You may have heard some buzz around the concept of mindfulness recently. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with intention and non-judgment. It’s about developing a greater awareness of our moment-to-moment experiences and increasing our acceptance for whatever those experiences might be. Being mindful is the opposite of being on autopilot.
With the increasing noise and clutter of our busy lives, purposefully paying attention to what’s happening right in front of us can be a constant challenge. There are many things in life competing for our attention, and yet we know that making space for mindful practices can have many benefits for well-being. Research has shown that mindfulness can help to reduce stress, decrease how often we worry and ruminate, and help us be less emotionally reactive. It has also been shown to increase the ability to focus, heighten mental flexibility, and improve satisfaction in important relationships.
While it’s often helpful to have someone experienced guide you at first, like one of our qualified clinicians or even apps you can download to your phone (e.g., Headspace, Buddhify, Calm), there are many exercises you can try on your own. Here are some brief examples to give you some ideas:
Begin by paying attention to your breathing. Notice what it feels like to be breathing in this moment. Observe the temperature of the air as you inhale and exhale. Become aware of the sensations in your chest and stomach with each breath. Pay attention to your body breathing. When you notice your attention wandering into thoughts, emotions, etc., gently notice this and return your attention to your breathing.
Lying down or sitting in a chair, bring your awareness to your body as a whole. Notice what it is like to be taking up space in this moment, holding the whole body in awareness. Then, focusing your attention, notice the sensations in specific parts of your body, starting with your feet. Be aware of the pressure they put on the floor. Notice where in the feet you observe the pressure. Be curious about the sensations and approach these feelings with a new and open mind. Now shift your attention up to your lower legs, noticing any sensations there. Continue in this way throughout the entire body.
Mindfulness of sights
Lie on your back and watch the clouds above you. Notice their shapes, their shadows, their speed of movement across the sky. Simply pay attention to what you observe. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to the clouds. You can try this in any position with anything you see, such as observing art or watching cars on the street.
Mindfulness of emotions
Bring your awareness to your emotional experience in this moment. Notice what you’re feeling in your body. Observe the sensations that you feel and what they tell you about your emotional state. Notice what these emotions feel like. When you notice your attention wandering, which may happen frequently with distressing emotions, gently return your attention to your body and your emotions. Feel yourself surfing these emotions like you would surf a wave on a surfboard, allowing them to come and go, rise and fall. Note that this can be a particularly challenging mindful practice without guidance from an experienced practitioner.
These are just a few of the many suggestions for mindful exercises you could try. Know that these practices can be challenging at first, particularly if you’re attempting them on your own without having someone else guide you through them.
Remember that being mindful is not really about what activity you’re doing and more about how you do whatever it is you’re doing. We can be mindful during any activity. Today is the perfect day to start to practice paying more attention in your life.
James is a Clinical Psychologist in Supervised Practice who has been at The Clinic on Dupont since 2015. He also holds at Postdoctoral Fellowship at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.