Mindfulness is a very popular topic. It conjures images of having an abundance of time to sit very calmly in a cross legged position with the soothing spa music or nature sounds in the background.
At Mindful Momentum we are big fans of stripping it down to basics. We like to keep it simple, sexy, fun and above all DO-ABLE.
So let’s start at the beginning:
Mindfulness is simply noticing when our attention is hijacked.
You do NOT need:
a) chirping birds,
c) pretzel like postures
d) technology such as phones or apps (for more information about app use see my previous post)
f) lots of time
g) an already existing sense of calm or ease
It is important to clarify what you DON’T need, because the hijacking part of your mind will try its hardest to convince you that you do need these things.
What you do need is:
a) a desire and willingness to take good care of your mental and emotional well-being.
b) an acceptance, rather than a negative judgment, about how difficult it is to have such busy minds and busy workdays.
c) a recognition that mindfulness is simply the intentional use of attention.
Here are 3 exercises that you can try any time of the day.
(Bonus: If you guide yourself, rather than using an app, you may end up with an even stronger sense of confidence and commitment)
Be in the body:
Body scan, breath awareness or mindful movement
Simply allowing yourself to be aware of the sensations of breathing is and opportunity to reclaim your hijacked mind.
With body scan or mindful movement, the goal is to shift your attention from thinking conceptual mode to sensing directly what is happening in real-time.
The easiest way to do body scan is to start at the feet and focus your attention on each part of the body up through the legs, the hips in the chair if you are sitting, the back and the posture the shoulders the arms, the hands, the neck the face and the head. You can coordinate the rhythm of the breathing with attention to each area of the body. For example, “breath in breath out” and shift from the feeling of the feet on the floor to the feeling of the legs and etc. up the rest of the body with each breath in and breath out. Try simply acknowledging sensations, or lack thereof, rather than telling yourself a story explaining why you might be having the sensations you are having.
Some people find it helpful to place a hand on their abdomen and notice the rise and fall of the breath in and out. If you are feeling especially restless, taking a walk and anchoring attention on the the very specific sensations of feet lifting and landing on the ground and the rhythm of the breath in the background, can also be a very effective mindfulness practice of being in the body and getting out of your head.
2) Separate the thoughts and the emotions
Similar to cognitive behavioural therapy, one of the most effective mindfulness practices we can use to settle and neutralize is to decenter from thoughts. We are often very invested in our thoughts sometimes to the point that we are overidentified with them and end up feeling quite unbalanced. Take a moment to give yourself a reminder that you are not your thoughts.
If you just had a challenging interaction with a coworker , or are feeling especially anxious about a deadline or have just gotten out of a meeting that didn’t go so well , take out a sheet of paper and try this simple exercise:
On one side of the paper name the actual emotion you are feeling. Try to make it simple but descriptive and stick to emotion words such as “afraid’,’ angry’, anxious”.
You could even give some consideration to where in the body you are feeling it, such as “angry” ... in the jaw or “afraid”... in the chest or “anxious” …. in the stomach.
On the other side of the paper write the interpretation of the event. For example ‘my co worker doesn’t like me’, or ‘they don’t appreciate me , or ‘I will never get this complete on time’ and ‘I will look like an idiot’.
The purpose of the exercise is to recognize the difference between an emotion and a thought. When I was practicing as a psychotherapist, many of my clients told me that once they saw it out on the paper, the thought didn’t have as much power to upset them. Regardless of whether the thought is actually true or not (and it usually ends up improbable that it ever was 100% true), separating out the emotion from the thought helps us become less trapped by it. When you step back from it, like looking over a balcony at it from a distance, we become less reactive and have a greater ability to respond to the situation carefully and wisely.
3) Focus on intention and values
Practice dampa sum. This is a Tibetan Buddhist concept of three good principles, meaning good in the beginning, good in the middle and good at the end. Stanford professor, Leah Weiss describes this in a podcast Three in Thirty. It involves setting an intention for an outcome that is aligned with your values, and then, during the event, monitoring, returning to and keeping your attention anchored on the intention as best you can, and finally, after the event is over, taking time to reflect and evaluate how your behavior matched with your intentions. As an example, if I wanted to to have a business meeting with the outcome of speaking and acting confidently, or at minimum, not getting caught in feelings of jealousy or insecurity around my colleagues, I would set this intention before the meeting, bring awareness to being present and contributing during the meeting, and after the meeting is over, reflect on whether my attention stayed reasonably anchored to the intention and how that worked. If there were obstacle or challenges to staying anchored then I can bring my awareness to those as well and plan for the next time.
I personally try to set aside time for a formal meditation practice period daily-ish: Sometimes it is ten minutes, sometimes it is 20 or 40 minutes, sometimes it is self guided, sometimes it is with an app or with guidance … and occasionally I miss the formal sitting meditation altogether. So, it is comforting to know that short practices, such as the above, can refresh me and put a lot of the daily stress back in perspective. These three practices of embodiment, focus and connecting to intention are just a few ways that we can make mindfulness part of daily life.
If you are interested in learning about more ideas to bring mindfulness and compassion into daily life consider signing up for an online discusion group or contacting Laurisa about an upcoming eight week program.