The Practice of Being Present: How to Live More Mindfully
It’s not hard to live mindfully, it’s hard to break mindless habits. As a holistic psychotherapist and hatha yoga teacher, I confront pervasive maladaptive patterns in my clients almost daily. They remind me that becoming aware of our “autopilot” and learning to fully bring ourselves into the experience of life is no easy task. Mindfulness is a labour of love. I also know this for myself, as the start of my mindfulness practice began while I was lost in the thick of major depression. Talk about not feeling present. The last thing I wanted was any work that required my attention and stamina, even if it was for my betterment. While the practice of living in awareness is not easy, the connection you build with yourself makes the effort more than worth it. This connection increases your capacity for self-care, which leads to benefits such as stress reduction, improved sleep, and increased positive mood.
So, what is mindfulness, exactly? In short: be here, fully aware, without judgement. That’s it. Well, sort of. It is as simple as it is complicated. Sit alone and in silence for 60 seconds. Chances are you will be flooded with “mind chatter,” the conversations we have with ourselves about pretty much everything. Your mind may drift to your to-do list, reflections of your day, worries of tomorrow, what’s for dinner, the last song you heard, and on and on. The mind talks, jumping from thought to thought, as we are encouraged to do in order to survive a busy and stimulating world. The cost here is that we deny ourselves the blessing of Right Now. We spend the majority of our time in the stress of life instead of just living. Being. Feeling. Ultimately, we deny ourselves, and those around us, of ourselves. Here are some ways to begin integrating mindfulness as a lifestyle.
Set your alarm 15 minutes early. Wake up each morning and dedicate your first moments to creating the mood and mindset you want to carry throughout your day. While some folks like journaling or meditation, others may enjoy drinking a favourite tea in silence, praying, taking a sensual shower, or walking outside. The point here is to experience the moment with all your senses and set a foundation of peace and calm for your day.
You can’t give yourself what you need physically, mentally, or emotionally if you are not listening for signals.
Body Scan: Focus your attention on different body parts or muscle groups. Become aware of places you are holding tension and try to relieve the area. Assess if you need to eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. It may sound like a lot, but you would be surprised how many of the body’s messages we ignore!
Sit in silence. Observe what thoughts come to the surface without judging yourself for them. Try journaling or connecting with a therapist if you need to process what’s on your mind.
Ask yourself, “How am I doing right now? Am I okay?” Be honest. Take a break or reach out to a loved one. We all need support sometimes.
Commit to a target action for your day. For example, put your food down between each bite at lunch. Practice focused attention during conversation. Take a walk outside and reflect on how each step feels. Drive in the slow lane and experience what feelings arise. Whatever activity you choose, be fully invested in the experience.
Daily Gratitude List
Close each day in gratitude. Write 3 things that went well during your day.
Living in awareness requires relearning how to navigate our day, reorienting to our bodies, and exploring parts of ourselves we may not have even been aware of. Both my clients and personal experience have also taught me that stillness can be incredibly painful. Sometimes what arises in the silence may require the assistance of a counsellor or dedicated loved one. Losing the distractions and confronting ourselves in safety is where healing lies. In this confrontation, we find the space to discover who we are. Now. As is. In full. Loved. All this mindfulness stuff can feel overwhelming, especially if it is understood as a destination instead of a life-long, constantly evolving journey. Stick with me here: living intentionally is not your end-game, it is just the way you choose to be, day in and day out. Transformation is held within the small and mundane decisions to show up for life in wholeness; mind, body, and spirit. You are worth your time.
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