The Why and How of Mindfulness Exercises

mindfulness-960x490When I first began to notice the phenomena, it was years ago when I was in school and working at a restaurant as a server and thinking to myself, “I almost can’t stand another minute of this! I can’t wait to get off work and hang out with my friends. Arrg!” Then later, standing in the club, not connecting with the music or the scene, feeling impatient, slightly agitated, just wanting to go to the next place. That’s when it occurred to me for the first time…a sudden awareness that I was in one moment….wishing I was in the next. As if the next moment would be better…throwing in the towel: on the now.

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on what’s really going on around you and within you…richly attending to this-now-moment. It’s about being with your experience…and discovering the nuances of those ventures. To practice mindfulness is to wash dishes while you are washing dishes. Feeling the water against your hands, the temperature, noticing sensations, smells, and sounds. Perceiving and experiencing whatever is occurring. It’s a kind of “being-ness.” It’s a type of meditation… so when your attention wanders you simply bring yourself back to a present-centered focus on your feeling or sensation. Play it like a game and keep your expectations low. The more often you do it…as with lifting weights in the gym to broaden your strength…you increase your bandwidth for being here now.

There’s something a little funny about the fact that we have to practice at being here now. Well, you don’t have to…. so why do mindfulness exercises?

  • Because it relives stress. It’s restorative and relaxing. It’s a break, a mini-vacation, a reprieve from the nagging thoughts constantly running through our minds. For this reason, mindfulness meditation is a great help with life-work-balance. It’s an antidote to burnout…it increases resilience.
  • Because it allows us to be present to the wonderment of life. It’s where we feel the connection, between us, and the people we love. Cool things happen when you are present. Being aware of what is actually going on around you (in contrast with the past/future dialog in your head) is how we actually LIVE.

Think of the most amazing moments in your life…. they aren’t likely to be times alone replaying some concern, fear, or problem. Instead, they are the moments when life pulled you deep in and you were one with the experience of it. So doing a mindfulness exercise is a way to encourage these moments and spend more time actually living.

  • This type of practice can increase a sense of clarity and help you break from old, habitual patterns. It’s not unusual to find our selves on autopilot…mindfulness breaks through this type of daily trance.
  • Because research has shown that mindfulness meditation can alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including OCD, anxiety, and depression, andit increases positive emotions.
  • Mindfulness exercises are about being focused on this-now-moment. Because this is the only place we have any real power, a practice can help you have more personal autonomy. We like to think we are the ones calling the shots in our lives, but the way the thinking mind works…jumping from one thought to another…who is really in control when you have little control over where you put your attention? The more we practice focusing our attention…the more influence we have over our choices.
  • When we practice focusing we begin to notice more of the world around us and this means we become more creative, increase our problem solving abilities, and react more effectively to complex situations.

So how do we do mindfulness exercises or mindfulness meditation? There are some great books, programs, even apps you can check out. But a quick way to jump into it is to practice wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Focus your attention on your senses. What can you take in of the world around you without any judgment? Simply let it flow over you. Focusing on the felt-sense experience. When your mind wanders, don’t become frustrated, this is normal, instead, bring your attention back to your sensation experience. This includes the feelings in and around your body…stomach grumbling, clothes touching your skin, anything. Smells, sounds, visual information. If you are with someone, experience that. Notice body language. Experiment with what it means to be here now. Instead of thinking about living…LIVE.