Mindfulness as a Tool
You may have noticed the term “mindfulness” has gained a lot of traction in the last few years. When you think of mindfulness, the image that may come to you is someone sitting cross-legged on the floor with their eyes closed, in a state of meditation. While meditation can be considered a practice of mindfulness, there is much more to mindfulness than first meets the eye.
So what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness, simply put, is the practice of being aware of the present moment. Mindfulness allows us to focus on each moment and sensation as they happen with acceptance, rather than judgement. It is often used as a treatment for depression, which is generally a focus on the past, and anxiety, which is a focus on the future.
Mindfulness is not easy and doesn’t feel natural at first. It takes time and practice to focus on the present without judgment. However, by practicing mindfulness, you can become more in touch with your body, emotions, and state of being. Paying attention to your body can allow you to notice emotions like fear, anger, and hurt before a situation escalates. Anger can feel like a tightness in your chest, a clenched jaw, a furrowing brow. Stress can manifest as knots in your shoulders, a rapid heartbeat and fast, shallow breaths usually accompanied by big emotions like fear and anger. Take a moment. Where do you notice emotions in your body?
While we can listen to our body to find and identify emotions, we can also use our body to calm emotions. Here are three ways you can practice mindfulness:
1) Deep Breaths
Breathing is one of the few functions we can choose to control in our bodies. Our hearts beat, our bodies digest food, we sweat when hot and shiver when cold, all without our input or control. By paying attention to our breathing and taking deep, slow breaths, we tell our nervous system that it is time to be calm. Deep breaths also provide more oxygen to our bodies than the shallow breathing of big emotions. This oxygen goes to our brains and helps us to think things through and solve the problem behind the feelings, rather than getting caught up in the feelings themselves. This breath practice could take place in your car, in the shower, or wherever you can find that space. While you can do it on your own, you can also try a guided exercise, like this 3-minute video.
2) Yoga or Stretching
The thought of practicing yoga can feel intimidating. What are all these poses? Am I doing it right or do I look silly? However, if you can think of yoga as a way to get to know your body better by paying attention to what sensations you’re feeling, this can take the pressure off of doing yoga “right.” Yoga and other stretches allow us to feel where we are carrying tension in our body and helps us release that tension. You can try a 10-minute mindful yoga exercise here.
3) Mindful Walks
When was the last time you really payed attention to your surroundings? In our day-to-day walks to and from our cars and around our office or home, we’re typically not fully aware of our surroundings. We may be thinking about the tasks we have to do, deciding what to eat for dinner, or replaying an embarrassing moment in our head. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, a lot of life can happen while we are stuck in the past or future. Next time you go for a walk, try to really pay attention to your senses. Notice the leaves on the trees, the sound of birdsong (or lawnmowers) in the air, the breeze on your face, and your feet in your shoes on the sidewalk.
Spiritually, we can see from Jesus’ example that mindfulness is a positive practice. Jesus often withdrew from crowds in order to focus on rest and prayer and there are many examples in scripture that encourage peace and self-discipline. How can we practice self-control if we are unaware of ourselves?
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:23-27NIV)
Mindfulness takes practice, but life is best lived in the present. As the wise Kung Fu master Master Oogway said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” (Kung Fu Panda)
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
-Matthew 6:34, NLT-