The practice of mindfulness is an age old concept but in the last several years I’ve seen an increase in its popularity. The hype can be somewhat nauseating as at times social media makes it feel like we’re competing to find a winner of spiritual enlightenment. But don’t let this detract you from the basic principle of mindfulness. At its core mindfulness involves setting a conscious intention. To an extent we do this daily when we establish tasks and goals that we are mindful of. The difference with mindfulness as a practice is that here we consciously set the intention of awareness on our internal self rather than something external in our environment.
Initially this may seem paradoxical-the very idea of awareness implies consciousness. But our body can deceive us and we find ourselves merely going through the motions rather than actually experiencing. Mindfulness is regarded as looking inwards. By doing this we can evaluate our perspective without judgement. Bringing this into your daily life doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Below I’ll describe three different and easy ways to begin a mindfulness practice. Think about the amount of time you spend surfing the web aimlessly, on facebook or instagram, or watching youtube videos. One of the exercises described takes less than 2 minutes-I’m sure you can find the time.
Under two minutes: Just breathe
- Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest
- Close your lips and put your tongue on the roof of your mouth
- Breathe slowly in through your nose feeling you belly and chest rise
- Pause at the top of your breath
- Breathe slowly out through your nose feeling your belly and chest fall
- Pause at the bottom of your breath
- Try to focus on the rise and fall of your breath and the way it flows in and out of your belly and chest
- Take 10 deep breathes like this
That’s it! You just completed an essential breathing exercise that has been scientifically shown to regularize heart rate, decrease anxiety and modulate the stress hormone cascade.
Five minutes: Journaling
- Grab your favourite writing implement and a piece of paper or your favourite electronic device.
- Set a timer for five minutes
- Start writing
- Anything/everything that comes to mind is fair game, the good bad and ugly or even if you feel stuck write it down
- Keep writing until your timer sounds
The act of journaling allows us to digest our thoughts differently and gives us a chance to let things go or reflect on them. Psychologically the act of writing activates your left brain which is analytical and rational. This distraction technique frees up your right brain for more intuitive or creative thoughts and processes. As well, the simple act of writing things down allows your brain to stop expending the same energy comprehending that same information.
Ten minutes: Headspace and mindfulness apps
Guided meditation can be helpful as it provides an auditory focus for your brain. There are so many different apps and youtube videos available now (many for free) that provide this stimulus. Starting at just a few minutes daily these apps can help to provide structure, accountability and have been shown in studies to improve overall stress management and sense of well-being.