Your Toolbelt Blog

Mind your Mindfulness!

IMG_0923 - CopyOver the past decade, there has been a veritable tidal wave of books, speakers, products, and media on the subject of mindfulness. Literature, both popular and psychological, is literally abuzz about mindfulness. And while this may turn some away as smacking of faddishness, mindfulness has actually been around for literally thousands of years and is embraced as a central tenet to most major (and minor) religions and philosophies. So…can I interest you in a tall, non-fat, double mindfulness to go?

So what is this thing called “mindfulness,” and why do we want it? I find a metaphor used by psychiatrist and author, Dan Siegel, to be one of the more helpful and clear explanations of mindfulness: the “wheel of awareness.” Siegel suggests that we imagine our awareness as a great wheel. At the hub of the wheel is mindful presence, “I am here and nowhere else.” An infinite number of spokes radiate from this hub to the rim. At the rim “I am here, there, and everywhere.” We have evolved for our consciousness to leave the hub of being present to moving out along one spoke or another in an endless configuration of associated and dissociated thoughts and distractions. Whenever you start thinking about something in the future or past, you are out along the rim of awareness and not at the hub. If you are not at the hub, you are traveling along the rim, lost in your thoughts about this or that. Then you are cut off from your wholeness, living in trance, and unable to gain the full benefit of the moment at hand.

The practice and art, if you will, of being mindful is the process of continually returning to the hub and thereby regaining full presence of mind and body. It is only in the space of mindful presence are we at peace, in harmony with the universe, and satisfied. Happy, really. And that is the “why” of becoming more mindful—so that we can free ourselves of unnecessary worry, stress, and suffering, and spend more time enjoying what is.

In addition to more fully enjoying our lives, in essence, living the width of our lives and not just the length (per Mae West), regular mindfulness practice has been correlated with many benefits including: better self-control, objectivity, equanimity, improved concentration, mental clarity, greater emotional intelligence, and enhanced empathy for oneself and all others. Who wouldn’t want that?

Those who are or have worked with me know that I am a huge fan of mindfulness. It is one of the core components of what I consider to be essential self-care. So many of my clients are stressed by extremely demanding work schedules that have them, literally, on the job nearly 24/7. This is not a lifestyle conducive to mindfulness practice, yet, it is not impossible, nor does it necessarily create additional stress to include mindfulness practices to an already overly booked life. If you feel you cannot possibly do one more thing, please suspend disbelief and read on.

mindyourmindfulness_meditateThe most commonly known way to practice mindfulness, perhaps, is to meditate. There are many ways to meditate, several of which are easy to incorporate into a busy lifestyle. Studies have been showing that even 5 minutes of meditation daily has benefits for our brains and our bodies.

Meditation, regardless of style or approach, is, in essence, the practice of continually retrieving one’s awareness from the rim and setting it gently back onto the hub. It is a common misconception that to meditate “properly,” you must empty your mind of all thought. Instead, you are focusing on letting go of attachment to all thought, so that your awareness stays more and more effortlessly at the hub.

Meditation is now also available on several apps, including MyMeditation, Holosync Meditation, and Omvana, to name just a few. These apps allow you to set a timer for how long you want to mediate, music, breath timing, and even visuals. They will also send alerts to remind you to meditate.

You can also combine your other self-care activities such as eating and exercising with mindfulness practice.mindful_eating

To eat mindfully, try eliminating all other distractions such as electronics and other media, and simply be with your food. Take a small forkful of food, place it carefully
into your mouth, and allow the food to rest there awhile. Notice with curiosity and, hopefully enjoyment, the textures and flavors you are sensing. Press the food up against the roof of your mouth to eke out more flavor and notice how the sensations shift with that movement. Chew slowly and deliberately until the morsel is completely dissolved before swallowing. There. You’ve not only meditated, but you’ve also assisted your digestion considerably. Regular mindful eating will also likely help trim your waistline.

Walking can be a meditation as well, if you leave your iPhone at home. Pace your rhythm with your breath and feel the ground beneath your feet as you walk. Notice all around you—sights, sounds, and smells. Breathe deeply throughout.

yoga meditation

One of my favorite mindfulness exercises is a 30 second meditation originated by a Russian mystic named Gurdjieff and made popular by Dr. Elisha Goldstein, called STOP. STOP is an acronym standing for:

Stop—whatever you are doing, stop and do the following:

Take several deep breaths

Observe (neutral—which is key—body, mind, and emotion scan)

Proceed by asking yourself what is most important to pay attention to currently—or—(and I prefer this variation) take several action steps to course correct any negative body, thought, or emotion process that was occurring.

While Gurdjieff would insist that one must remain absolutely still during the STOP exercise—no blinking even! I have found it more adaptable to our current lifestyle to conduct STOP while at a stop light, while in the bathroom, while going up an elevator—any time you find yourself taking a break for whatever reason, treat yourself to a little STOP.

There are many other mindfulness practices that can be incorporated into your daily life, which is going to be our focus for March—“Everyday Mindfulness.” Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter so that you can receive these mindfulness tools as well as all the other goodies we’ll be offering down the road in our efforts to help you achieve your OptimalLife Wellness.

Until next time, word of the day: “Anapanasati,” from Sanskrit, meaning “mindfulness of breathing.” Anapanasati is a core meditation practice in several traditions of Buddhism as well as many Western mindfulness-based programs.

Now, you didn’t think I’d close without talking about breathing did you?breathe

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