Mindful – a word ‘full’ of meaning, yet hard to define and attain, and a huge buzz word heard around the world these days. The term mindfulness has been referred to as a psychological state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a mode of processing information, and a characterological trait. (Brown et al., 2007; Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2005; Kostanski & Hassed, 2008; Siegel, 2007b)
A simple definition from www.mindful.com is: The basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
This seems like something that we do every day, all day – yet, most of us are actually on autopilot. Careening through our day without a second thought to what we are doing or why, or a moment to stop, feel, listen, smell, taste or take in anything that isn’t on the current TO-DO list. So why worry about being mindful? This list of benefits should be enough to help sway you towards becoming more mindful:
- Less wandering of the mind
- Reduced stress
- Decreased anxiety and reactivity
- Increased ability to focus on tasks at hand
- Improve your relationships
So how do we become more mindful? What can we do to practice this art of being present? Since it’s really the only reality we have when it comes right down to it, how can we cultivate this mindset of being mindful?
“Mindfulness really means paying attention on purpose,” explains Jeffrey Santee, a psychologist and mindfulness instructor based in Wheaton, IL. “It’s being in the present moment so that you’re aware of what’s going on in your own mind, and stepping back enough to be an observer of it. That way, you’re not too attached to whatever particular thoughts or feelings are passing through.”
Some tips from Santee on learning to master mindfulness:
- Start with baby steps. Find a quiet place and get into a comfortable sitting position. Practice focusing on your breath, and the present moment, for 2-3 minutes at first, then gradually increase the time to 10-15 minutes.
- Take note when your attention wanders off. Don’t become agitated or impatient when you notice this – instead, be aware, note that it’s happening and go back to focusing on your breath.
- Accept discomfort. You might feel awkward or uncomfortable in the position that you’ve taken. Try to stay in the position and relax into the discomfort. Even if it doesn’t go away – you are training yourself to remain calm and less reactive in uncomfortable positions.
- Allow thoughts and feelings to pass through. Your mind will take on a mind of its own and thoughts and feelings will come and go – yet the goal is to allow them to pass through without engaging or reacting to the thoughts or feelings.
- Develop concentration and mindfulness together. In other words, it you are upset because of a mistake you made at work and it’s taking over your thoughts and you are allowing it to bring you down – use concentration to see that mistake in context and mindfulness to help you remove the stories that you tell yourself about it that are out of proportion.
- Structure your mindfulness practice to fit your lifestyle. Since you’re not a monk living in a monastery – you’ll need to find a time for this practice to fit within the normal flow of your day. This will help you develop your observation skills and concentration and will make mindfulness a part of your life.
Meditation is another way to cultivate mindfulness and help relax your overactive brain to help it to focus on the present moment. A closer look at what happens to your brain when it wanders shows that the Default Mode Network (DMN) is the part of the brain that is activated when your mind wanders. According to a 2016 Yale School of Medicine study, meditation can significantly decrease neutral activity in the DMN, which can contribute to enhanced focus and alertness. Another 2016 study found that the decrease in DMN activity may also lead to an increase in happiness and wellbeing.
Meditation can help to deactivate the DMN and help you stay focused.
Benefits of meditation:
There are many Meditation apps that you can use on your phone or devices and Jessica Timmons wrote an article for Healthline on April 26 listing the 20 Best Meditation Apps of 2021. There she lists the following and here’s a quick look:
- Best overall meditation app: Insight Time
- Best guided meditation apps: Breethe, Headspace, MyLife Meditation
- Best meditation apps for sleep: Calm, buddhify
- Best meditation apps for breathing: INSCAPE, iBreathe, Breathe+
- Best apps for quick meditation: Oak, Whil, Simple Habit
- Best meditation apps for spirituality: Mindfulness with Petit BamBou, Waking Up, Prana Breath
- Best meditation apps for a budget: The Mindfulness App, Sattva
- Best meditation apps for beginners: Meditation Studio, Let’s Meditate, Happy Not Perfect
Many of the above offer guided meditations and most also offer a timer to do your own timed meditation. Yet, you might still have questions on exactly how to meditate. Meditation is a simple practice available to everyone, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Some basic tips to get you started are:
- Set aside a specific time each week or day to establish a routine. Be sure that you are realistic with your time as committing to everyday might not be possible and you don’t want to get discouraged the first time you can’t meet your own expectations.
- Set aside a comfortable, peaceful and quiet environment (can be a separate room, chair, or place to stand).
- Set a timer and start with less…1 – 3 minutes is a good starting point and then you can work up to 10-15 minutes and eventually 30-60 minutes if that suits your schedule.
- Get comfortable before you start. Do some simple stretches so your muscles won’t get stiff and your hips will allow your back to stay straight.
- Sit or stand with your spine and back as straight as possible. When your back is straight, it allows you to breath with greater ease and to take in more air and oxygen.
- Set your timer and begin
There is no right or wrong way to meditate – it’s just the act of sitting with your thoughts and yourself and allowing your mind to empty or at least slow down. When thoughts do arise, note that you are thinking and let the thought or thoughts go. A simple count of your breaths can bring you back to the present. Always be kind to yourself when you note that you’ve followed a thought and been distracted. The goal is non-attachment – to the thought, to sounds, to other senses and even to yourself. Recognizing that you’ve followed a thought or attached to it is your signal to let it go and go back to your breath. And just keep doing that over and over again until the timer signals the end.
Consistency and leniency will be key to creating a mindful journey for yourself. Set a schedule on your calendar and stick with it. When something interrupts the session or if you forget or don’t make the meditation – be kind – to yourself and what you say to yourself when that happens. Just begin again is a great mantra to help you redirect any negative thoughts or patterns that come up.
Rejuv at Work offers Virtual Guided Meditation Classes and Virtual Mindfulness Meditation Webinars. Other ways to cultivate mindfulness are taking mind-body classes such as Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and QiGong (all offered by Rejuv at Work also). And even taking a walk or just sitting quietly can help you to relax your mind, clear your head and bring in more mindfulness to your day.