This simple practice will improve your life.
It’s been one of those days. Work was hectic, the kids are fighting, and there are more things to be done at home than you have time to do. Your mind needs a rest. Enter mindfulness.
If you are like me, you’ve no doubt seen the pins on Pinterest or posts on Facebook and Twitter, but skipped over them not really know what exactly mindfulness is. Does it offer any benefits?
Well, I’m here to help you out. I did a little research on the concept, and this is what I found out.
Mindfulness for Beginner’s
Simply stated, you can define mindfulness by saying that it is about achieving a state of being completely present, fully conscious of what you are doing and where you are. It includes not being overcome or excessively responsive to what is happening around you.
Okay, so maybe simply stated was not the best way to start the last paragraph. Think of mindfulness as taking a step back to check in with yourself. How do you feel? What’s going on? What things are bothering you? What makes you happy?
It’s a mental break, self-care, a few minutes to shut out the noise of the neighbor’s dog barking or your kids fighting over the game controller. This can be a crucial need especially if you are dealing with Bipolar
Is It the Same as Meditation?
While the two often go hand-in-hand, they are not the same thing. Mindfulness is present with us throughout the day. It can be very brief, such as taking a second to take a deep breath and calm yourself before answering the ringing phone.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a little more involved. It includes letting yourself be conscious of what is around you (Where is that smell coming from? Why do I feel a draft?) and what you are feeling both positive and negative emotions.
Meditation can also give the mind a moment to have fun like imagining crazy things what if you could fly or if your dog could do the dishes. (Wouldn’t that be awesome? Now I just need to get the cat to clean the bathroom.)
So, now that we know a little about mindfulness and meditation, how do you practice them?
Mindfulness for Beginners
There are several mindfulness techniques, but generally, they all follow a similar pattern. The process is usually as follows.
Take Some Time
You don’t have to be anywhere special or in any certain position (thank goodness, because if I was able to get into the lotus position, I would never be able to get out). A few minutes can be carved out at any convenient time to be mindful. (Except if you are in traffic. In that case, keep your mind on what you are doing.)
Be In the Moment
The primary goal of mindfulness is to be fully present in the moment. It’s not about trying to achieve a quiet mind, though that is often a benefit. Instead, you just want to allow yourself to perceive what is happening right now.
Don’t Judge the Situation
Staying mindful for a few minutes is challenging. Your conscious mind is likely used to reacting quickly to every bit of outside stimuli. However, for the few minutes you are trying to be mindful, don’t think about what needs to be done.
If something comes to you that you feel compelled to complete or judge, briefly acknowledge the thought and let it go for the time being. Whatever it is will still be there in a few minutes.
Come Back to the Present
In today’s media-filled and digital world, our minds are used to being distracted (Squirrel!) After all, we are bombarded by a million ads and articles every time we turn around.
(Yes, I know that this site also contains ads, but I have to pay my hosting fees somehow. Please forgive me.)
If you are trying to be mindful, don’t let these thoughts and distractions commandeer your mind. Instead, if you find yourself going down the rabbit hole, so to speak, bring your mind gently back to the present. Refocus on your breathing, what you are feeling, and what things are around you (smells, sounds, etc.)
The Mind Will Wander
The beginner’s mind will especially be prone to wandering. Be sure not to scold yourself or become upset if your mind does wander, even repeatedly. The ability to remain in the moment gets easier in time, but your mind needs to be trained. Learn to recognize when your mind has gone away (did I remember to put milk on the grocery list?) and then kindly steer it back to the present.
That’s mindfulness in a nutshell. It sounds very easy but will take some practice to achieve and maintain. The more you attempt to maintain mindfulness, the easier it will become and the more benefits you will see.
Meditation for Beginners
There are many different ways to meditate. For today, we’re going to focus on meditation that concentrates on breathing. Your goal is to focus solely on breathing and to let all other thoughts and sensations go.
Find a Comfortable Seat
Meditation is where you might consider the lotus position. I am not limber, so for me, that position is not comfortable, and you want to be as comfortable as possible. You also want to be in a sturdy seat.
Observe Your Legs
Internally, think about what your legs are doing. What position are they in? How do they feel?
If you are on the floor, cross your legs as best you can. If you find a chair more comfortable, your feet should be flat on the floor.
Think About Posture
Try to maintain good posture but without becoming stiff or uncomfortable. Find a position where your spine is naturally straight and feels right.
Observe Your Arms
Next, think about your arms for a moment. Try to keep your palms resting on your legs or in another natural position with your upper arms in line with your torso.
Relax Your Eyes
Many people prefer to meditate with their eyes closed, but that is not required. Do what feels right for you. If you keep your eyes open, let them relax and your point of view down slightly. Try not to focus on what is before you, because, once again, your object is proper breathing, not on what you see.
