Mindfulness… You may have heard the term. It’s an intentional focusing of our attention on whatever is happening in the moment: without judgment, without preconceived ideas, without expectations. But how can you put mindfulness to good use? Do you have to be in the middle of a great big “om” in your yoga class? Do you need to be sitting on a comfy couch doing breathing exercises? No and no.
Mindfulness is portable. It’s adaptable. At almost any time of the day, almost anywhere, you can put it to good use, to relieve stress and anxiety.
5 ways to put mindfulness to good use
1. Trying to get to sleep
It’s been a long day, and you just want to get to sleep. But you keep thinking about the massive to-do list that awaits you in the morning. You worry about whether you’ll get enough sleep to feel rested. Your worry leads to another worry. You toss and turn. This would be a perfect time to practice separating yourself from your thoughts.
Bring your focus to your breath, and then notice any thought that comes into your mind. Try to label that thought, and place the word onto a leaf. That leaf is one of many, gliding peacefully down a stream. Imagine you’re on a small boat on that stream. You’re sitting very comfortably in the boat, the sun is shining, and there’s a nice light breeze. If you choose to look to your side, you’ll notice these leaves.
You can choose to pay attention to them, noticing whether they’re clumping together or floating separately, whether they’re darker or lighter, smaller or larger … Or you can choose to let them just float by. You can always decide whether or not you want to notice them and focus on them. Either way, they’ll be happy floating by.
2. Sitting at your desk
It’s late afternoon and the work is piling up. Your boss just asked when you’ll have that report ready. You feel like you’re behind. You feeling overwhelmed. This would be a very good time to stop for a moment.
Turn your attention to your breathing. Notice your belly slowly rise and fall. Take note of where in your body you’re feeling tense. Imagine the tension steadily leaving your body as you let go of judgments and self-critical thoughts, as you introduce kindness and compassion into your body.
3. Walking to work
When you’re walking, focus on noticing all aspects of the process, not just seeing it as a means of getting somewhere. Focus on the physical sensations of your feet hitting the ground. Make a mental note of the “lifting,” “moving” and “placing” of each foot. You might coordinate each step with an inhalation, an exhalation or a complete breath, letting your natural breath determine your pace.
Notice any changes in temperature, light, sights and sounds. When you notice your attention naturally wandering to sounds, sights, smells or thoughts, you can stop walking and give that object your mindful attention, until you are ready to gently guide yourself back to the moment-to-moment sensations of your breathing or your steps.
What used to be a mundane task can be transformed into an enriching experience.
As you’re running, enjoy and appreciate the beauty of nature. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. You might try to run in step with your breath. Perhaps you can take two steps for each inhalation and two steps for each exhalation.
Notice what sort of energy you are feeling within your body. Is it stress? Is it anger? Or might it be exhilaration? Notice your stride. Do you need to make slight corrections to move effortlessly? Are there any areas of your body that are tenser than others?
Try to utilize the endorphins to consciously relax those areas. Remember, you are not thinking about what happened at work this morning or about what your partner said to you that you didn’t like. Instead, you are running mindfully. Your mind is focused on the sensations of the present moment.
5. In the midst of an argument
You can’t believe that he said that. You think to yourself, “He doesn’t really care about me.” You can feel your heart beating quickly. You’re about to lash out in anger. Being mindful in such a moment may seem impossible.
Too often, we automatically and unknowingly make quick judgments that are full of assumptions. Your mind becomes closed to new information. However, with openness and compassion, we can minimize the reactivity that clouds our thinking and causes an argument to spiral out of control.
Here’s how: Simply notice what is being said or done. Take a deep breath. Pay attention to how you’re feeling in your body. Notice the strong emotions that are tied to these physical sensations, and simply label them (anger, fear, etc.). As tempting as judgments may be, a mindful approach allows us the space necessary to notice these “shoulds,” “rights” and wrongs,” before you blame and shame your partner, which perpetuates the vicious cycle.
Before you respond, it helps to remember that this is the person that you love. Approaching conflict mindfully may bring you closer to what you really want.
About the Author
Andrew Kushnick is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. He specializes in providing a safe and supportive environment in which you can explore new pathways towards growth and fulfillment.