How can one implement mindfulness?
Mindfulness is at its core, an introspective practice. Modern day practice of mindfulness is said to have its roots in Eastern philosophy, but components of mindfulness can be found in all cultures. The key component is the word “practice.” Mindfulness takes time and effort to cultivate. Rarely can an individual expect to be a savvy unless it is practiced with persistence and earnestly.
There is no one way to practice mindfulness, just as there is no one definition. People are diverse, our brains are immensely complex and unique. You may find certain mindfulness practices to be more congenial than others. Some people find it easiest to practice mindfulness through meditation; others through mindful attention throughout the goings-on in life, e.g., walking through the woods and focusing only on the present, or playing hockey and focusing only on the game; still others use mindfulness as more of a philosophy.
What are some of the components that are common to different types of mindfulness practices?
No matter the type of practice that works best for you, there are some basic steps universal to all.
Whether we plan to practice mindfulness when conversing with a loved one or through meditation, it is essential to be dedicated to the practice. This intention can be a feeling of focus, determination or inner strength. The intention can be a thought, such as “let me be present,” or “may my mind be focused.” Sometimes we may need to re-establish our intention throughout the day; if we find our minds are wandering we can restate this intention.
To be mindful requires our minds to be alert or aware. There may be lifestyle factors that are getting in the way of your mindfulness practice by reducing your alertness. For example, lack of sleep and/or good nutrition or excess stress can cause mental and physical fatigue.
a. This might be a good time to visit your lifestyle and explore ways to live healthier in the long-term.
b. Here are a few things you can do in the short-term to improve alertness.
i. Posture and position can impact alertness: maintaining a neutral spine and introducing healthy movement into your body facilitates alertness.
ii. Healthy breathing will facilitate ideal concentrations of O2 and CO2 in your blood. The corresponding acid-base chemistry and ionic chemistry will also be affected. If you have experience with diaphragmatic breathing, or even better at your resonance frequency, use these techniques.
iii. Mental devices: We can also bring our minds into a state of focus with sheer will and intention. Although this requires practice, we can start by visualizing bringing light and energy into our bodies; or by clearing our minds the same way that we would before a big test or important presentation.
This can be accomplished in several ways. Focus on the entirety of yourself, your mind should not be the only object of your focus, nor does it exist in isolation. Think of yourself holistically. Increase your insight and awareness into when that busy brain takes over. When you notice this, accept it and shift your attention to the task at hand. Remember the acceptance piece; we cannot always have a quiet and calm mind, but we can work towards the ability to bring it there when we wander from that state of being.
Body sensations are more reliable than thoughts and emotions for tracking in the present moment. They last longer and are always in the present moment.
a) Therefore the breath, body sensations or hearing are the most common anchors in the present moment.
b) Body awareness fosters present moment awareness.
c) The body connects us to our emotions; this is necessary for emotional regulation.
How does meditation relate to mindfulness?
Meditation is a powerful tool, but again there are many ways to meditate. You might meditate in a focused attention practice, where your mind chooses one target, such as the breath. Another practice is an open awareness practice, when you notice the emotions, thoughts, physical sensations and other sensory information from the environment, but you do not engage them – they are just passing clouds. Both of these are challenging states of mind to achieve. In the former we drop attention from everything other than our object of focus; in the latter, we allow our minds to attend to everything, but not to engage. There are many ways to meditate. If this is a path is interesting to you, consider the resources below. For beginners, a guided meditation may be a good starting point.
How can one’s occupations relate to mindfulness?
Occupation is much broader than the colloquial definition of one’s profession, it includes any meaningful activity. One way in which to practice mindfulness is through applying these principles while engaging in occupation. Flow is potentially another analogous term for this active experience of mindfulness. Flow can be characterized as that state of consciousness where one is completely absorbed with the activity at hand, immersed in that experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Flow or mindfulness through occupation requires the individual to balance awareness and action. If meditation is not the right approach for you, think about which occupations give you this feeling total immersion and joy. Perhaps it is a sport, physical activity, art, or music that will serve as flywheels to the practice of mindfulness.
How is philosophy related to mindfulness?
Perhaps the active pursuit and practice of mindfulness is not right for you. Mindfulness is not only a state, or action; it is also a philosophy. Similar to the ancient philosophy of stoicism, mindfulness involves an acceptance of one’s situation. Happiness does not stem from material goods or external environments; certainly basics make it easier to be happy. But true happiness comes from within. Mindfulness practitioners are encouraged to delve within, gain insight into themselves so that they can experience compassion and joy. In living in the present, and accepting one’s realities without judgement, we can influence our state of being and our mind. By changing your thoughts, you can change your reality.
It is interesting to remember that everything you see and experience is not actually in the external world, it is in your mind as ‘all roads (senses) lead to Rome (your brain)’. We can all understand that all of us have different psychological make-ups. Thus, how can it be that we all have equal experiences of this world? Everything we experience will be interpreted in the context of our psychological constitution. What if we can make our interpretation more objective and shed our baggage?