Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness. It’s your new way of being. Don’t be discouraged or scroll through fast just to get to the practice below! The more you understand it and put it into practice, the more benefits you reap. Mindfulness in meditation is not an intricate process that requires all of your time and energy. Being mindful and reducing stress can be one of the easiest things you do. Let’s see how!
What is Mindfulness?
Being aware of the present moment.
I’m sitting in the damp classroom of my writing class, depressingly staring at the dripping drops of rain under dark skies. It’s winter in Washington.
At the start of every class, we practice mindfulness meditation (shout out to Professor Brenda Miller!). My professor walks in with a box of random snacks. Like meerkats, we pop our heads up from our desks. Food?
She has us pick a snack and close our eyes – I chose a dark chocolate bar which I knew was a part of the hormones that make you happy. Unpeeling the wrapper, the rich chocolate aroma was filling up my nostrils so I set a small chunk carefully in my mouth – we weren’t allowed to bite or swallow yet. Somewhat agonizingly, the chocolate sat on my taste buds and slowly melted.
During this time, I started thinking about the cocoa beans growing in their trees, the hands that went into combining these ingredients, packaging it, and somehow ending up in this damp classroom making my happiness level slowly rise. Dark chocolate was the only thing that mattered.
Single, deep focus.
That is mindfulness.
If you crave a more experienced definition, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine said, “Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.”
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
Together, they sound nice and wholesome but what is the difference between being mindful and meditating?
While mindfulness is being aware of something fully and deeply, meditation is the practice of techniques that focus the mind. It comes in many forms, mindfulness being one of them.
This particular style is clearing the mind from any thoughts or judgment and “feeling still”. This doesn’t mean sitting still and having no thoughts, this means having a single focus on one thing – the breath, the trees, the sounds, etc. You can walk slowly and be utilizing mindfulness meditation, or if you want to know how to be mindful in a busy world, see the tips below!
What Does Mindfulness Do for Me?
Set out some organic lavender candles if you want to get your Zen on, but mindfulness meditation isn’t limited to a place or thought. Like the chocolate example, it’s anytime, any moment, and here is what it can do for you:
- lower stress
- relieve pain
- deepen sleep
- strengthen focus and productivity
- relax your kids if they practice
- maintain health longer
- provide medical benefits
Mindfulness has healing properties, which is partially why it’s been practiced since early B.C. Using mindfulness to feel a little better no matter where you are or what you’re doing takes some practice and appreciation.
Mindfulness meditation is for everyone. Yay! While I use it to quiet my busy mind, a mother on maternity leave once said in an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) class she wanted to be more present with her infant, and a social worker said he wanted to learn the practice to deal with the stress of helping people get back on track.
So first, I want you to recognize why you want to practice mindfulness meditation. Even if it seems small I guarantee you it’s not. When you’re feeling frustrated while practicing, remember your reason.
Second, simple tips and tricks will help beginners ease their way into the practice, as shown below.
And third, continue your mindfulness meditation; it’s a self-healing practice that strengthens the mind, body, and soul.
Mindfulness Meditation Tips
There is a ton of information out there on how to meditate with the best practices from the most experienced monks or professors, but when it comes down to it, YOU are the one who decides what works for you and what doesn’t. These next 6 steps are simply a guideline I’ve created that works for beginners.
Save this pin for an easy cheat sheet!
Quick 6-Step Practice
- Set aside time for mindfulness meditation (it could be anywhere from 3 to 30 min).
- Sit comfortably. There’s no need to be tense, just make the environment around you quiet if you can. You can leave your eyes open or closed. Try to feel balanced and symmetrical if possible.
- Notice your breath. Take a few deep breaths and then revert to your regular breathing pattern. All you’re doing is taking note of the way your stomach/chest moves and feeling the air in your lungs.
- Slowly scan down your body. Imagine an invisible sheet starting at the top of your head, moving slowly down to your chest, your arms, stomach, hips, legs, and all the way to the ends of your toes. As you scan, notice the spots with tension and breath into those.
- After you’ve scanned, bring your attention back to your breath. In and out. Remember, as distractions come into your mind, allow those thoughts to flow through. Calmly bring your attention back to your breath each time.
- Gently open your eyes and review how you feel. Continue practicing by setting a timer each day or every other day for 3, 5, or 10 minutes. It will put this habit at the forefront and give you something to look forward to.
If this practice is too much at first, you can put mindfulness meditation to work in other ways, such as acknowledging the presence of something. Try tasting a piece of food and focusing on everything about it. Or if you’re on a walk through the woods, stop to look at the leaves on the trees – notice details in the veins.
Mindfulness in Busy Moments
You’re behind a cop in traffic on your way to work and the person behind you is riding your tail (one of those “take a picture it’ll last longer” situations) and your blood pressure starts to bubble and rise as time ticks away. In those moments, think of these mindfulness meditation techniques:
- take 3 slow, deep breaths (here are 5 techniques to reduce anxiety)
- if able, close your eyes and escape to a place that brings you peace (happy place)
- notice all the details on something around you, focus in
- go for a cool-down walk/step away to refresh
- think of a time you felt pure joy and absorb the emotion
- be aware of how you’re feeling, simply realize it
Being mindful creates a calmer mindset throughout your day, paving the path to becoming a better you.
As my professor once wrote in a mindful writing book, it’s not about ignoring the calls or distractions of life, it’s about accepting the best ones. Take notice. Mindfulness grows, and it can blossom into your life like a flower. It’s up to you if you want it to flourish or droop.
Other resources for mindfulness meditation include online classes by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Headspace app, and Practicing Mindfulness by Mathew Sockolov.
One step at a time makes an impact!