I first heard of mindfulness about six years ago when working for a hospice. One of the doctors was a strong advocate for mindfulness practice as a way to recenter and recharge your mental and physical health by getting more in tune with what and how you are feeling.
Mindfulness is more widely known now, a lot of employers are offering mindfulness classes to help employees deal with stress at work and in their life in general.
There may be some people who disagree, but I have found that mindfulness and meditation are very similar practices. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and their meditation techniques so they are closely related. I use both words interchangeably.
But what is mindfulness practice? Does it really help? How can you get started? What resources are available?
What is Mindfulness
Life is busy, hectic, and we, as moms, do a lot of multi-tasking. We run from one activity or task on to the next activity or task without a break or really taking the time to enjoying the moment. Mindfulness is the practice of taking the time to purposefully slow down and be present in the moment you are in- without judging yourself, the situation, or anything going on around you.
Mindfulness is taking the time to breathe, refocus, and notice what is going on right now, just for a moment, before jumping into the next thing on your to do list. It is a chance to slow down and recharge, look at the big picture and not just the hectic life you are juggling.
A mindfulness practice can be as short as a minute or as long as an hour or more- you decide what amount of time works for you to focus on your awareness of you.
I started with five minutes at a time- in my car on my lunch break to relax and refocus before heading back into work. I try spend 10-15 minutes a day practicing mindfulness, usually right before my kids wake up so I am relaxed, prepared and calm before the craziness begins.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness improves your mental health. Breathing and being present in the moment, even just for 5-10 minutes a day, can relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It can help provide clarity in resolving conflicts if you take the time to step back from a problem, practice mindfulness to clear your head, and then address the issue with calmness and clarity.
Mindfulness can improve your physical health. Part of the mindfulness technique is to focus on your breathing, taking deep breaths that help clear your mind and improve the circulation in your body. Increasing oxygen levels, lowering stress, and improving circulation can help lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, help digestion and lower risks of heart disease.
Mindfulness improves overall well-being. The whole focus of this blog is on creating your healthy lifestyle. Mindfulness and meditation help do just that- making your entire life just a little better. Mindfulness supports healthy attitudes towards life like improving the ability to savor the moment you are in.
Mindfulness helps you be present in today and not worry so much about the future. It helps you focus on relationships and figure out priorities and get better in touch with who you are and what you want in life.
Getting started with Mindfulness
There are several techniques to practice mindfulness in your life. But before we get into those, you need to set the stage for your mindfulness practice. While it can be done anywhere, at any time, for as long or as short as you want, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, especially when you are new
First, you need someplace with limited distractions. A reasonably quiet place where you can focus on you for a few minutes without loud music, kids screaming, dogs barking, or a co-worker talking loudly on the phone next to you.
Second, get into a comfortable position that you can be still in for the length of time you will be practicing. Some people prefer a comfortable cross-legged position with their back straight and their hands resting lightly on their knees. Others prefer to be standing or laying down.
You can sit in a chair, the floor, a folded blanket or pillow, or your bed. You want to be comfortable but alert, so having a straight spine is recommended.
My favorite mindfulness position is laying on my back, shoulders and head propped up on pillows, feet together and hands resting on my pelvic bones. A little odd looking to anyone who walks into the room, but for me this is completely comfortable while keeping me alert.
Third, set a timer for the length of what you want to practice and then don’t worry about the time. I close my eyes when I practice, others focus on a candle or calming object. You don’t want to be constantly glancing at a clock and wondering when your time will be up. From the time you start the timer until it goes off- focus only on your practice.
While the basis of Mindfulness is taking the time to breathe and gain focus, there are several ways to do that. These are three of the most common techniques.
1) Focus on breathing. While this seems very simple, it can take practice to focus completely on your breathing and not let other thoughts interrupt. Follow the steps above to get comfortable and prepare to start. Once your timer is set, close your eyes and just breathe normally.
Pay attention to how your breathe enters and leaves your body. Don’t try to change your breathe, just pay attention to your breathe- it is a natural process for your body and does not need to be adjusted in any way.
Focus completely on your breathe. If other thoughts try to break in, notice that they are there and then direct your thoughts back to your breathe.
This practice of focusing on your breathing will help you gain composure, refocus your attention, and approach situations with a calmness and open mind. I use this before waking up my children when I know they are going to struggle and make my morning difficult, like before school.
2) Focus on a mantra. A mantra is a word, or serious of words, that are repeated over and over again. Instead of focusing on your breathe, you will focus on repeating this mantra to yourself slowly, and powerfully, throughout the time you practice. You can use the same mantra every time, or a different mantra that you need in the moment.
Just like with the first technique, if stray thoughts come into your mind, notice they are there and then redirect your thoughts to your mantra. Here are a couple of mantra’s that I use:
- Breath in the positive, breathe out the negative
- You are a positive force for good
- You are enough
- Commit. Succeed.
- Follow your heart
- I accept and love myself for who I am right now
- Find the calm in the storm
Focusing on a mantra can boost your mood, give you needed confidence and help you be successful.
3) Body scan. This technique is a little different. Instead of focusing on one action or group of words for the entire mindfulness session, you will spend the time focusing on each part of your body, one at a time, and checking in on how each part feels.
Once comfortably seated and the timer has begun, start at either the top of your head or the bottom of your feet. How does your head feel right now? Are you tired? Do you have a headache? Acknowledge how your head feels, adjust if needed, then move on to your face. Is your face strained? Is it sunburned? Are your eyes tired or heavy? Acknowledge, adjust if needed and move on to your neck.
Continue this through your entire body. Acknowledge how every part feels. You can relax and adjust each body part to feel more comfortable before moving on to the next body part.
Mindfulness and meditation can be easier if you have a guide to lead you through a session until you are familiar enough to do it on your own, especially if using the body scan method.
If you are in the Phoenix area, I recommend attending a free mindfulness session offered by Hospice of the Valley. They currently offer weekly 30 minute sessions that are free to the community. There is no registration required- just drop by.
For information on Hospice of the Valley’s free sessions as well as their other mindfulness classes and retreats, visit HOV website.
Prerecorded guided Mindfulness sessions can be found here. There are a range of options you can use in your practice, ranging from 3 minutes to 45 minutes with various themes. Some focus on breathing. Others are body scan mindfulness sessions. The remaining focus on various topics like dealing with anxiety, loving yourself, awareness, and yoga.