By: Brittany Hruby, Clinical Intern
Have you ever zoned out while driving, not remembering the experience or roads you took to get to your destination? Have you ever been reading and realize you’ve been thinking about something else and have no idea what you’ve just read? Or have you ever walked in to a room and forgot what you went in there to get?
Zoning out or spending your day running on autopilot is the opposite of being mindful. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that focuses on developing the “ability to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions – in the present moment – without judging or criticizing yourself or your experience”. Research shows many benefits to practicing mindfulness including improved physical and mental health and an overall sense of well-being. Mindfulness can help people accept their experiences, including painful emotions, rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance. Not only does mindfulness help individuals cope with adverse emotional states, it also can make it easier to enjoy the pleasures in life as they occur because to be mindful is to be fully engaged in the present moment.
All mindfulness techniques train the mind to refocus on the present moment, without judgment, to attain a state of alert, focused relaxation. There is no “one way” to do mindfulness and there are plenty of free mindfulness scripts and guided mindfulness exercises readily available (just google “mindfulness exercises”). The following exercise is intended to introduce you to a basic mindfulness meditation. Remember, just like any other skill, mindfulness takes practice.
- Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
- Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand awareness again.
Start out by practicing this exercise for five minutes each day. Once you feel comfortable noticing your bodily sensations, sensory experiences and emotions, without judgment, and then letting them go, try practicing informal mindfulness while you’re eating, showering, or walking. Pay attention to the sensations in your body, engage your senses fully, and when you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
Remember that mindfulness is a skill that takes practice and involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. If your mind wanders into planning, daydreaming, or any other unrelated thoughts, notice where your mind has gone and then gently redirect it to sensations in the present. Practicing acceptance during your mindfulness sessions can make it easier to accept whatever comes your way throughout the rest of the day.