You may have heard the term mindfulness being used a lot in the world of wellness, this one word that reminds us to slow down, to take a moment and consider things, to not rush through life.
But what does mindfulness actually mean? Mindfulness is the art of being here and now and focusing on every aspect of your current experience. Throughout your day you might do repetitive tasks, like brushing your teeth, driving or getting dressed, when you are performing these tasks the brain sometimes goes into “autopilot” mode, where you are physically doing the task but the mind is thinking about something else and the next thing you know you’ve reached your destination, or you’re dressed. Mindfulness is that act of moving away from “autopilot” mode into “being” mode and it seeks to develop awareness, attention to the present moment and cultivates a non-judgmental, curiously kind mind.
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is the act of paying attention. Attention to thoughts, sounds, sensations of the breath or parts of the body and catching yourself when your mind wanders in order to bring yourself back to the present moment.
"Essentially it is all about staying present..."
Essentially it is all about staying present, not allowing your mind to wander or distracting yourself when you notice uncomfortable emotions arise.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
· Mindfulness helps you to develop new healthier habits. One of the most common unhealthy habits that can be eased with mindfulness is over-thinking or overly obsessive thoughts.
· It can help you to not “buy into” negative thoughts that can be hurtful to your mental health.
· It can help you to develop skills to break free from unwanted behaviors that are damaging to you.
· Many studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce stress levels
· Boost your memory
· Increases focus and suppresses distracting information
Overall, mindfulness has been shown to increase self-awareness, integrity, boost your intuition and regulate fear.
5 characteristics of mindfulness
One of the key characteristics of mindfulness is the art of observing. Steering the mind away from the never-ending thought loop, or “thinking” mode and towards “being” mode. Being present in the here and now. It encourages you to observe your experience in a more direct and sensual way, instead of an analytical way which results in lots of thinking.
We are naturally wired to think about things rather than experiencing them, so with mindfulness we move away from a thinking focused state of being into an observational experience by observing our thoughts, feelings, and sensations (5 senses) with a gentle curiosity.
Within your mindfulness practice you may start to notice fine details of what you are observing. For example, you could hold an orange in your hand and mentally describe it, describe the shape, colour, texture, smell, etc. You could apply the same exercise to your emotions. If there is an emotion that has come to the surface, instead of distracting yourself, you could try to observe it, notice your thoughts around this emotion, notice if it shows up in your physical body in any way.
The idea here is that you participate in the full experience, try not to exclude anything that arises but rather observe it with curiosity and no judgment. Taking care and attention in every aspect of the experience.
Be accepting of your experience, no matter what arises. One of the many causes of prolonged emotional distress is the consistent attempt to control and avoid our experiences. Shift your attention away from thinking mode and into being mode, don’t try to control your experience and notice how things flow freely.
This is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness and just like any new skill it takes practice. Continue to practice with no judgment and gentle curiosity.
Distracting thoughts are natural during any mindfulness exercise; the idea is to try to focus on one thing at a time. The mind has this tendency to chase thoughts, which usually results in more thinking. The idea is that you start to notice when this happens, and when you do, you bring your focus back to a single point, and this is called “being present” and is a skill that needs to be developed. When this happens, and it will, it is not a mistake, simply acknowledge that it has happened and return to observing your experience.
How to become more mindful?
Just like any new skill that you wish you learn, mindfulness takes time to develop, it takes effort, time, patience and practice, and there are many different ways that you can do this. Try out a few of the suggestions below to find one that works for you.
3 simple mindfulness practices to get you started
Meditation is one of the most well-known mindfulness tools and has been proven to be very effective in building up a mindfulness practice.
1. Breath focused meditation
This is a great place to start your mindfulness practice, as it is simple and easy to access. Find a comfortable seat, perhaps sit with your hips elevated and check in that your spine is long, close your eyes and try out this simple breath focused practice below.
