Has someone told you that you need to start practicing mindfulness?
Does that thought make you incredibly anxious?
Don’t worry – you are not alone! In fact, most people feel this way when they start practicing mindfulness. And it’s why most people don’t keep at it.
They hate the feeling of sitting still.
But let’s start at the beginning: what is mindfulness?
We hear this word all the time, but do we know what it means?
I want to talk about mindfulness today.
There are lots of people that talk about mindfulness, many of them much more knowledgeable than myself.
People study this idea for a living.
But I want to share a bit about how mindfulness helped me, how I practice it, ways you can incorporate it, and why we want to think about it (or…. not think about it?).
Mindfulness vs Meditation
Mindfulness is a state of being.
Meditation is a practice.
Mindfulness is the idea of being present.
It can be practiced anytime, anywhere. You can eat mindfully, you can parent mindfully, you can read a book mindfully. You can be engaged in your job, mindfully.
Meditation, on the other hand, is an action.
Meditation is an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
It’s kind of like time you would carve out in a day to practice mindfulness.
You can be mindful, without meditation.
But when you’re meditating, you are in a state of mindfulness.
I want to correct a concept about meditation.
When I first learned about meditation, I pictured it as a Buddhist monk, at sunrise, sitting silently in the mountains, not speaking, not thinking, just being.
And sure, this might be a great goal.
But that’s not a realistic practice. That doesn’t look realistic to absolutely anyone I know.
The truth is that meditation doesn’t need to look this way.
The purpose of meditation is NOT to turn your thoughts off. Many people think that this is the case, and they feel like they’re failing when they have a thought during their period of meditation. I can’t tell you how many people tell me “I’m not good at meditation because I keep having thoughts”.
Your brain is designed to have thoughts.
That’s what it does.
Meditation is about watching them drift by, without judgement, and just experiencing everything around them.
It’s about experiencing emotion and breath and feeling at one time.
And when thoughts come in, which they inevitably will, it’s not bad or good.
You simply acknowledge the thought.
And let it go past.
A mindfulness practice I did once, and unfortunately I don’t remember who it was with to give proper credit, but they described meditation as sitting on a train platform, and your thoughts are the trains. You just simply watch them go by. If a train stops and you get on the train (as in, you engage with the thought), you simply step off the train again and let the thought keep going.
You see, in the real world, we tend to get caught up in our thoughts.
We tend to think that everything we think is what we’re actually experiencing.
And this might sound a bit “out there”, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Most of what we are thinking isn’t actually real.
It’s stories that we tell ourselves.
Now, sitting back and watching your thoughts go by is absolutely NOT easy!
This is why it’s called a practice.
Even people who have been meditating for years require ongoing practice in it.
Where to Start with Meditation
The good news is that there are TONS of resources out there for you to check out and find one that works for you.
But all of them start with your breath.
Because when you’re meditating, you’re practicing mindfulness.
You’re practicing being present.
And there is nothing more present, more “in the moment” then your breath.
So while there are lots of apps you can use, guided meditations on YouTube, there are so many resources, I want to share 3 breathing techniques that you can start to incorporate every day, to practice meditation and get better at mindfulness.
- Belly breathing – when we breathe properly, what should happen is that our belly sticks out, our diaphragm drops, our lungs expand, and they fill with air. Most of the time when we breathe, we just use our shoulders and our neck muscles. Try this: put your middle fingers on your belly button so they’re just touching, and take a deep breath. Do your fingers move? If not, your breathing with your neck muscles. If yes, that’s belly breathing. This is what you want to practice every day. You can do this lying in bed before you get up in the morning, at the end of the day before you go to sleep, really anytime.
(It is easier to do this when you’re lying down).
- Box Breathing – in box breathing, you count your breaths. I’m going to use 4 in my example, but you can pick any number. You breathe in for the count of 4, hold for 4, out for 4, and hold for 4.
The thing I like most about this pattern is that you also get to count. I find that counting keeps my focus on my breath, and it’s just one less way for thoughts to slip in (although they inevitably do).
- Physiological sigh – this is a breathing process that animals use a lot. A physiological sigh actually lets your body take in lots of oxygen, which helps to lower your levels of cortisol. The way to do this is to take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, take another breath in, and then let it out.
These are great to do just throughout the day. Try a few of those and let me know how you feel!
Where to Start with Mindfulness
When I talk about a daily mindfulness practice, that often means a meditation practice of some sort. But there are other ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day.
These breathing exercises are one way I often recommend people get started with mindfulness. It’s like an intro to noticing what’s actually going on in your mind at any given time.
But you can practice mindfulness everywhere.
One of the ways I often like to suggest people focus on mindfulness is when they’re eating. I’ll have to do a separate dive into eating mindfully, but practicing mindful eating is a fabulous way to incorporate mindfulness into your day.
My Mindfulness Journey
I’m going to start by saying that I am NO mindfulness expert. I have been practicing mindfulness daily for about 5 years, and some days I’m really good at it, while others not so much.
Every morning, I start my day off with a 7-10 minute mindfulness session. I used an app called Headspace to get started in this, but currently I just set a timer on my phone and take deep breaths. I pay attention to my belly moving, my breath moving in and out, and letting my shoulders relax.
Thoughts come in constantly.
Sometimes I really good at letting them drift away.
Other times I get caught up in them, and it takes me a few moments before I can pull my attention back to the present.
But I think what’s most noticeable for me about mindfulness is what I’ve experience as a result.
- Mindfulness made me a better parent. I found that the more I practiced mindfulness, the more present I was with my kids, the less I reacted to them, and the more patience I had. This was something I noticed within weeks of starting a daily mindfulness routine.
- I’m much better at interacting with other people. Not that I was bad before, but when you’re interacting with people, sometimes it’s easy to get pulled into the stories that you think are happening in your head. Which likely aren’t happening at all. I’m much better at just being present with people, without judgement (of myself or them).
- I operate much more mindfully. This means in my daily job, but also in my interactions with my partner, or even in cooking supper every day. I find I’m much more present in the process of daily tasks. Or at least I try to be.
I am absolutely not perfect at this. I never will be – I’m human!
But I get a lot out of my daily practice.
And if you can find a way to incorporate a meditation practice every day, I can’t say enough good things about that.
Where do you think you could incorporate mindfulness into your day?