Experience Each Breath
Now is the time to focus completely on breathing. Let yourself fully feel each breath that you take in or let out. Observe the sensation of the air entering and leaving your body and the rise and fall of your chest. Mindful breathing is your main objective.
Bring Your Mind Back Home
Your mind will want to wander. It’s used to going at top speed, so to slow down will be a bit of a shock at first. When it does wander, don’t let it bother you. Instead, accept that it wandered and gently bring it back to focusing on your breathing.
This sounds super easy, but this is the hardest part. My mind is never quiet and seldom focused. It takes effort to be kind to yourself while also bringing yourself back to center. Each second, though, where you are focused only on the breath you are taking, is a success. Those seconds will grow with time.
Bring Your Eyes Back Into Focus
When you are ready, whether you have taken five or sixty minutes, open your eyes or bring them back into focus. For a few moments, be mindful and let your mind observe the moment and your surroundings again.
Think too on what thoughts and emotions are present and how your body feels in the moment. No doubt you will feel calmer and more at peace.
That’s it. That’s really all there is to mindfulness and meditation. Sound easy, right? In concept, it is, but it will take some time to really become good at it. Allow yourself to take the time and be kind to yourself along the way.
Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation
There are no guarantees that mindfulness or mediation will benefit you. However, there are millions of people that swear by the practice and even call it the miracle of mindfulness. Here are a few of the benefits others have noted.
With so many things vying for our attention, it’s often hard to maintain focus while working or performing a detailed task. Those who practice mindfulness often find the mind illuminated and better focused throughout the day.
We all hear voices, even those of you that don’t have a mental illness diagnosis. Admit it. Really, I won’t tell anyone.
Our mind is always telling us things that we need to do, things we should have done, and things we have done wrong. Mindfulness will help to quiet some of that noise.
No doubt you are dealing with at least some sort of emotional or physical pain. Sadly, pain is a part of everyday life. Meditation can help you to understand that pain and come to better terms with it. Many have also noticed reduced pain after regular mindfulness sessions.
Raise your hand if you’re not stressed. Okay, if you hand is up, put it down. You’re lying to yourself and to me.
Stress is part of life. It’s an ugly truth, but there it is. Stress also aggravates and causes numerous health problems.
Mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce some of your stress. Letting your brain have the freedom to take a break from worry will repay you in many positive ways.
So, this may sound crazy, but one of the benefits of practicing mindfulness is often better relationships.
How many times have you found yourself in a conversation when you suddenly realize you have no idea what the other person just said? Our minds get tired and overwhelmed, and relationships sometimes suffer as a result.
By having a calmer mind, you will find that conversations are easier to maintain. Since you are practicing being present, you will find it easy to remain focused on the conversation. Your significant other and children will thank you. (Your dog might too, but generally, they don’t care one way or the other if you listen to them. Just keep scratching, and they are happy.)
Still Have Questions
If all of the above sounds too easy, you may still have questions that need to be answered. Here are a few of the ones frequently asked about achieving a wise mind.
Do I have to practice mindfulness every day?
In a perfect world, that would be great. Let’s face it, carving out even five minutes for yourself some days is a real challenge. For the best possible results, you will want to try to take a few minutes every day, but you will see results if you are mindful even a couple of times a week.
Is there a wrong way to do it?
Some people avoid trying mindfulness or don’t stick with it because they are afraid they are doing it wrong. They may think that because they can’t keep their mind quiet or focused, they are failing at the task.
To those people I ask, when your mind wanders do you try to bring it back to the moment or to return to focusing on breathing? If yes, then you are successful.
Meditation and mindfulness are about being fully present and taking care of your mind and body. Any effort you make in that regard is successful. As you continue to work on the process, you will find ways that work best for you. It does not matter what anyone else does.
Is there guided mindfulness meditation techniques?
You can be mindful at any time, with or without other people around. If you want to have an even more in-depth discussion of the topic, there are numerous books and websites you can check out. I have interspersed a few books on the subject throughout this post, but my favorite is Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Dr. Danny Penman. It focuses on a program where you can take just a few minutes a day to fully benefit from mindfulness.
In addition, there are also phone and tablet apps to help you achieve mindfulness and meditation. Just do a search for the term in your app store.
I’m not an expert by any means. In fact, my bipolar disorder makes any type of mind focusing extremely difficult. However, that said, I have seen improvement in both my anxiety and stress levels when I regularly practice self-care and mindfulness. I also notice that I am more focused at work and more productive at home.
Personally, I also live with Familial Mediterranean Fever. When I regularly practice self-care and mindfulness my attacks are less severe.
Are you already practicing mindfulness and meditation? If so, what methods do you find work best for you? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
Until next time, keep fighting.