What is a "Mindfulness Practice"?
Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Maybe it’s just the feeds I follow, but I’ve noticed a lot more apps and posts about meditation and mindfulness. Which makes sense - as we spend our day scrolling through the interwebs on our phones and computers, we spend less and less time in our bodies and more time thinking about the past and the future, rather than the present. As we continually distract our minds, we lose sense of our being. We run around as “human doings” rather than human beings. Yoga is itself, a mindfulness practice. The purpose of yoga is thought to be moving your body so that you could comfortably take a seat - ie meditate with a still mind. Every sanskrit name of the pose ends in “asana” which means “to take a seat”. As we move our bodies, we’re creating space with our breath, our movement and our intention so that we can sit down and focus. In today’s day and age - we sit down and try to focus, but not only do we not really move our bodies, we don’t even pay attention to our bodies. Aches and pains become normalized, we forget how to eat foods that nourish us and choose what is most convenient instead. Eventually these choices catch up with us. So many of our modern diseases are preventable with diet and exercise. We’re now learning that many of our mental ailments, such as anxiety and some instances of depression, can also be addressed with a mindfulness practice. Meditation is often practiced independently of yoga, but the two go hand-in-hand. Both practices are intended to focus and create awareness. Meditation is often thought of as sitting quietly with beads, a candle and perhaps a mantra. These small rituals create a peaceful environment to sit quietly and reflect on sensations with in your body such as your breath. You’re encouraged to observe your thoughts like passing clouds, rather than engaging with them. For many of us, sitting in this stillness can be difficult. We don’t ask out bodies for stillness often so we fidget and adjust. Our modern lives don’t facilitate this space: we live in small apartments surrounded by technology, or maybe kiddos and pets - sometimes asking for a quiet space is asking too much. For me personally, meditation takes a different form. I find meditation as I move through slow, deep stretch yoga postures. I find meditation in nature. I find meditation whenever I am able to live fully in my body, aware but not hyper-focused on my surroundings. Taking in the smells of the blossoms on my bike commute serves as a reminder of the present for example. If I can maintain awareness of being outside and enjoying an aspect of nature like spring blossoms, I can let go of the traffic and the person who didn’t see me and cut me off a few blocks ago. The power of this act seems miniscule - maybe you’re thinking is she really telling me to stop and smell the roses?!. And I am, because choosing to let go of past anger and frustration in order to enjoy a moment in the present is a step toward building resiliency in our being. So what can you do day-to-day to find more of these moments to bask in? Here are a few tips that I use in my life:
- When I walk my dog, I leave my phone at home - opportunity to unplug!
- When I drive, I put on my favorite songs (while I’m still parked). When I sit in traffic, I choose to sing along rather than engage with the frustration. I also remind myself that everyone has somewhere to be and none of us what to be in that traffic.
- Leave my phone plugged in in the other room, but still use it as my alarm (I am a light sleeper, so I realize that this might not work for everyone. I had a roommate listen to Life After Death as her alarm and even Biggie Smalls barely woke her up each day!) - this gets me out of bed and I no longer spend the first and last minutes of the day on my phone
- Plan or schedule at least one way of moving every day. Biking, dog walks, a yoga class - all of it counts if you want it to.
As we start to build this time that is just for us, for letting our mind and body connect, we are incorporating a mindfulness practice into our lives. We quickly realize the importance of these rituals, and how these spaces, no matter how small, start to offer a glimpse of healing, of our own power and strength and just how resilient we are capable of being. The idea of being mindful is not an exercise of emptying your mind, but rather being more intentional. Meditation and yoga seek to add meaning to your thoughts through embodying your state of mind. I think that’s why my yoga hikes end up being a great experience for so many. We’re choosing to be in the present in several ways over a couple of hours - though hiking and conversation as well as the incorporated yoga classes. This time in nature is healing and opens up our connection both to our bodies, and to this Earth that sustains us. When we connect to our bodies better, we realize that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. That we have a purpose. And this can be the most healing realization of all.