The Practice of Mindfulness
When you notice that your mind is focusing on uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and fear, it may be a good time to pause and take a little inventory to help you be mindful of where you currently are. This promotes self-awareness and that is the key to both stress awareness and stress reduction. It is also a wonderful way to promote a sense of ease, even during turbulent times.
Practicing mindfulness is a way to listen to yourself and others; to connect with yourself and others; and with life – in a much deeper way. The benefits for your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being are great.
While there are many ways to practice mindfulness, here is a simple and proven exercise to help you be mindful in any given moment. It’s easy!
1. Set the mood
First, you can do this anywhere but ideally, it will help to wear loose comfortable clothing.
Now turn off all electronic devices or at least put them in silent mode.
If you like, feel free to listen to nature sounds or spiritual music such as you might find on the Calm or Breethe apps.
This will help you focus. Adjust the lighting to promote relaxation. The softer the light the better.
Tip: Take your time. This exercise is to help you slow down.
Make sure you have sufficient time set aside to do this practice. Give yourself enough time to set your mood and find your spot. Then give yourself about 10 minutes to do this exercise and at least another five minutes or more once you complete this exercise.
2. Find your spot
Locate a comfortable place to sit or lie down.
If you are lying down, make sure that you are comfortable and your body is well supported from head to toe.
If you are sitting, see if you can place your feet on the ground.
If sitting in a lotus position, make yourself as comfortable as possible.
3. Start with your breath
Once you are comfortable, gently close your eyes. Now, simply focus your attention on your breath. Focus on where your breath is coming from. Is it high in your chest? Or is it down deep in your belly?
Is your breathing long and deep which is a sign of calm and relaxation or are your noticing that your breath is short and shallow, indicating some level of stress and anxiety?
Tip: The idea is to focus your attention on your breathing, not to criticize or praise but simply to observe. This will help you stay in the moment and being in the moment enhances your ability to be mindful.
4. Head to toe
So, keeping your eyes closed, now simply focus on each area of your body from head to toe. Let your attention start at the top of your head, go down to the rest of your head including your face, neck, shoulders, upper torso, your arms, your abdomen, groin area, thighs, knees, lower legs, ankle, feet, and finally your toes.
Tip: Remember to take your time with each step in this mindfulness exercise.
As you focus on each area simply ask yourself, “What am I noticing in each specific area right now? Am I noticing some tension or do I feel a sense of ease and relaxation?”
As you do this exercise, continue to make note of your breathing as well. Is it long, deep and relaxed or do you notice that your breathing is short and shallow, reflecting some stress?
Be kind to yourself. If you find your attention drift, that is quite ok. There is no need to make any judgments about any of this. Just be the best observer you can in this moment and see what your body is telling you.
Feel in your body where those feelings may be living. Where do you typically feel anxiety, stress, and fear? For me, it’s my head, neck, and shoulders when I am feeling stress. Anxiety almost always shows up in my stomach.
And when feeling fear, it is all of the above plus my breathing becomes short and shallow and my heart starts to beat rapidly (tachycardia).
Remember, whatever your signs and symptoms of stress are, you are very likely a very normal person, having normal but understandably upsetting signs and symptoms to whatever stressors are impacting your quality of life.
Again, you simply want to notice what you are experiencing in each moment. This is the heart of mindfulness.
5. Be kind to yourself – no judgment
Most importantly, don’t make any judgments about what you are observing in your breathing. Simply be a loving observer of yourself without any criticism. This isn’t a test and you aren’t being graded. This is simply an exercise to help you tune in to yourself at a deeper level.
6. Open your eyes
When you feel like you have reached a point where it feels natural to end, gently open your eyes and the exercise is complete.
Tip: Once you open your eyes, make sure that you have enough time afterwards to take in the experience. This is particularly true if stress, anxiety, and seeking distractions is your general default.
Benefits of mindfulness
In addition to the benefits I mentioned at the start of this article, one of the most common benefits of mindfulness and meditation is that this practice helps us self-soothe and regulate our emotions.
Setting an intention to be mindful may not always relieve all of the stressors in your life, but it can certainly help reduce some of your discomfort. In turn, practicing mindfulness helps promote our sense of self-love and self-care.
Many, including myself over the years, report that taking some time out of the day to engage in mindfulness often feels like taking a mini-vacation. Enjoy!
I hope that this exercise was helpful. If you have any questions or would like to know more, please feel free and encouraged to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I am happy to help out in any way I can.