By Sarah Sloane
The mindfulness movement is growing and more people have been asking about practical ways to incorporate this powerful phenomenon into their lives. The Huffington Post named 2014 the year of mindfulness. Here we are in 2015 and it is still a common buzzword in the news, schools, research, yoga studios, work-places, etc.
Jon Kabat-Zinn published some of the most profound information in this field back in 1991. In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, he first introduces the concept of incorporating mindfulness into your daily life as a means to combat stress and chronic pain. Being both a yoga instructor and a mental health therapist, my professional career revolves around being completely in the moment with my clients and students.
Awareness is something I practice on a daily basis; however, after being in the helping profession for almost five years, I have learned that it is imperative to intentionally practice mindfulness daily. I believe practicing mindfulness looks and feels many different ways. A mindfulness practice is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. You need to try a couple different techniques to see what is right for your mind, your body and your spirit. In my personal experience, I have seen the most profound results by implementing these three techniques: the body scan, eliminating judgments, and keeping a beginner’s mind.
“…bringing mindfulness to any activity transforms it into a kind of meditation. Mindfulness dramatically amplifies the probability that any activity in which you are engaged will result in an expansion of your perspective and of your understanding of who you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
1) The Body Scan.
The body scan is a powerful technique to re-establish awareness and peace with our bodies. During this technique, you will systematically move your attention from one part of your body to another, starting with your toes and traveling all the way up to your head. As you move to a new area, linger there, imagining that you’re breathing into it and out of it. After some moments, mentally let go of the area and move your attention to the next one. You may not feel any sensations in some parts of your body. That’s fine; just note, “not feeling anything.” Or, you may feel pain or another unpleasant sensation. In this case, as you breathe into that part of your body, try to release any tension associated with it. If you can’t release the tension, then try to soften it by just letting the unpleasant sensation be—riding its waves, not attaching a negative judgment or any meaning to it. It’s just a sensation.
It’s important to maintain an attitude of friendliness and kindness toward your body throughout the activity. After all, it’s working hard to support you day in and day out.
Kabat-Zinn claims that this is the foundation of all other meditation techniques. It helps to develop your concentration and attention by purposely moving your mind through different regions of the body. I personally like to practice this one right before I go to bed in order to re-connect myself with my mind, body and breath before I rest. Many yoga teachers use this technique during final Savasana as well.
2) Eliminate Judgments.
We have over 50,000 thoughts a day and almost 90 percent of those thoughts carry over to the next day. If you consider that a majority are negative and that what you think affects how you feel and what you do, well that could lead to a negative downward spiral.
“This habit of categorizing and judging our experiences locks us into mechanical reactions that we are not even aware of and that often have no objective basis at all. These judgments tend to dominate our minds, making it difficult for us to ever find any peace within ourselves.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
In other words, when you are being mindful of your own self, and a negative thought comes into your awareness, recognize your feelings and urges only for a moment, then let it go with a long, soothing exhale. Bring your awareness back to your breathing and continue your mindfulness practice. A mindfulness practice is refined by assuming the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience. This practice of taking a step back, and recognizing the nature of your thoughts allows for personal growth and the possibility to change reactions or responses.
3) Keep a beginner’s mind.
No matter what your practice, your attitude always matters. Being patient with your practice and keeping a ‘beginner’s mind’ is crucial in establishing a mindfulness practice. One of the benefits of mindfulness is to fully experience the richness of life in the present moment. Too often we let our thinking and beliefs about what we already know, prevent us from seeing things as they really are. We are constantly changing and so is everyone and everything around us. Challenge yourself to re-think what you already know. When encountering nature, different experiences, and all shapes of people, ask yourself questions similar to these: Are you able to view the moon and sun really as it is? Can you take a look around your living room without positive or negative thoughts regarding what you need to do? Can you look at someone or something familiar through a judgment-free lens? Can you look at yourself through a judgment-free lens? No matter how much experience you have on your yoga mat, can you treat yourself like a beginner in downward-facing dog?
We must challenge our tendencies and create new habits to ensure we do not fall into a mindless life where we are just going through the motions—so we can experience every detail that this precious life offers.
“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life?” -Mary Oliver