Ahh, mindfulness. We hear this term thrown around increasingly often lately, but what does it really mean? Isn't it like meditation or yoga or something? Well, sort of, but not exactly.
Being mindful means simply being present in the moment; using all your amazing human senses to experience each moment without judgement.
Join me for my favorite example:
Imagine that you are brewing a cup of tea. You begin by observing your hand turning on the stove. You might think to yourself, “I’m turning on the stove now.” Your mind turns back to a conversation you had with a friend earlier that day. You acknowledge those thoughts (like, “Hey there, I see you.”) then you let those thoughts pass by like clouds passing by on a clear summer day.
Then, moving a bit more slowly than usual, you return your focus to the present moment; you might say to yourself, “I am turning on the faucet to fill the kettle with fresh, cool water.” You hear the water rush. You feel the coolness of the water on your fingertips and enjoy the simplicity of the fresh feeling. In that moment, you think of nothing else. You are placing the kettle on the hot burner.
A helpful practice in mindfulness is to say things to yourself as you experience them. You say, “I am turning my body, I am reaching into the white cabinet for a mug - any old mug will do.”
Finding a heavy mug, you hold it in both hands and feel its texture, you feel how it is cool to touch, how it is just the right weight, how the mug is smooth yet solid. You find a small chip on the rim, by the large handle. You enjoy how the chip slightly scratches your fingertip.
As you begin to hear the tea kettle whistle its old familiar song, you gently place the mug on the counter. You pour the hot water and breathe in some of the steam floating up from the mug. You notice how the steam warms your nose. You breathe in the steam once more. Your glasses fog. You have a thought about how you need new glasses... you acknowledge that thought and let that thought cloud gently pass by.
You return your attention to the tea by placing the teabag into the hot water. Your phone buzzes. You glance at it. You take a deep breath and return your attention to the tea.
You say to yourself, “I’m picking up the mug of peppermint tea with both hands. I feel the heat of the tea as it warms my fingertips. I am walking into the living room with my tea. I am sitting with my tea in my favorite spot on the couch. Now, I am taking my first sip of tea. I am tasting the strong peppermint flavor and feeling the heat of the tea on the tip of my tongue. I forgot the honey!”
I hope you enjoyed this short, guided mindfulness example. Is mindfulness something you would like to incorporate into your daily routine? We often go through days on autopilot moving from task to task without ever being fully present in the moment.
As you begin your practice of mindfulness, gently remind yourself of these helpful elements:
Focus On the Present Moment and/or Your Breath. You can breathe normally or take deep, slow breaths – whichever technique helps you to be more present in the moment.
Do Not Worry About the Future or What Comes Next. This is easier said than done; we are all human and therefore we err, but raising our awareness of our thoughts daily can help us to remember that our thoughts and feelings are transient – like passing clouds or like cars zooming by on a highway. Our thoughts and feelings will always come and go, but we have the power to choose how we respond to those thoughts, or simply acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass.
Start Small. In your daily mindfulness practice, start by dedicating 5 minutes of the day. When thoughts, memories, or concerns about the future arise, softly guide your focus back to the present moment.
Laura Cooper, CSW, MSSW, TCADC
Clinical Social Worker
Laura enjoys helping clients empower themselves with stress management techniques, coping skills, and necessary resources along their journey to improved mental health and wellbeing.
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