Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in any given moment, not having the thoughts of what occurred before, or what may be next in your awareness, just “being” in this present moment. Often in today’s busy world, we find ourselves occupied with worry of what we have to do, what is going to happen next, what we need to cook for dinner, where we need to be next in our day. And we vacillate between these future-focused thoughts and the past: reviewing what has already happened- what we did last night, what we had for breakfast, the last meeting we attended, where we just were, a conversation we just had, regrets. We jump back and forth in our thoughts so much, that often we are not aware of what is happening right in front of us. How many times have you “wandered off” in thought and time has passed without you being aware. This is the distracted mind.
The distracted mind can cause reactions in the brain that lead to anxiety, low mood, and irritability. Research has demonstrated that mindfulness can calm the pathways in the brain and create chemical changes similar to those of medication aimed at alleviating anxiety and depression. Mindfulness resets the mind, so to speak. Ideally, having a mind that is clear of all thoughts, and having an awareness of nothing is the goal. This takes time and practice.
There are many ways to begin a mindfulness practice that is more easily achievable. Meditation uses the practice of mindfulness, focusing on your breath, focusing on a particular sound, imagining a color or a place, listening to someone lead you through a relaxation process. Guided meditations are a great way to begin this training for your mind. A daily practice of 20-30 minutes can have measurable effectiveness on mood and anxiety and create “happy” chemicals in the brain. There are many Apps in this technology world that are free and easily accessible, you can carry them with you on your phone, and utilize them proactively or acutely when you need them. Insight Timer, Headspace, and Calm are a few of my favorites that I recommend to my clients.
Every day you can become more mindful in small ways. Mindfulness eating focusing on the color of the food, the taste, the temperature, the texture, and the nutrients it is providing for you with each bite. Thinking about what you are eating as you are eating it. Mindfulness walking is a practice of taking short walks and focusing only on the steps you are taking, feeling the contact of the sole of your shoe to the pavement or path, focusing on heel-toe, left-right, slow-fast, and being aware of each step. Mindfulness can be practiced in almost everything we do each day. Try just one hour a day of intentionally paying attention from each moment to the next, without your mind wandering. And if it does wander off, bring it back, gently, and keep practicing. Be kind to yourself and be patient… in all things.