So we are nearing the end of 2016, and about to welcome a brand new year ahead. Have you set your New Year Resolutions yet?
As an advocate of mindfulness as a way of life, I invite you to incorporate mindfulness as a part of your New Year Resolutions. You might want to commit to doing one thing mindfully per day, or establish a more routine mindfulness practice. You might even want to get yourself formally trained in mindfulness, if you have been toying with the idea for some time. Perhaps you already have a New Year Resolution in mind, and you could be more mindful about achieving or sticking with it.
Here are some simple suggestions on how you can have a more mindful year ahead:
Doing one thing mindfully everyday: this could be any activity within your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth, locking your apartment door (we know how absent-minded we can be about this!), drinking your first glass of water or first cup of coffee in the morning, waiting for the bus, a household chore like washing the dishes - the possibilities are endless!
When mindfully doing that one thing you've chosen, you are essentially paying attention to what you're doing as you're doing it; multi-tasking is a big no-no in mindfulness practice, so don't for example drink your coffee and read the news at the same time. As you pay attention, notice the details using your five senses - see the colors and shapes with your eyes, hear the sounds with your ears, smell the scents with your nose, taste with your tongue, and feel textures and sensations with your hands and skin. When we open up our senses to what we're doing, we stay focused and the mind settles more easily into the present moment by moment.
Establishing a more routine practice: Those of us who have had training or experience in mindfulness would probably know that one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness is keeping up with our practice. Whether it's because of our busy lives or a lack of commitment or some other circumstances, we have probably tried really hard to practice regularly, but there is just no denying that the real research-proven benefits of mindfulness come from a sustained, routine daily practice.
When it comes to establishing a routine mindfulness practice, I encourage you to 'start small' and slowly build up your practice. This could mean a simple awareness of breath for just 5 minutes every morning when you wake up or every night before you sleep. When you have gotten used to this 5-minute routine, extend it to 10 minutes a day, then 15 minutes, 20 minutes...
If you're commiting to longer mindfulness practices (such as 30 or 40 minute durations), you might want to break it up into several parts practiced over different times of the day. For example, split a 30 minute practice into 10 minutes when you wake up, 10 minutes during lunch time at work, and 10 minutes in the evening or before bedtime.
If you have been exposed to or trained in a variety of mindfulness practices (awareness of breath, body scan, movements, choiceless awareness etc.), you might want to start with a practice that you feel most comfortable with and can ease into more effortlessly. If you've established a routine of one particular practice, you might want to switch to another one that is more challenging to you.
Look for an App that helps you stick to your routine mindfulness practice - I highly recommend Insight Timer, a meditation App that not only allows you to track your practice hours (and achieve miletones!), you also get to connect with fellow mindfulness practitioners from around the world. Best of all, it's free!
Getting formally trained in mindfulness: Many people have probably thought about attending a mindfulness class, but have yet to act on it. If you've been thinking about getting mindfulness training, pick a class or program that allows you enough time to learn the skills and that scaffolds you through the learning process in a more structured way. We recommend the classic 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program, which is research-proven and usually taught by an approved facilitator in a group setting. There are important benefits to learning mindfulness in a group setting and over an extended period of time.
Being mindful about your New Year Resolutions: Maybe you already have a New Year resolution in mind for 2017 - such as learning a new language or mastering the guitar, and you're wondering if you might actually stick with it or achieve it successfully this time. The practice of mindfulness teaches us to focus our attention and minimize judgments or criticisms towards ourselves. With mindfulness, you can actually cultivate more patience in the process of learning the guitar, and offer yourself the compassion you need when things don't turn out as you had expected.
Can you think about how else you might be able to have a more mindful 2017? Share it with Mindful Moments!
What has stress got to do with mindfulness? This is a popular question I get whenever I tell people about the 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. For those of us who are not too familiar with mindfulness, we may not be able to easily relate it to stress. So to first understand how mindfulness supports us in reducing stress, we must first look at what stress is, and the role of stress in our health and well-being.
The Stress Response
Let's hop onto a time machine for a minute and travel back to the time of our ancestors - a time without smartphones or Starbucks. We were just surviving in the wild, foraging for food every day.