Try out this breath focused meditation below:
2. Mantra focused meditation
In this practice you use words as the single point to focus on, keep it simple. Sit and breath in and out, notice the breath and as you do, mentally state “inhale”, and mentally state “exhale”. When you find that your mind wanders, acknowledge it and bring your awareness back to your mantra…”inhale” “exhale”
Try out this guided mantra focused meditation below:
Walking meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness. I sometimes do this when I am waiting on the platform for a train. I walk up and down the platform along the concrete slabs and feel the bumps under the soles of my feet. I walk slowly and mindfully as I notice how the bumps feel under my feet and pay attention to each and every step. This calms my mind, aids focus and reduces my impatience. It’s kind of like calm mindful pacing.
Try this movement meditation:
· Choose a location and set an intention that you will encourage mindfulness through this practice.
· Lower your gaze to the floor without dropping your head
· Walk slower than you normally would and notice the sensation of your feet connecting to the ground
· Start to repeat the word “stepping” every time a foot makes contact with the floor
· Slow your pace down, so that you can start to notice the act of lifting the foot and stepping the foot back down
· Keep on observing these sensations and if the mind wanders, bring your awareness back to the feet lifting and stepping
· Try to continue for 5 – 10 minutes
· Slow down even more and now notice the foot lifts (lifting), the foot moves in mid air (moving) and the foot makes contact with the floor (stepping).
· Continue to focus on lifting, moving, stepping
How has mindfulness helped me?
Being mindful is a tool that I have personally used to get to know myself better, to try to understand why I react to certain triggers and why I’m unmoved by things that really affect other people. It has helped me to navigate through sadness, grief, depression, abandonment and heartbreak.
I started to practice mindfulness by simply sitting down in a quiet space and observing my thoughts. I would notice what thoughts and emotions would arise and where that would show up in my body. Coupled with journaling, this was a big part of my self-healing journey, I discovered so much about myself, and learned about problems that have always been with me but I never took the time to acknowledge or understand.
Once I had written down all of my thoughts with no filter I would try to pick up on the subtle ways that these emotions would show up in my physical body. Sometimes I would notice tension in my abdomen and shoulders when I was feeling stressed, or a sensation in my chest or heart space when I was feeling anxious.
Next, I start to move, depending on where these emotions are showing up in my body. Intuitive movement is what works best for me here, taking the time to listen to my body and move without thinking too much…another act of mindfulness. I guess you could call this mindful yoga.
What is mindful yoga?
One of the definitions for the term yoga, is union, the union from yourself (physical body) to yourself (emotional body). The practice focuses on connecting your mind to your body and your breath.
Mindfulness has always been a key component of the physical practice of yoga. In todays modern world some yoga classes are only taught as a physical practice with the focus being on asana (poses). However, traditionally the intention behind yoga was to bring awareness. Historical images of ancient yogis depict the student seated in stillness with the eyes closed, and this was yoga.
So I come back to the question, “What is mindful yoga?”. Mindful yoga combines the physical practice of yoga with Buddhist-style mindfulness practice in order to bring alertness to your practice and reduce stress, when you are alert, every movement is created with awareness and intention and the practice kind of becomes like a moving meditation. The idea is to allow the poses to be the vehicle to encourage mindfulness. Taking the time to observe rather than react.
I found that this sense of observing without reacting began to translate into my life off the mat and I was able to deal with difficult situations in new and meaningful ways that allowed me to learn something from the experience instead of reacting and allowing that reaction to manifest in my body and mind.
Mindful Yoga with Elumi Yoga
All classes at Elumi Yoga are taught with mindfulness at the forefront of the practice, by allowing students to get connected to what is going on with them, mentally, physically and emotionally. Anyone that has attended my classes will attest to the fact that I say this in nearly every one of my classes.
When you join a class with Elumi Yoga you can expect to be met with yourself. Sounds strange, I know, let me explain. Every class starts with some gentle self inquiry, how do I feel today, how is this showing up in my body and how does my breath feel.
You can expect to move through the class at a pace that suits you on that specific day, I believe that every day is different, and when you bring awareness to these subtle differences you might choose to take this time to learn something new about yourself.
As a gift to you here is a complimentary 45-minute Yin Yoga class for you to try out with Elumi Yoga. If you choose to practice this class a google review of your experience would be greatly appreciated. Simply click here to leave your review.
"Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience." Jon Kabat-Zinn
Love and Light