How to Practice Mindfulness: The Ultimate Guide
The Association of Psychological Science describes “mindfulness” as “the non-judge mental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” Mindfulness is a meditation form that calls you to pay attention to the “now” of your life and focus on what you were experiencing in the present moment like the flow or speed of your breathing.
The biggest characteristic that distinguishes mindfulness meditation from the other meditation forms is its emphasis on paying attention to the current moment.
The human brain naturally wanders from thought to thought. Our brains are programmed for planning, remembering, nostalgia, or remorse. You can learn how to practice mindfulness to shift your thoughts away from these ordinary preoccupations and broaden your awareness.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness has been found to be a key element in reducing stress and increasing happiness. It’s easy to be distracted by all the little or insignificant worries that pop up in our day. Mindfulness conditions your brain to systematically prioritize situations as well as appreciate the rewards in life as they occur.
There are also medical advantages to cultivating a life of mindfulness. Some of those advantages include:
Reduces Blood Pressure
Research shows that mindfulness is a helpful agent for reducing high blood pressure. When you are relaxed and focusing on your breathing, your body generates nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide is a natural agent that opens up blood vessels and reduces the force of blood against your artery walls.
Mindfulness helps our brains produce more alpha brainwaves. Our brain generates these brainwaves to promote deep relaxation and better sleep. Alpha brainwaves can cancel out the beta brain waves that are around when our minds are occupied with thoughts that aren’t focused on now, such as decision-making or planning ahead.
Mindfulness can shift your attention away from any pain you feel when stress hormones are triggered that agitate your joints and muscles. If you shift your focus away from “pain” your mind will respond by not noticing the pain.
How to Practice Mindfulness: Let’s Begin!
There is no right or wrong way to start your mindfulness practice. It’s all about finding a place where you are most relaxed to sense what it’s like to be alive in this moment. Follow these steps towards maximizing your potential for practicing mindfulness:
Choose a Quiet Setting
For your mindfulness session, find a quiet setting that will eliminate distractions and focus your mind on your goal to be aware of the moment.
Assume a Comfortable Position
What position are you the most comfortable in? This might include sitting, walking, or simply lying down. This stance will help you focus on your thoughts as well as reclaim them if or when they wander.
Set a gentle – sounding alarm for your mindfulness session. Beginners should aim for a 10- 15-minute session every day, for five days. Once you have mastered these mindfulness techniques, you can aim for longer periods of time up to 45 minutes a day.
Concentrate on Your Breathing
In his book “Where Ever You Go, There You Are” author John Kabat Zinn tells us that “bringing awareness to our breathing reminds ourselves that we are here now.” Be sure to notice as you inhale and exhale and you will know the very essence of mindfulness and being in the present moment.
Aim for Focused Attention -Forgive Yourself if You Can’t
Focus your attention on something like an object, spoken mantra, or the flow of your breath.
You can expect that your mind will wander, so don’t be too hard on yourself when that happens. Gently reign in your thoughts and bring your focus back to the now. The goal of mindfulness is to arrive in an atmosphere of no judgment.
One clever way you can foil this endless parade of distracting thoughts is to name or call them out as they appear. If you notice a distant sound or smell, call them out as “sound,” or “smell,” without judgment and then dismiss them. Unless you are in fear of your safety, don’t go and investigate them.
The same is true for any random body sensation, (i.e. itch, tingle) fear or frustration that bubbles up from your long ago. Label these feelings as “itch,” “tingle,” “fear” or “failure” without judgment and let them go. Don’t dwell another minute on them; you know they’re in your life and now they’re moving along.
When you label these distracting thoughts by their titles or names, you are practicing mindfulness. You are aware that they are in your midst, you are forgiving their uninvited presence and then you are sending them on their way. Now you are able to bring your mind back to the present and return your focus to your breath or mantra.
Ways to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn’t half to be limited to those precious 10-15 minutes of time you set aside every day to practice. You can integrate mindful practice into your everyday actions as you move throughout your day. Here are some examples:
Don’t watch television, your computer, or do other multi-tasking activities during mealtime. Notice and track each distinct flavor your meal has to offer and pay attention to every bite and swallow. Conscious awareness during meals is also known to help with weight loss and prevent mindless overeating beyond the point of feeling full.
Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to “walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Observe how your foot connects to and leaves the ground. When you feel your muscles moving this way, you are aware of what it feels like to be alive.
Pausing Between Action
Nineteenth-century French composer Achille-Claude Debussy was famous for the quote “Music is the space between the notes.” Debussy was making the profound observation that the quality and quantity of our lives is also attributable to the silence and stillness that surrounds a deliberate action.
Notice the silence or stillness before and after an action. Study the color of your daughter’s hair before you brush it. Observe the pause in the concert hall between when the orchestra is done playing and the audience begins their applause.
Minding the pauses in your day is a great way for practicing mindfulness. The goal is to reach a state of alert, concentrated relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment.
The good news is that you can begin practicing mindfulness today! Find a quiet, relaxing chair in your home and sit erect with a straight back. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Quietly observe every sound, sight, and feeling or sensation that you encounter.
Mindfulness allows you to appreciate what it feels like to be alive right now. Learn how to practice mindfulness and you may find a whole new side to life you never knew was there!