Mindfulness is everywhere; yet starting a mindfulness practice can be daunting, full of frustration, and ripe with doubt about whether or not you are doing it right. The following post shares answers to five of the most commonly asked questions by those new to the practice.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, with openness, curiosity. It involves accepting things as they are in the moment, and without judgment. Although it’s a state of mind we can all access, its more readily available with a regular, daily practice.
What do you mean by a mindfulness practice?
Living mindfully is easier said than done! Think of all the times you might be lost in thought, high-jacked by your internal critic, or worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. These are often patterned ways of thinking that actually cause more suffering than provide any sense of relief.
It takes practice to change patterns of thinking, like it takes practice to gain status in any notable activity. Think about it… Weight lifters need to lift successively heavier weights in order to achieve greatness in their sport. Marathon runners need to run long distances on a regular basis to survive their grueling 26.2mile competitions. Pianists, guitarists, drummers, and any other musician needs to practice endlessly to achieve fame or first chair status.
Practicing mindfulness makes being mindful more routine!
What are different ways of practicing mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced formally or informally.
The most common formal mindfulness practice is mindfulness meditation. Sitting in stillness, paying attention on purpose to the feel of the inhales and the feel of the exhales of your breath, noticing when your thoughts take you somewhere else, and kindly redirecting your attention back to your breath… again, and again… Its like bicep curls for the brain and breaks up the patterned ways of thinking by cultivating greater attention and concentration on a single anchor. Another benefit of meditation is that focused breathing often engages the relaxation response naturally, so many individuals feel calm and refreshed afterwards.
Informal mindfulness practices refer to paying attention on purpose to any activity in daily living such as work presentations, exercising, walking the dog, eating, writing a paper, washing dishes and most importantly, actively tuning in to interactions with family members, friends, or colleagues.
Inviting mindfulness into your life might feel strange or even frustrating in the beginning. With practice, being more present, without the need to judge or constantly evaluate, opens the door to living with less reactivity, more fulfilling relationships, more attuned parenting, and the possibility of greater joy.
How can I meditate when my mind keeps thinking about other things?
The human mind is designed to think. During meditation, the mind will always move towards other thoughts and this is normal, even for experienced meditators. The idea isn’t to stop your mind from thinking. The idea is to begin to notice the moment your thoughts take you elsewhere, notice where they took you, and redirect your attention back to your breath (or whatever anchor you are using). In a mindfulness meditation practice, failure is actually a success! Your mind takes you away, you notice where it took you without judging, and come back to the breath, over and over again. This IS the practice. This IS the bicep curls for your brain. This IS what cultivates attention, focus, and peace of mind.
In daily living, just think about how many times you aren’t paying attention, how anxiety can quickly overwhelm you, the ways in which your inner critic impacts your confidence, or how susceptible you might be to reactive behaviors. Cultivating self awareness and attention through mindfulness practices, can help you notice the inattention or notice emotions as they emerge, so you can be more grounded, more in control, and respond in ways that are helpful.
What if I need to move my body during the meditation?
Then move your body. Get more comfortable. And begin again!
Sit up tall, in a dignified, but not too rigid way. Reconnect to noticing the connection between your body and the chair or cushion beneath you. Reconnect to the feel of the breath as it moves through your body. When your thoughts take you elsewhere, kindly notice where they took you and come back to the breath, again and again and again.