Mindfulness practice has been around for centuries, but it’s a hot topic these days and with good reason. Mindfulness, with its roots in the Buddhist tradition, has been the focus of much scientific research in the last thirty years, and is increasingly being used to treat a variety of both mental and physical conditions.
So what is it? Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and appreciating and accepting it, without judgment. It’s a way of being present in the moment, as opposed to being preoccupied with your to-do list, or last night’s difficult conversation with your sister. It’s also a way to connect back to yourself, and the life you are in, instead of being lost in the past or future, as so often happens in the haste of our busy days. Increasing your capacity for mindfulness makes it easier to enjoy the pleasurable moments in life, while also helping you engage more fully in the activities that make up your daily round. It increases your sense of well-being, mentally and physically. This increased sense of well-being includes a greater capacity to enjoy life, as well as deal with the challenges and adversities that come your way. It can also enhance your relationships with others, enabling you to be a better listener, more fully present, more “there.” In the area of psychotherapy, some therapists have started to incorporate mindfulness meditation as a component in their treatment of problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. And, if that’s not enough, studies show that a mindfulness practice can help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and help reduce chronic pain. Scientists who study such things have found that being more mindful helps people to be happier, and who doesn’t want that?
Sounds good, right? If the idea of a mindfulness practice appeals to you and you want to learn more, there are lots of relatively easy ways to do that. Here are a few:
- There are lots of books out on the subject these days. You might begin with Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a renowned scientist, writer, and teacher who has arguably been the most influential over the last few decades in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. A library or a bookstore or Google search is bound to give you a variety of choices.
- Take a class or workshop. You can check at local community colleges, yoga centers, or with wellness or holistic practitioners for recommendations.
- Check into guided mindfulness audio programs. There are lots to choose from. One to try might be the Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 1, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, or Body and Mind Are One: A Training in Mindfulness Audiobook CD, by Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Zen master and human rights activist.
- You can also cultivate mindfulness more informally by simply practicing it as you go about your daily life. Slow done and give whatever you do your full attention. Let go of your habitual multi-tasking, and practice doing one thing at a time. Slow down, and be fully present. If you are having dinner, just do that. Concentrate on your meal, savor the different flavors, and let it involve all your senses. If you’re doing the dishes or talking to your spouse, just do that. If you are taking a walk, practice being in the moment instead of planning what you need to do later. You can take just about any daily activity and use it to practice mindfulness. If your mind starts to stray from the task at hand, just gently bring it back without judgment.
There are lots of ways to a mindfulness practice. It may take a while to find what fits for you. Practice different techniques and if one method isn’t for you, try another one. Trust yourself in the process. And don’t feel that you have to make a big commitment. You can begin a mindfulness practice with just a few minutes a day, increasing it if you like, until you find what feels right. If you find yourself experiencing feelings of greater well-being, engagement, alertness, and focus as time goes on, chances are you’re on the right track.
Coach’s action step: Try single-tasking—Pick one thing to do and just do that. Try to give it your full attention. For example, pick a song you enjoy and just listen to it. Sit outside in the sunshine and just be present enjoying the scene before you, whatever it is. If you are in conversation with someone, just listen and give that person your full attention. Try this for a few minutes this week and notice how you feel afterwards.