Mindfulness is a mental practice. It’s simply being aware of your thoughts, actions, and behaviors throughout the day, in your relationships, and interactions with the world around you.
There are some myths (which will be debunked below) that plague mindfulness as an overwhelming, “fake” attitude toward the typical and harsh realities of life; but mindfulness is simply a turning of attention to the direction in which our mind goes, without judgement.
It’s not wishing we were more positive or happy or friendly with others; instead, it’s a silent and objective observation of your own reactions, which surprisingly, you’re very much in control of! Instead of pretending into your feelings and emotions, and acting from a place of unconscious thought, mindfulness shows you how to remove the blind filters from your behavior, and tune into how you really act and feel.
From this place of truth, you can make changes that are in your highest good. So how to practice mindfulness?
The most effective way of tuning into your thoughts and feelings is through meditation. It’s a practice by which you can slow down, sit down, and allow the world around you (and within you) to simply pause.
It’s a chance to tune into your breathing, which will automatically affect your nervous system, lower your blood pressure, and minimize any stress you may be bringing into your day. It’s also a chance to tune into your thoughts, and notice the ones that may be bringing you down.
We go through life at an incredibly rapid pace, and we seldom get the opportunity to slow down and listen to our thoughts. Meditation is that pause button we can hit, to acknowledge the quality of our thoughts.
What thoughts can stay and feel good for us to have? What thoughts can go, and no longer serve us? This is the epitome of a mindfulness practice.
Creating a consistent meditation practice – 3-4 times per week – is a great way of using this tool to its advantage. How long you meditate is entirely up to you; know that even a few minutes per day is serving you well!
When life gets hectic and your mind wanders to overthinking and stress, it can be helpful to have a word or a phrase to come back to. This is called an affirmation.
It’s a simple phrase, said in the present tense, that acts as a lifeline to bring you back to not just the present moment, but to the kind of mental state you’d like to be in to take on the rest of your day.
Affirmations are powerful statements that you can use over and over again, whenever needed. You can have a few that you can recycle as the situation calls for it; or you can have one dedicated one that you keep coming back to.
Here is a list of affirmations that you can try. You can also make use of these affirmation apps to find inspirations. When you feel yourself mentally wandering away, pause; come back to your affirmation and say it out loud or to yourself three times. Take a few breaths and notice how you feel.
3. Mindful Walking
Mindful walking is a type of meditation practice that encourages you to truly take notice of how you walk. It’s a great practice to begin to tune into your physical body, and the anatomical contractions that happen on a reflexive level (most of which we’re absolutely unaware of!) It also re-focuses your brain on the task at hand, and keeps it concentrated and disciplined.
Either inside or outside, begin to simply walk. You can walk in any direction, but make the pace nice and slow. Become aware of each step, as you plant your entire foot down onto the Earth.
Go deeper into your awareness, and begin to take note of how the toes feel as they splay out in your footstep; how the leg lifts and the hips move; how the torso shifts as you balance your walk forward.
All of these simple yet complex movements pull you deeper into awareness of your physical body in space.
Take this mindful approach to the rest of your day. Can you become just as aware of everything else you do that may have been on autopilot?
Journaling is a practice of writing down your thoughts as they come up. Creating a consistent practice means giving your thoughts and emotions a safe and healthy means of expression.
You may like to sit down at the end of your day and journal about how you felt, what came up, what brought you challenges, and what brought you joys. It’s a practice that pulls you into the present moment, and gives you a platform on which you can analyze your thoughts and dissect your feelings into something deeper:
How does it feel to be vulnerable and honest in your words? What emotions come up as you jot down your thoughts for the day? And can you begin to see these little snippets of truth and revelation without judgement?
One of the myths of a mindfulness practice is that it promotes a sense of “fake positivity.” We think that by meditating, journaling and speaking loving affirmations to ourselves, we’ve somehow covered up feelings of sadness or struggle that we undoubtedly face as human beings.
But beginning a mindfulness practice allows us to face these moments of hardship without being too harsh or critical on ourselves.
With meditation and journaling as some of our tools, we can allow ourselves to be sad or angry, but know that we have a choice in how long we stay there… which brings us to another practice tool.
Life is not always going to be easy to love. We can say the same for ourselves and our loved ones.
One of the founding pillars of a solid mindfulness practice is allowing yourself to simply accept every emotion that comes your way: be that sadness, anger, apathy, confusion, and the like.
Feel all the feelings. They’re a part of you.
While some are not pleasant to endure, they teach you how to accept all parts of yourself that make up the whole. It’s not just a practice of mindfulness; it’s a practice of wholesome self-love, because you can’t only love the pretty, neat, easy parts of you.
Mindfulness teaches you how to welcome all feelings and thoughts without judgement or criticism. So the next time you’re feeling hard on yourself and are in a tough spot, allow the emotions and thoughts to rise up. They simply want to be seen. Imagine them like a sea of clouds on a bright, sunny summer day. See each of them come into your view, and then with your breath, watch them float on by.
Just like clouds, our thoughts and emotions are temporary. They don’t define us, much like clouds don’t define an infinite summer sky.
Keep coming back to this practice any time you feel overwhelmed and self-judgmental.
6. Mindful Eating
Our eating routine has become synonymous with distractions: watching TV, talking with friends, working, etc. We no longer just eat.
Mindful eating is just that: a chance for you to get really aware of what and how you’re nourishing your body with food. Not only will you begin to enjoy your food even more (now that you’re aware of it), but you’ll be able to chew longer (which processes the food fully and actually helps you prevent overeating) and taste the food you’re enjoying.
Next time you’re having a meal, put away all distractions. Turn off your TV, put your phone away, and sit down to be fully present with your food.
If possible, eat in silence. It’s a game-changer! Chew your food fully, and notice the smells, tastes, and appearances of what you’re eating. This food is nourishing your body and going into your system, so become more curious about it and how it benefits you.
Beginning a mindfulness practice doesn’t have to overhaul your entire life’s routine. It simply asks you to become more aware of your thoughts, actions, and behaviors throughout the day. If you’re aware, you can implement changes that are for your highest good.
Through tools such as meditation, mindful walking and eating, journaling, and affirmations, you can rewire your brain’s default setting that’s stuck in struggle, to a way out of complacency and into mental and emotional freedom.
The key is in accepting yourself as you are, and taking that awareness approach deeper with tools that are always at your disposal.
More About Practicing Mindfulness
- How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts
- Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness
Featured photo credit: Lua Valentia via unsplash.com
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