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November 05, 2019

WHAT EXACTLY IS MINDFULNESS?  And how do I practice it everyday?

Part 2 of a 2-Part Series

Just be here.
It's as simple as that.
And not so simple.
Sharon Salzberg said it perfectly:  "Mindfulness isn't difficult.  We just need to remember to do it."


So what exactly is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is an ancient practice, over 2500 years old, rooted in the Buddhist tradition.  And it is still more than relevant for us today, a highly useful practice to use as an antidote to the stress of our fast-paced, hyper-connected modern lives, in our frantic, troubled world.  

I was recently introduced to this definition of mindfulness from British mindfulness teacher Christina Feldman:  "Mindfulness is the willingness and the capacity to be equally near to all events and experiences, both inwardly and outwardly, with discernment, kindness and curiosity."   

Mindfulness is a capacity we can develop, an attitude we can cultivate towards ourselves, a way to better connect with ourselves and with others.  The techniques of mindfulness help us to live with greater awareness, noticing our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad, noticing and appreciating the details of life around us rather than ruminating about past experiences or fretting about the future. We pay attention to what is happening in the present moment, with calmness and kindness. This is what it means to "live in the moment", to just be here. 

Mindfulness is a tool to train your mind, helping you to access more compassion and kindness, more insights and creativity, more steadiness and resilience. By truly living with awareness, moment to moment, it is possible to rediscover a sense of peace, more happiness, more enjoyment in your life.  Furthermore, mindfulness offers us a way to face stressful situations and difficult challenges with more serenity and confidence.  In other words, mindfulness creates all the conditions that we need to flourish and thrive in our lives.


For more detail and depth, read  Part 1 of this 2 part series,   "What exactly is mindfulness?  And why should I practice it?" - CLICK HERE to access the post.

How can I bring more mindfulness into my life?

You can fit mindfulness practice into your everyday very easily.  It doesn't take extra time, it's more about how you use your time and your experiences to be present in your body, mind and life.  The following 7 mini-practices can help you to develop that awareness, to notice much more.  Consider each one a way of exploring sensations you experience, a way of disconnecting from your usual habits and reconnecting with yourself and with what is happening in the present moment.  Remember that  you are just exploring and noticing what you experience, you are not analyzing or judging.  I suggest you begin with just one of these mini-practices and do it until you've made it a habit, and then you can add another one to your life.

  1. Just listen:  At any time during the day, and wherever you are, pause for just a few moments, close your eyes, and just listen to all the sounds you experience.  Start with your own breathing, maybe you can hear your heart beat.  Then expand to the room and building you are in.  And finally to all the various the sounds you experience outside.  Just notice all the sounds.  And the silence.
  2. Go for a walk:  Go outside for a walk (even just a few minutes), and take the opportunity to notice the light, the sounds, the colours, the scents, notice the temperature, and how the air feels on your skin, in your nostrils as you breath.  These sensations are always there and always changing, some are subtle some are bold, you just need to pay attention.
  3. When you are eating, just eat:  The next time you eat something, really notice what it is you are eating.  Get curious.  Notice the colours, the smell, the texture in your hand and in your mouth, and of course the taste.  Mindful eating is best done in silence, and without the distraction of devices. 
  4. Pause first:  Take three mindful breaths before you answer your phone.  This will settle your mind and ground you before you move on.
  5. Sit still:  At any time during the day, just sit still for one minute. Consciously relax your shoulders, and straighten your posture to sit up straight.  Notice the point of contact between your body and your chair.  Bring your awareness to all the sensations in your hands and feet.  Just notice.
  6. Practice gratitude:  At the end of each day, list 5 things you are particularly grateful for from the day.  Remember the smaller things as well as the more noticeable things.  The more you think about it, you will notice more and more wonderful things you can be thankful for.
  7. Find a different way to say thank you:  How many times a day do you say thank you to someone?  The next time, try to find a different and more meaningful way to express your thanks.  For example, instead of saying "Thanks for your note" choose "I was very touched by the warmth and support of your message".  Instead of "Thanks for your help", choose "Your input has given me the confidence to move forward with my project".  This will help you to notice more, to better connect with your feelings and with others.


What are mindfulness practices?

Mindfulness techniques aim to awaken the senses for a more direct experience with the world.  Meditation is the core mindfulness practice, and there are other ways to cultivate and develop mindfulness.  Here are the main mindfulness practices to ground you in the present moment and help you to develop better awareness.

Body Scan: Body scan is like exploration.  At any moment, you can sit or lie quietly and scan your attention through our body from head to toes, to just notice what you are feeling, notice all the sensations.  Be very curious. Try to actually experience the sensations, without thinking about them or judging them. If there is a spot that feels like it needs some tender attention, consciously send some breath to that area. 

Mindful Movement:  Yoga, tai chi, qi gong are ideal to help you to develop body and breath awareness.  These practices help you to focus on your body, on the connection between body parts, the connection between body, breath and mind, on the sensations of movement and the sensations of release.

Mindful Eating: This will reconnect you with all your senses. Take the time to actually notice the colours and smells of what is on your plate and pay close attention to all of the different textures and tastes.  Spending a few moments of your meal in silence is the easiest way to focus your attention on your meal.  Mindful eating will give you a whole new appreciation for food.

Sitting Breathe Awareness Meditation: Your breath is constant, yet ever-changing, and is the ideal anchor for a mindfulness meditation.  In breath awareness meditation, you are focusing on your breath, as it flows in and out of your nostrils or focusing on the movement of the belly as it expands and contracts when you inhale and exhale.  With each breath, you explore, you notice, all the sensations and all the tiny movements.  When you mind wanders, you gently guide it back to your breath.

Walking Meditation:  Walking meditation is more of an exercise in mindfulness than a meditation; walking very slowly in a quiet environment, notice how your whole body moves as you walk, how everything is connected, notice each and every movement of your legs and the sensations of your feet as they land on the ground.  You can also take this mindful walking technique with you anytime you go for a walk, in your neighbourhood, in a park, on the beach, and expand your awareness to include the sensations you experience, notice the sights, colours, sounds, smells.  


Where do I go to learn mindfulness? 

While you can easily start to learn and practice mindfulness with the help of books, online educational programs, CDs and meditation apps, it is always best to find a qualified teacher to initiate you and guide you on your meditation practice - your progress will be faster.  There are many places and means to learn mindfulness and meditation these days.  Buddhist centres, Buddhist monasteries (yes there are many in North America), secularized meditation centres centres and mindfulness societies in any city, retreat centres in all corners of the world, even yoga studios. 



Wherever You Go There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (clearly written and practical, it shares the science behind mindfulness and meditation as well as techniques to bring it into your daily life)

How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness -Jan Chozen Bays, MD (lots of great exercises to b help develop mindfulness)

Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Program for Finding Peace in a Frantic World - Mark Williams and Dany Penman

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