ANN ARBOR - "'What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Starting a mindfulness practice is a true gift -- to yourself as well as to those around you. Its research-proven benefits include better health, more calmness, focus and compassion, and less stress, anxiety and depression (for more on the benefits of mindfulness and the science behind it, check out last month’s article here[link]).
It is a practice of paying attention to your present moment experience with an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and nonjudgment -- in other words, keeping your mind and your body in the same place at the same time -- sensing each moment as it passes, instead of getting lost in the often-stressful world of thoughts.
Mindfulness is simple, but not easy. Like any skill, it gets better and easier with regular practice. You will soon start feeling the benefits -- you may notice yourself feeling happier, calmer, and more resilient in the face of daily stress. After a little while, it will no longer feel like a "should," but like something you look forward to each day that enhances the rest of your life.
Start with awareness
If the idea of starting a new “practice” seems daunting, then just start by weaving small moments of awareness into your day. As you’re walking somewhere, notice the sights and sounds around you, and feel the air on your cheeks and the motion of your legs. Check in with yourself to see how your body, mind, and emotions are doing. If you feel your thoughts spinning in circles and you feel anxious, or can’t get to sleep at night, center yourself to break the cycle; do this by focusing on your present-moment experience with a sense of openness, curiosity and nonjudgment. Each time you make this shift back to presence, you are reinforcing positive mental pathways, and your brain will start doing this naturally.
Next step: Mini meditations
The best way to prime your brain for mindfulness is to establish a regular practice, even if it’s just five minutes a day. (Come on, you know you have five minutes!) Don’t give up hope if your mind seems chaotic at first -- this is completely natural. Each time you realize you’ve lost your focus is a victory because that in-and-of-itself is a moment of mindfulness. The more you practice, the easier it will get over time, and the more you will hard wire your brain to be calmer, happier, more resilient, focused and compassionate. It can help you deal with the stresses of daily life, and be a better teacher, parent, partner and friend.
Here are a few step-by-step mindfulness exercises to try on your own:
- Sit down in an upright yet-comfortable position.
- Close your eyes, and bring your attention to the present moment, letting all thoughts, worries and distractions fade away.
- Feel the spot on your body where you feel your breath the most -- maybe it’s the tip of your nose, your chest or belly. (Option: put your hand on your chest or belly and feel it rise and fall as you breathe).
- As best you can, stay focused on the sensation of your breath, allowing it to be your anchor.
- When your mind drifts away to thoughts or distractions, notice them and then gently bring your mind back to your breath -- without judging or criticizing yourself, but rather noticing and accepting. It is completely natural for your mind to wander, and does not mean that you are doing anything wrong! Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, you can congratulate yourself because that is a moment of mindfulness.
- Start with two to five minutes at a time, or whatever amount of time feels manageable, and build from there.
- Sit down in an upright yet comfortable position.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention to the present moment, letting all thoughts, worries and distractions fade away.
- Let your body relax as you bring your awareness to the sounds around you.
- Listen with a calm, kind, nonjudgmental attitude to all of the different sounds in your environment; don’t judge the sounds as good or bad, but just listen.
- Keep your attention on the sounds, gently coming back to them any time you catch your mind drifting away to thinking, worrying, or judging.
- Try this outside sometimes, as nature sounds can be especially calming.
- You can also do this informally throughout the day, as you’re walking, waiting, or working. Just tune into the sounds around you for a few seconds to calm and center yourself.
- Sit, stand, lie down or walk outside.
- Notice the sights around you; take in the colors, shapes and textures in your surroundings.
- Listen to the sounds -- e.g. the wind, the leaves, the birds and the silence in between the sounds.
- Take a few deep breaths and notice what the air smells and tastes like.
- Feel your feet or body against the earth, and sense yourself moving or in stillness. Notice the temperature of the air against your skin, the warmth and texture of your clothing.
- Any time your mind starts thinking, worrying, planning or judging, just acknowledge it without judgment and then shift back to directly sensing the moment.
More Mindful Tools
Looking for more guidance? Group classes and individual mindfulness coaching are a great option. For coaching and classes in downtown Ann Arbor, check out Mindful World and Grove Emotional Health Collaborative, or try a simple Google search to see what is available in your area. If you’ve got the discipline and you’d rather just do it yourself, then apps can be a great tool to help you get going. Here are my top three mindfulness app recommendations:
- Insight Timer: Set your meditation timer to the sound of your preferred singing bowl, or choose from a library of thousands of guided meditations. This app also has a community connectedness component, showing a map of all the people around the world who are meditating with you.
- Headspace: a guided step-by-step program that takes minutes a day to gradually build your own practice.
- Calm: varied short mindfulness practices set to different nature sounds and backgrounds.
Most importantly, don’t forget to push pause and check in with yourself throughout the day. Creating some space in between all of the doing and going and just letting yourself BE can have huge benefits for how you feel and how you relate with others. After all, we’re human beings, not human doings, remember?
Good luck, and be well.
Anique Pegeron is a mindfulness teacher and coach at Mindful World and Grove Emotional Health Collaborative in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Visit her website www.mindful-world.com for information on individual mindfulness coaching, group classes, workshops and more. Visit Grove's website www.groveemotionalhealth.com for more mindfulness, wellness offerings and other mental health services in downtown Ann Arbor.
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