As promised, in this final post in my month of mindfulness series, I'll finally show you how to practice mindfulness. But to review, over the past month, I demystified mindfulness, debunked 5 common misconceptions about mindfulness, and I told you about what I find the most meaningful benefit of mindfulness.
Two types of mindfulness practice
Just like you can exercise your body both formally – by going to the gym and lifting weights, and informally – by running around with the kids or dancing, you can also practice mindfulness formally and informally.
In both formal and informal practice, the guidelines are simple and the same:
- Pay attention to what you’re doing.
- When you notice your attention has drifted, gently return your attention to what you’re doing.
- Really – that’s it!
It’s simple, but let me assure you that once you start to practice, you’ll almost instantly discover that it’s not so easy. That’s why we have to practice.
To build a good mindfulness habit, it’s important to practice both formally and informally, so I’ll explain both ways of practicing.
Formal Mindfulness Practice
Formal mindfulness practice is a form of meditation that has its origins in Buddhist Insight or Vipassana meditation. Over the past few decades, it has been studied and practiced in more secular settings, and the basic mindfulness practice I’m sharing with you now doesn’t require any particular spiritual or religious disposition.
This is a “breath awareness” practice, and one of the most popular mindfulness exercises for beginners.
- To begin, find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed (inside or outside is fine) and set a timer for as long as you want to practice. Many mindfulness programs will recommend sitting for at least 30 minutes, but if you've read any of my previous posts, you already know that I believe that when you're just getting started, it may be helpful to start with a considerably shorter practice.
- Settle yourself into your seat (or couch, ground, floor, or cushion) and bring your attention to your breath. Your eyes can be open or closed. Your hands can be wherever they’re comfortable. You don’t have to relax, or slow your breath, or change it in any way. Your only goal is to notice yourself breathing, using your awareness to pay attention to how you experience your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
- And when you discover that your mind has wandered (because it will), gently and without judgment bring your attention back to your breath. Each time you bring your attention back to your breath, think of it as a rep - like you're lifting weights.
Honestly, it’s not always a lot of fun to practice. Sometimes it’s pleasant and relaxing, but that’s not the goal or the point. There are other times when I feel bored or irritated when I practice. When that happens, my job is to notice that I'm bored, and then bring my attention back to my breath.
You can also follow a guided mindfulness practice. You can find a billion of them on the web. Here’s one of mine that’s about 20 minutes long. And if you want to go the quick route, here's a 5-minute practice I designed to accompany my guide to stress management for hurried women, the 5-Minute Stress Solution.
How I Practice
I go old school when I practice; when I first started, I used guided meditations like the ones I just shared with you, but now I just use a timer. But there are also plenty of mindfulness apps. If you’re inclined to try one, here’s a recent review of some of the more popular ones available.
Informal Mindfulness Practice
To practice informally, simply choose to engage in some everyday activity mindfully, meaning that you resist the temptation to allow yourself to daydream or ruminate or plan, and just pay attention to whatever it is that you’re doing – without judgment. You just tune into the raw experience of your activity.
So, you can take a mindful shower and pay attention to the sensations of the water hitting your body, the feeling of your hands touching your body, the aroma of your cleanser, etc. And when you notice that you’re actually planning your day instead of paying attention to your shower, return your attention to showering.
You can mindfully wash the dishes, fold the laundry, mop the floor, ride your bike, listen to music, sit in nature, eat your dinner, drink your tea, or even drink your wine.
These informal practices help us come alive; because rather than spending all our time in our heads, missing what’s happening around us, we remember how to participate in our lives.
I believe that mindfulness is the key to a longer life – not necessarily by lengthening our lives (although it might), but by giving us back the moments in our lives!
I hope over the past few posts, and with these simple instructions, I’ve convinced you to give mindfulness practice a whirl, or to get back to your practice if you used to practice and let it go. Don't make it hard or complicated, just do it.
Remember that formal practice offers proven health and well-being benefits, and informal practice can instantly give you a richer and fuller experience of your life – and you can get started today!
Let me know how it goes, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you!
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