Cultivating Mindfulness In Everyday Life
By Sarah Engelskirchen
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the concept of being present, aware, and fully attentive to the moment at hand. Oftentimes, our mind is elsewhere, and we lose touch with our surroundings, bodies, and selves. The two primary components of mindfulness include not only awareness of our internal experiences but also acceptance of our thoughts and feelings without judgement or avoidance. Everyone is capable of practicing mindfulness; we just have to learn how to access it and what mindfulness approach works for us. Mindfulness is not an obscure, special addition to our lives; in fact, we already practice mindfulness daily whether through listening intently to our favorite song or admiring the sunset as it sinks below the horizon.
Benefits of Mindfulness
There are a plethora of benefits to practicing mindfulness. Evidence shows it reduces stress and anxiety, enhances performance, allows us to gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, increases our attention to the wellbeing of others, and sparks innovation. In addition, mindfulness is accessible because the practice can be transformed to fit the lifestyle, needs, and values of anyone.
When we take the time to sit with our thoughts and feelings, we develop awareness that enables us to identify, name, and express those thoughts and feelings. This process aids in helping us to understand and cope with uncomfortable emotions while also identifying our needs. When we are able to identify the needs underlying our emotions, we are better able to meet and honor those needs effectively whether through self-care or community care.
When we think about mindfulness, formal meditation may come to mind. Formal mindfulness is the act of setting aside a dedicated period of time to intentionally engage in a mindfulness practice such as guided visualization, seated meditation, yoga, or a body scan. While these are excellent mindfulness practices, they are not the only way to access the benefits of being mindful. In addition to formal, intentional mindfulness practices, there are also informal activities we can engage in to develop awareness with the present moment.
Informal mindfulness can be as simple as washing dishes. Oftentimes our minds wander while we engage in mundane activities. Nevertheless, if we tap into our senses by watching the soap swirl at the bottom of the sink, feeling the warmth of the water on our skin, and listening to the gurgling of the drain, we can be fully engaged with the act of washing dishes. We can insert mindfulness practices into other everyday activities as well such as taking a walk in nature or even simply breathing.
How to Incorporate Mindfulness
Although there are a plethora of ways to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives, it can still be challenging to know where to start or what approach might fit best. Try to connect to your breathing right now as you read this article. Notice how it feels to inhale and fill your lung with air and then how it feels to release your breath. You may count how long it takes to inhale, hold, and exhale to help you focus more intently on your breathing. Another option might be to identify the transition periods throughout your day. Think about your morning routine, lunch break, finishing work, or your night time routine. Ask yourself where you might be able to tap into mindfulness during those transitions. Connect with your senses. Notice five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Ask questions, and be curious.
Leaves on a Stream
You may find it difficult to focus on your breathing or senses. While this is normal, it can be frustrating to feel distracted by thoughts. One exercise called Leaves on a Stream can help to create separation from thoughts. Imagine a stream where each thought you have sits on a leaf. Notice how fast or slow the river is flowing. Notice which thoughts try to stick around and which thoughts are harder to hold onto. Focus on allowing those thoughts to come and then letting them go by. The goal is not to try to control or repress our thoughts but rather to allow space for them, be curious about them, and know they are temporary.
No matter where you are on your mindfulness journey, remember there is no single right way to engage in mindfulness practice. You are capable of benefiting from the effects of mindfulness. There are a plethora of ways to reduce stress, learn more about yourself and your experiences, and care for yourself effectively and compassionately.
For additional resources or support, contact Embrace Therapy today!