In the world of wellness, practicing mindfulness is a big deal. And for good reason. It is a scientifically validated method to help cope with stress, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and substance use. It can even improve compassion towards yourself and others. And it works for both kids and adults.
Sounds great, right?
It gets better. It costs no money and it is easy to incorporate into your everyday life.
Ready to learn more? Read on.
What mindfulness is not
To best explain mindfulness, let me first explain the opposite. Some examples: Have you ever driven in your car and found yourself at your destination, only to not recall any aspect of the journey? Have you ever scrolled through your favorite social media site and wondered where the time went? Have you ever taken a shower, only to have forgotten if you have shampooed your hair or not? I like to call this “autopilot mind.” Most people move through the world in this autopilot mode. You are still living and breathing, but, cognitively, you not aware of what is happening right in front of us. Often this is because you are too busy thinking about the past or the future to notice the present.
What is mindfulness then?
Mindfulness is the opposite of “autopilot mind.” It is purposefully paying attention to the present moment. It is actively noticing new things. It is accepting the moment for what it is, regardless of how you feel about it. It involves cultivating curiosity rather than judgments. By doing this systematically, you can become healthier, happier, and more present.
How do I get started?
Here are three simple mindfulness strategies for you to try. Even practicing for a 5 minutes per day can be helpful (though the longer the better). Gradually, you will learn to build your mindfulness strength (and decrease your time in “autopilot mind”) by practicing more and more each day.
Let’s start with one of the most basic mindfulness exercises – mindful breathing. This particular breathing exercise is called “square breathing.” To begin, get in a comfortable position and bring your attention to your breath. Breathe in for a count of four, and then hold your breath for a count of four. Now breathe out for a count of four, and then hold your breath for another count of four. And then repeat this process. Kids (and even adults) sometimes like to draw a square in the air to correspond with their breathing.
This is a great mindfulness exercise to enhance the experience of eating a snack or meal. By eating slowly and deliberately, you will notice nuanced flavors that you might have missed if your brain was in autopilot mode. To begin, start by visually observing the food in front of you. Notice shapes and colors. Take in any aromas. Bring the food slowly to your mouth and notice the sensations of temperature, texture, and taste as you take your first bite. Chew slowly and thoroughly before swallowing. Continue slowly eating and concentrate on every aspect of the food as you go.
This is my favorite strategy to help wind down the mind at bedtime. Begin in a supine or sitting position. Close your eyes. Turn your attention to the sensations in your body. Non-judgmentally feel the weight of your body against the chair or floor or bed. Then bring your attention to your toes and start to notice sensations in this area. Proceed gradually from your toes to your feet, from your feet to your legs, and so on until you reach the top of your head. Carefully observe the physical sensations in your body as you scan your attention upwards. Notice tension in your body and allow yourself to relax when you can. Finally notice your whole body and end with three deep breaths.
Thank you for taking the time to *mindfully* (I hope) read this blog post. Please do try out these exercises as a gentle introduction to the world of mindfulness. Once you understand the concept of mindfulness as non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, there are so many other ways to weave mindfulness into your everyday life. If you are interested in expanding your mindfulness practice and see a primary care provider at Swedish, ask them about connecting you to a behavioral health specialist in your clinic.