people. I can tell you though from experience that it’s one of the most relaxing and refreshing exercises that you can do for yourself. Sure, it’ll feel weird at first, but that’s because you’re so used to running around like crazy every day! Mindfulness allows you to feel peace, relaxation and gratitude.
So what really is mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves learning how to control one’s own mind instead of one’s mind controlling them. It directs your attention on the here and now—the moment you are experiencing right at this second. You are being mindful when you recognize the moment, what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, tastes like (Behavioral Tech, LLC). Mindfulness is a lot like meditating. You can focus on your breathing patterns or the counts of your breath in the beginning. The point is to focus on one thing and when your mind begins to wander, as it naturally will, you teach yourself to non-judgingly bring the mind back to focus.
Isn’t mindfulness a little weird?
Not at all! It’s a practice that has been around for ages, infused into many cultures and religions. Thomas Merton, a devout monk and prolific twentieth century writer, wrote the book Contemplative Prayer to help us learn how to pray using meditation strategies similar to mindfulness. Merton states, “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is when life itself is fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive…It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being” (The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia, 2002). Our culture is always saying things like “seize the day” and “live in the moment” but are we actually doing that?
What does mindfulness look like?
Mindfulness can look like a lot of things. I’ll give you a simple breathing exercise to get started with but mindfulness takes on a variety of forms. Sometimes, I will just meditate on a scripture or things that I am thankful for. Other times, I will focus on positive thoughts while breathing in and negative thoughts that I need to release when I breathe out. You can close your eyes to avoid distraction for certain exercises, or you can open your eyes to be mindful of your surroundings for others.
Here is a simple breathing exercise:
Close your eyes and get into a relaxed position. Try to focus on your breathing—breathe in and out. Notice your breath as it enters your nostrils, fills your lungs, expands your stomach, and escapes through your nose or mouth. Don’t worry about if your breaths are shallow, deep, slow or fast. Just notice it. As your mind begins to wander—which will most likely happen in the beginning—just recognize it and bring your thoughts back to your breath. It’s important to not worry or judge yourself for outside thoughts. As you increase the frequency of this practice, you will do this less and less. The first time I led this exercise for a group, one lady actually fell asleep! That’s totally okay too—no judgment here! In this crazy, fast-paced world, it’s amazing what 5 minutes of stillness can do for our mind and body.
Try this for 3-5 minutes at first and then increase the time as you become more comfortable. Hopefully you feel more relaxed, refreshed and alive!
If you’re interested in more mindfulness exercises, feel free to contact me.