Interest in mindfulness is at an all-time high, it has become almost a buzz word in the holistic health world, but what is mindfulness truly and why are there over 70,000 research articles on PubMed about it? The answer is simple, mindfulness works. It works for lowering stress, it works for improving happiness, for improving calm for decreasing existential angst. The research is quite amazing- a search of mindfulness based stress reduction or meditation will bring up countless studies showing benefit for pretty much every health condition, especially those effecting the mind. I think mindfulness is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the one that will keep giving for if you live on this beautiful earth, in the stresses of civilization. Mindfulness in its most basic form is being aware of something without being distracted by thoughts or other sensations. Whether that something is your breath, your legs while doing a walking meditation, a mantra you recite or the muscles throughout your body, mindfulness is the practice of becoming deeply aware. Mindfulness is a natural state, it is simply being aware of something without commentary, without labeling, it is pure experience. Meditation and mindfulness are often used synonymously, but mindfulness is a more general term of which meditation is a part of. The art & science of meditation comes to us from the east and refers to a myriad of practices from various religions, cultures and spiritual paths that all essentially aim at cultivating awareness. It comes to the west at a time when it is most needed, when people feel the most disconnected from nature, from their own bodies, from their breath, and distracted away from their own joyful experience of life. Why does mindfulness lead to decreased stress, more joy and a greater sense of calm? It seems to be because when we focus our minds on something, and stay with the thing in spite of all kinds of thoughts and other sensation vying for our attention, we develop freedom from what those in the east have referred playfully to as the “monkey mind”. What is the “monkey mind” you may ask. The voice asking that question is the monkey mind, it is all the automatic thoughts, mental reactions, auto pilot behaviors and all processes that occur in our mental experience that we do not see as anything separate from who we are, because we are so identified with them. We believe ourselves to be our thoughts, rather than seeing that most thoughts simply occur without our control. Anyone who is torn down by their negative thoughts knows this deeply, for why would we think things that hurt us, that weaken us? It is because it is not us that is thinking these thoughts, it is a sort of automatic program of the brain/mind that is often times a kind of broken record that repeats beliefs, thoughts we had before, thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future on a loop with no aim. This experience of thoughts, emotions and all other psychological phenomena is the reason for much of our suffering. When we feel pain, we feel pain twice. There is the sensation of pain, and then the negative story about the pain, about how it is not fair, about how we can avoid it, about how we are at fault or not worthy because of it. It is not the sensation of pain, emotional or psychological that often causes the greatest hurt, but our habitual reaction to it, our deep identification with the negative things that come up in our minds, a fearful avoidance of a thought, or an attempt to forcefully suppress how we feel, especially when it feels negative. So where does mindfulness come in? Mindfulness allows us separation from those habitual thoughts and allows us to see them for what they are, phenomena- and not even phenomena that we can control though we often go through great pains to make the attempt to control. When we train our attention, we can place it on our bodies, our breath, our environment and become again immersed in what is the real world to us, free from the realm of thoughts, ideas, memories, beliefs etc. When we experience the real world as it is in this moment there is just a sense of calm and peace. We see things as they are, without resisting them, trying to fight them or wishing things were different. We just look at our experience and embrace it, allow it in and flow with it rather than being caught up in our minds, disconnected from our bodies. I think it is our natural state to be happy, at peace, to feel deep emotions, to feel wonder, and even to feel sadness. If you’ve ever seen a young child playing you know what I mean, they are simply present in the now, enjoying life spontaneously. That is what we yearn for again, to be at one with our bodies and experience, to cast aside our self-doubt and live! In the course of our lives we accumulate so much gunk, ideas about who we are, self-doubt, guilt about what we’ve done and so many other habitual ways of thinking that do nothing but disconnect us from our bodies, from our lives and from others. It is key to note that mindfulness always happens now, it is just an awareness of the moment as it is. One of the key reasons why many mindfulness practices have to do with being aware of a bodily sensation is because the body can only exist in the present moment. If you are aware of your body, your breath, your tight shoulders, you are aware of this very moment, this infinitely continuing presence that we move through. It is one thing to talk about mindfulness and a completely different thing to practice it so I shall share an incredibly simple technique of mindfulness you can do anytime you have 5 minutes. Here it goes... Simple Mindfulness Technique Sit down comfortably with your back straight but not tense. It is best to find a quiet spot, outdoors works well or a quiet dark room. Gently become aware of your body, the tension in your muscles and how you feel. Simply feel your current experience, then doing a slow scan through the body allow every tense part of your body to relax, one by one. Allow your eyelids to relax, your face to relax, allow the jaw to relax, the neck, the shoulders the arms, the back and so on. Go through the whole body like this. Thinking as I breathe in I relax my (insert area here), as I breathe out I am calm can be helpful for this. Do this for a few minutes, until you start feeling a sense of calm. If any thoughts come up, which they will, gently bring your attention back to the tense muscles. The training is precisely you bringing the attention back to the body, so every time you “fail” is actually a success because you may have just done something you rarely do, become aware of a thought as a distraction, and attempt to refocus, rather than just jumping on the thought train and getting carried away. When you feel nice and loose bring your awareness to the sensation of air going in and out of your nostrils, allow your breaths to be deep full, and relaxed- natural breaths not forceful ones. As you are reading this you can do this exercise, so you’ll have the idea for when you sit down. Keep the attention on the breathing in and out, how the air feels, the rhythm, you can even count your breaths to help keep track, counting 1-10 and every time you lose track starting over from 1. As you breathe in say in your inner mind:
I breathe in love As you breathe out say: I breathe out peace Feel your inner smile, the light within your heart. You can use any words you like that make you feel a positive sense of love, peace, or truth. Continue breathing in and saying in your inner mind the positive phrase and when you breathe out the positive phrase. Become the phrase, feel it in your body and journey into it to see what energy the phrase has for you, how it will empower you with positivity. Now think of something you’re very grateful for in your life, the most grateful for and visualizing it in your mind and feel everything that comes along with it. Visualize something positive for yourself happening, somewhere you wish you were or something you wish you did and see yourself doing it. Feel the joy that it brings you. It may be sitting on the beach and hearing waves, or walking through a forest, creating something beautiful, sitting with a loved one and having a deep talk, anything that you wish for yourself. That is all, you can do this in 5-10 minutes or for hours. This is essentially a combination of mindfulness techniques; find which part you enjoy the most and practice that especially. Everyone has a different preference for mindfulness techniques that come most naturally, so do the one you love! The mindfulness practice combines a muscle relaxation/body scan meditation, with a breath awareness meditation, positive affirmations, with a gratitude practice and finally with a visualizing the life you want manifestation practice. It’s so many kind of meditation in one! It’s one of my favorite because it keeps my monkey mind engaged, and allows me to feel mindfulness from a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual level. May you find peace in this moment, thanks for reading!