Let’s start at the very beginning and define mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present, non-judgementally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Kabat-Zinn also writes that mindfulness at its essence is being fully present. I like this definition.
The one thing I would add is that it is a practice. If you want to be a good athlete or musician, you practice. The same is true of mindfulness, gratitude, compassion and a host of other things. The more we practice, the more skilled we become.
Let’s face it: Most of us are not fully present in much of our lives and we feel “stressed out” too often. Especially in this modern world we live in, we are busy checking social media, driving, planning our day while listening to news, reading emails while spending “quality” time with loved ones, and just generally trying to fit too much into each moment. We don’t leave much time to be present.
We are busy planning the future and/or rehashing the past, craving that which we don’t have and/or avoiding that which we do have, but do not want.
Even for those who don’t identify with being “stressed out” — we all live with stress. Stress is a tight deadline, our child crying, moving, getting married and so on. Some of the more common effects of stress are fainting, headaches, heart disease, high blood pressure, lower immunity against diseases, just to name a few.
The list is long and if you are experiencing stress and its effects, you have a lower quality of life then you could have.
I could make a lists upon lists of what stress does and how mindfulness counters it, or I could even list the myriad of scientific studies and experiments that say we should each be practicing mindfulness. (Look it up online if you’re interested. It’s quite amazing.)
But I’d rather take these last few words to share two of my favorite mindfulness practices. I love them because they are accessible, and they changed my life to help free me from the anxiety-ridden, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) suffering, panic attack having, daily headache feeling, not sleeping well, kind of being I once was.
Mindfulness Technique 1: Body scanning
You can do this lying down or seated. Just make sure you have a long spine. Close your eyes.
Starting with the crown of the head, scan through your entire body part by part. Notice any physical sensations. Are you holding tension? Where? Can you release that tension? Are you experiencing pain, muscle spasms, light pulsations, temperature, etc …?
Take your time and be thorough. Use this as a way to get to know your body. The more bodily awareness we have, the more we can “hear” the messages our body is sending us and then act accordingly. Guess what that makes us? Healthier, that’s what!
Mindfulness Technique 2: Soft belly breathing
As above, lie down or be seated with a long spine. Close your eyes. Bring your awareness to your belly/abdomen. Let the belly be so soft that you feel the belly float away from the spine on the inhale and float gently back in on the exhale. This should not be effortful. It’s more noticing then making it happen.
Make these practices attainable. Set yourself up for success. Don’t set your first goal of doing each of these for 30 minutes seven days a week. That’s not reasonable. Start with maybe one of them five minutes three days a week. Set a timer so you don’t have to look at a clock.
If after a couple of weeks you are feeling that it’s beneficial — you’ll want to increase your practice time without trying to force it on yourself.
It took me years to build up the practice I have now. Did you notice I said practice? I still practice mindfulness and will for the rest of my life. I have so much gratitude for this practice and for you allowing me to share part of it with you.
This is my wish for you: May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy.
Christel Joy Johnson (E-RYT 500, YACEP) is a yoga instructor for Walla Walla Parks & Recreation. These days you can find her teaching in Pioneer Park or privately.