One day as you are looking for food in the jungle, you come face to face with a tiger. What happens within your mind and body at that moment? Perhaps your heart starts to race, your blood rushes to your arms and legs, and you feel your muscles tense up. Basically, your mind has perceived the tiger to be a stress - a (very dangerous) threat to your survival, and your body's sympathetic nervous system has been activated, triggering a fight, flight or freeze response in the body - to either fight off the tiger, run away, or become immobilized when we think fighting or fleeing is not possible.
Now let's time travel back to the present. In the modern world, it is highly unlikely that we will cross paths with a tiger. But we do get that email from the boss, that business presentation we need to give to the client, that child who refuses to cooperate, or the spouse who won't communicate. These are our modern tigers that the mind still perceives as threats to our survival, and the mind and body have been evolutionarily conditioned to activate the same stress responses of fight, flight, and freeze.
Think about some of the reactions you have had in response to a stressful situation: perhaps you shouted back or slammed the door in a fit of anger, or bulldozed your way through; maybe your first instinct was to hide, run away from the situation, or call it quits; or perhaps you chose to withdraw and remain silent, or you stood on the spot feeling helpless and dazed, not knowing what to do.
Because our mind is very efficient in warning us of stressors that could potentially threaten our survival, the stress response gets triggered so fast and out of our conscious awareness, and usually before we know it, we have already reacted in a way that isn't usually the best response for the situation. You may have experienced the unpleasantness of reacting to the stress, such as being overcome with emotions or overwhelmed by the negative thoughts in your head; or you might have regretted your actions and on hindsight felt you shouldn't have behaved in that way. You might also feel out of control.
What many of us don't realize is that our stress response can trigger even more stress in the mind and body, thus developing a habitual pattern in the brain over time. We might find ourselves on autopilot reacting to similar stressful situations in the same way, over and over again! This is when stress becomes chronic and can cause serious problems to the mind and body, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, immune and digestive disorders, maladaptive coping behaviours like eating disorders or addictions, as well as anxiety and depression.
So, how does mindfulness come into the picture?
In mindfulness training, we are learning to be non-judgmentally aware of our present and inner experience, and in this kind of mindfulness practice, non-judgmental awareness is key to stress management and reduction.
With mindful awareness, we are able to take a pause and stay with the stress, without automatically reacting to it or pushing it away. This pause that we train the mind to take allows us to break the automatic pattern of negative reactions and behaviours, and from here we can recognise that we do have the choice to make a better response that isn't as detrimental to our health and well-being.
For example, when a stressful situation arrives, the mindful brain is aware that our muscles are tensed. Instead of automatically reacting to the stress (e.g. arguing back in anger), we have the ability to take a pause, rest with the tension in the body, and come back to our breathing. We then take some time to offer a better response (e.g. explaining or reasoning with calmness, or offer a listening ear), thus effectively changing our relationship with stress.
Interested in training the mind and changing your relationship with stress? Read more about our 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, on which many positive research outcomes are based.
) Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness; by Jon Kabat-Zinn (2013)
Mindfulness doesn't always have to take place sitting cross-legged and still on a cushion. What's unique and great about mindfulness as a form of meditation is that it can be practiced almost anytime and anywhere. The golden rule to daily mindfulness practice is to know what you are doing as you are doing it. Wherever you are and whatever you are engaged in, open up your senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch) to the present environment, and pay attention to the physical sensations, such as movements, textures, and pressure, etc.
How can you incorporate mindfulness practice into daily life? Take our Daily Mindfulness Challenge, and see how a little mindfulness a day goes a long way!
About The Author
MiMo founder Erin Lee is a Mindfulness Coach and MBSR Teacher at Mindful Moments, and advocate of mindfulness as the way of life. She conducts the classic 8-Week MBSR Program, as well as the 8-Week MBSR Workplace Program.
Are you a mindfulness practitioner and have meaningful experiences or thoughts about mindfulness that you'd like to share? You can contribute an article on the MiMo blog! Please contact Erin to find out more.