Perfecting the art of daily mindfulness
Rachel Patla, MA, LAC, NCC Adult Residential Behaviorist
Is it easy to be mindful? Quite honestly, I don’t think so.
Mindfulness is something that I struggle with on a daily basis, and I don’t think I am alone. Mindfulness is a popular buzzword in our current culture, but it has been around for a very long time. Just ask a Buddhist monk next time you get the chance. But what exactly is mindfulness? There seems to be some confusion about the topic. Some people think that in order to be mindful you have to practice meditation, and that means taking time out of your day to sit in a quiet place and do nothing. Most people in today’s society don’t have time sit on the floor on a pillow for even 10 minutes of the day. “There’s just too much to do,” “When I meditate all I can think about is everything that happened today and everything else that will happen.” These are some thoughts people tell me they have while trying to meditate. I can empathize with those thoughts because I don’t consider myself a great meditator.
Meditation and mindfulness certainly go hand-in-hand, but you don’t have to master meditation to master mindfulness. So, what exactly is mindfulness? It is being in the present moment. It is taking notice of how we are feeling, mentally and physically at any time of the day. It is realizing that we are rushing around, trying to do ten things at once, and stopping to take a deep breath to focus on one thing at a time. It is insight.
So why is it so hard?
For me, it is something that I need to constantly remind myself to do. I love to be busy, both at work and at home. I get a thrill of being able to do many things quickly and at once. Surprisingly, this does not always work in my favor. I forget things and sometimes I make mistakes. Every week I go to my favorite yoga class, and like many yoga classes we set a personal intention before we practice. My intention for the week is always the same: be mindful.
For many of us working in the mental health field we tell our clients to live in the present moment. “The past is not something we need to dwell on, and the future is uncertain so why worry about it?” These are examples of the constantly reiterated pillars of mental health. So when I teach my clients about mindfulness, or lead groups about the topic, I think I should be a shining example of how to be mindful. But I’m not.
This further explains my point that mindfulness is something that takes effort. It is something that I enjoy doing even though I find myself slipping at times. I can always bring myself back. It is a process.
One thing that helps is bringing my attention to my breathing. Our breathing changes constantly and really has an effect on our emotions. Taking a few deep breaths activates our relaxation response, and better yet helps me clear my thoughts. Another mindfulness technique I enjoy is scanning over each of my five senses while taking five deep breaths. Doing this during certain experiences actually facilitates my memory because I’m staying in the pure moment. I like to share these ideas with my clients, especially deep breathing because it is so simple. All the while making sure they know that mindfulness is like any other activity: in order to get better, you have to practice.
Side note: This post was inspired by a new favorite book of mine titled: This Moment Is Full of Wonders, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is a great tool to use with clients and in your daily mindfulness routine.