Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and aware in the moment, of where we are and what we are doing, thinking, and feeling. Mindfulness is the opposite of auto-pilot, in which we do something (for instance drive a very familiar route) without attending to what we are doing, or even really realizing that we are doing it until it is done. Mindfulness means deliberately paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment in the present moment without attempting to control our thoughts, but rather, simply observe them.
There are two main ways of practicing mindfulness. Informal mindfulness practice means experiencing everything we do in life with full awareness. Whenever you bring awareness to what you are directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you are being mindful. Formal mindfulness practice is commonly referred to as meditation.
Formal mindfulness practice, or meditation requires us to set time aside each day, observe the present moment as it is, let judgements roll by, and observe your thoughts without trying to control them.
Here are some simple steps to guide you in a practice of mindful meditation:
- Sit comfortably.
- Soften your gaze, or close your eyes
- Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
- Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wandering gently return your attention to the breath.
- Be kind about your wandering mind. You may find your mind wandering constantly—that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, practice observing them without reacting. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.
Benefits of mindfulness:
With regular practice, mindfulness can have many benefits including: reducing anxiety and depression, improving sleep, increasing one’s sense of well-being, increasing energy and alertness, an improvement of emotional and social intelligence as well as increased confidence.
Rosann Nerenberg M.Ed. is a Canadian certified family educator