By Kelsey Konsen
This week I was folding laundry, listening to NPR – as you do – and I heard a report on mindfulness. I couldn't believe it. Mindfulness. In mainstream media. It got me so excited that I had to take the opportunity to elaborate on their great reporting.
Mindfulness is a concept that is often cloaked in hippie vibes and patchouli oil. But I am here to tell you – the practice of mindfulness is the way to discovering the happiness that lies within. Those patchouli soaked, positive vibes are on to something.
First, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the active, non-judgmental attention to this moment. The best description of mindful thought I’ve ever heard is to imagine yourself standing in the middle of the freeway. If you try to make eye contact with every driver, your head will be whipped about and you will be in a constant state of agitation. If you just allow the cars to pass, rather than be drawn into following them, your experience will be more peaceful. This is mindful thought – allowing the thoughts to pass through you without getting hung up on them. Here are a few ways to work toward this intense presence to the moment.
Duh – obviously, yoga is the first one. While many people see yoga as a great stretching and strengthening workout, it’s so much more than that. Yoga actually translates as to yoke, unite or concentrate – the thing one is called to yoke to, unite with or concentrate on is the present. The way this is possible, is through the clearing of the mind through the asana or physical practice. The movement and concentration on and connection to the breath are ways to achieve find this clearing. For me, the physical exertion of the practice helps me to push all the extraneous thoughts out of my head. I have to be present in my body in order to fight for balance, full breathes, and richness of movement.
Sensory deprivation tanks were the first suggested mindfulness activity NPR discussed. I would recommend floating if you lead a stressful, highly communicative life. The tanks are warm, dark and silent and can provide much needed respite from a fast-paced life. The water is highly salinated so your body floats and the water temperature is close to your body temperature. Tanks and pools vary in size but most are kept very dark to truly deprive all of your senses from stimulation. Floats generally last at least 60 minutes and can provide total muscle relaxation.
Meditation is basically the granddaddy of mindfulness. Because of this exalted status, it scares people off. I am here to tell you – meditation doesn't have to be scary. I will admit that meditation is not easy for me. I am the kind of person whose mind is moving a million miles per hour. The thought of sitting still, breathing, with my eyes closed, for a long period of time used to bring a bit of dread into my soul until I realized that meditation can be small. It can be a few deep breathes as you sit in traffic, repeating a mantra while in a stressful situation (download the Starter Mantras for a place to begin) or directed concentration on a physical sensation – how your clothes feel on your body, for example. You can also find a few minutes of meditation at the close of a really great yoga class – think those juicy moments at the end of your practice as you lay in savasana.
If you are ready for something a bit more sustained – try a meditation app. My favorite is Calm. This app has the best teachers with the most soothing voices. They also have different challenges available to get your started – I loved the 7 days of Calm Challenge!
Focusing on each of the 5 senses can bring you into the present moment in the opposite way that floating does. By bringing attention to each one, you are acknowledging and spotlighting that particular sensation. Here’s how to do it:
5 things you see
The key to this is noticing something I wouldn't normally focus on.
4 things you feel
Think of your whole body in feeling the world around you – the temperature in the room, your clothes on your body, the furniture beneath you.
3 things you hear
Listen for sounds around you – we rarely experience complete silence, so take a moment to search and identify even the smallest of sounds.
2 things you smell
Find the subtle hints of aroma in the air. Can you smell earthy outdoors smells? Floral perfumes? Spicy cooking?
1 thing you taste
This is the one place where introducing something into your experience is welcomed – chew a piece of gum, take a bite of food, sip your drink.
From this sensory exploration – what can you come away with about your environment? This is how it is now and it won’t be the same when you do it again.
This idea is credited to Positive Psychology Programing – for more possibilities of enhancing mindfulness, you can check out their website at www.positivepsychologyprogram.com.
Try these mindfulness activities and let us know how they go. Do you have a favorite that I didn’t mention – send us a message below so more can experience the mindfulness you’ve discovered!
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