Mindfulness 101

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.” ~ Louis L’Amour

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~ James Baraz

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

 

It’s a crazy world that we live in.  I don’t know about you but I frequently feel bombarded by too much information:  too many plans, too many activities, too many worries and regrets.  Sometimes I feel like I have to make “to do” lists to keep track of my “to do” lists.  Don’t even get me started on incessant media messages – and the pressure to keep up with them.  As if the TV’s 1000 channels aren’t enough, there’s email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, ad nausea.  Just typing them out makes me short of breath.  I’m certain that I’m missing some critical update about a “friend’s” newest recipe or little league game score.  Queue the heart palpitations.  How am I supposed to live a well-tended life when I often feel as if life is whirling past me… and leaving me in the dust?

The answer for me is by cultivating mindfulness – this subject of this week’s WTL Newsletter.  Mindfulness is one of the easiest and most effective ways we have for managing stress and improving total health because it can be practiced anywhere and brings quick results.  Simply put, mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment.  How do you feel right now?  What do you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch?  Take time to notice the details.  Notice the weave of the dishtowel.  Look at the grain pattern of the woodwork.  Take a long deep breath and feel the air coming in through your nose, filling your lungs, and exiting.

Exercises like this bring me back to the present moment.  They allow me to savor the beautiful details of life.  My palpitations are already decreasing.

What if, for the next five minutes, you didn’t do anything?  Really.  Just sit and take it all in.  Experience everything your senses perceive without judgment.  Set a timer if you have to.  It will be worth it.

Life is short.  Life is precious.  Life is important.  What if we treated it that way?

Mindfulness 101

Mindfulness is not a “new-age” concept.  Its origins are in ancient Buddhism so it’s been around for thousands of years.  Most spiritual and religious traditions have some form of mindfulness.  That’s because it works.  A significant amount of scientific research shows that it is beneficial in alleviating a number of mental and physical conditions.  It can assist with improved attention, enhanced learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, and stress reduction.

Most of the time our attention is now where we intend it to be.  Have you ever pulled into the driveway and then realized that you remember nothing about the trip home?  This is a common example of “mindlessness”.  Our minds frequently get hijacked by our worries for the future, regrets and memories of the past, and our thoughts and emotions.  We move and act on “autopilot” and then ask ourselves where the day (week, month, year) went.  Mindfulness is really nothing more than conscious awareness without judgment.  It is the direct knowing of what you are doing while you are doing it.  It is paying attention to what is going on inside of your mind and body, as well as what is going on in the world around you in the present moment. 

By learning to experience the present moment as it really is (and without judgment) you develop the ability to stop those often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events and create the space to choose your responses rather than act on autopilot.

Simple Mindfulness Exercises

Here are four simple techniques to help you incorporate the practice of mindfulness in your daily life.  Connecting mindfulness to certain queues helps you remember to make it a part of your day.  Pick one that feels good and try it for a week.  Then consider adding others as you are lead.  You will be surprised at what a difference they can make in your life.

  1.  Breathe Deeply. 
    1. You can do this anywhere, which makes it a great exercise to begin with.  To do it, simply breathe on purpose.  Take several slow deep breaths from your belly. Count to five on the inhale and count to five again on the exhale.   Breathe in and out through your nose.  Feel the air moving in and out of your body.  Focus on the sound, rhythm, and feeling of your breath.
    2. Listen to music.
      1. Have you ever noticed that it’s almost impossible to sing your favorite song while thinking of something else?
      2. Listening to music has so many benefits and it makes a great mindfulness exercise.
      3. Try listening to instrumental music to feel calming effects.  Close your eyes and really listen to the music.  Focus on the sound of each note and notice how you feel.  What emotions does the music bring up in you?  Do you feel any sensations in your body?
      4. Mindful eating.
        1. Every time you are about to eat something bring your attention to the present moment.  Remember that the purpose of eating is to nourish your body.  Smell the food.  Really look at it and enjoy the colors.  As you take the first bite, notice the texture and taste on every part of your tongue.  You can take each bite with as much intention as the last and turn an often mundane activity into an opportunity for calmness and peace.
        2. Mindful Driving.
          1. Driving can be a good queue if you have a trip you take over and over again, such as from home to work.  At each red light, breathe in the present moment.  Do this until the light changes and at every light.  While stopped, notice the scenery around you.  What is something you have never noticed before?  What has changed since the last time?

The Dangers of Multitasking

Multitasking is the enemy of mindfulness.  American culture idealizes efficiency and hails multitasking as an admirable trait, but most research suggests that it is counterproductive for a number of reasons. 

  1. None of the tasks get your full attention, even though they all need and deserve it.
  2. You are unable to get “in the zone” where your work flows smoothly and quickly because you keep switching focus.
  3. Rapid task-switching can cause a surge of adrenaline which reduces your concentration.

How to break the multitasking habit:

  1. Create a prioritized “To Do” list.
  2. Only open the files, windows, or supplies you need to complete the task at hand.  Put them away (or close them) when you are ready to move on to the next task.
  3. Write down things that pop up in your mind and save them for later.
  4. If necessary, set a timer and focus only on one task for a set amount of time.  Then take a break and move on to the next task.

Further reading:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201107/are-you-smothering-your-brain-s-true-genius

Are You Smothering Your Brain’s True Genius? – Psychology Today

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-myth-of-multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking – The New Atlantis

http://lateralaction.com/articles/multitasking/

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work – Lateral Action

 

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