Can you remember the last time you stopped to gaze at a beautiful sunset or to marvel at the serenity of blooming flowers?
When was the last time you really savored the aroma and all the tantalizing tastes of a refreshing drink or a gorgeous meal?
Can you remember the last time you really slowed down to hear and watch and feel yourself breathe?
In our “always-on” world, it would be accurate to say that many of us are disconnected. Not only from our immediate environment but also from our own bodies.
We are alive but only living on autopilot, having surrendered all power to our racing thoughts. In the midst of the many things we have to do, most of us are really not there. Our bodies are there doing stuff but our minds are somersaulting endlessly in a sea of fears, worries, anger, future expectations, and past regrets.
This is a state of mindlessness.
But mindlessness is not our natural state. We are not doomed to live a life of disconnection, chaos, anxiety, and despair. You have the ability to calm your mind, get in touch with your emotions, and reconnect with your body and everything that is happening around you.
This is a state of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be described as the ability to deliberately pay attention to the present moment without judging what is going on.
It is certainly not easy at first to just slow down, calm your mind, and bring your focus to the now. The good news though is that mindfulness is something that anyone can practice. You do not have to be a guru, saint, master, or hippie with all the time in the world. Mindfulness is accessible wherever and whoever you are.
By bringing your thoughts and emotions to the present moment, you can begin to recognize and appreciate the joy that you already have in your life, even if things do not seem so wonderful at face value.
We are accustomed to thinking that joy, happiness, peace and all these positive states are outside of us, elsewhere, and we need to chase them down there. In truth, these states are right inside us but our minds are just too distracted to notice.
Mindfulness allows you to look inside, to create space to think, feel and breath. To have a deeper awareness of everything that is happening around you. In the end, mindfulness helps to calm your mind so you can access happiness, joy, and peace anytime and anywhere.
Are you tired of feeling stuck in your head with never-ending racing thoughts? Do you want to learn how to practice mindfulness so you can finally experience the peace and happiness that has been so elusive?
In this article, you’ll learn about the incredible ways that mindfulness can change your life. You’ll also learn how mindfulness as a practice works, and how to incorporate mindfulness into your day-to-day life.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness consistently and deliberately has numerous benefits that can transform your life for the better. The best part is that many of these benefits are backed up by scientific findings.
For starters, practicing mindfulness simply helps you concentrate on the task at hand or in the present moment. If you usually have a hard time focusing on anything for too long whether that is a work task, school assignment, or a conversation with a friend, learning a few mindfulness tactics can help improve your concentration.
Mindfulness has also been found to boost working memory. In fact, new research shows that deliberate, slow breathing done over a period of time can slow down the brain’s aging process. This allows you to enjoy a more agile mind for longer even as you grow older by the day. 1
People who consistently engage in mindful practices such as meditation or yoga report feeling less stressed. They experience more self-compassion, greater empathy, lasting joy, a deeper spiritual connection, and even increased productivity. 2
While, there is no single, best way to practice mindfulness, you can benefit a lot from having a formal mindfulness practice that you perform regularly.
The Practice of Mindfulness
If you are new to the concept of mindfulness, it is important to familiarize yourself with what this is all about. Understandably, many misconceptions surround the idea of mindfulness. However, once you understand the basics, you will begin to ease into the practice and experience its true benefits.
So, as you get started, these are the most important things to keep in mind:
You need to deliberately set aside some time: Mindful practice does not require any expensive equipment, special candles, or exotic cushions and carpets. You only need to bring yourself and more importantly, you need to create some quiet time.
Mindfulness requires you to practice how to calm your mind: Slowing down your racing thoughts will not be easy at first but as you get started, you need to understand that the ability to quiet your mind is an important aspect of the meditation process.
Observe your judgment: Part of quieting your mind involves understanding that judgment will arise time after time and for a while, you may struggle to suspend these judgments. This does not mean that you are no good at this; all you have to do is to let the judgments arise, watch them go and then return to the present moment.
Mindfulness practice requires self-compassion: Many people who start a mindfulness practice struggle to keep their mind in the present moment but this initial struggle is a fundamental part of the process. Try practicing self-compassion—when thoughts keep clouding your mind, understand that you are not weak, or wrong and that with consistent practice, you will learn how to quiet your mind.
These are the fundamentals of mindfulness practice. Next, we will get into the actual practice that you can integrate into your daily schedule.
How to Practice Mindfulness
There are numerous mindfulness practices. As you go on, you can choose various practices that best align with your needs at any given time.
A good place to start is with intentional breathing meditation, which forms the basis of most mindfulness practices. As the name suggests, this practice involves quieting your mind by focusing on your breath.
The Intentional Breathing Meditation
- Set aside some time and find a quiet place to sit. Sitting allows you to remain comfortable for a period of time so you can fully focus on the practice.
- Posture: Ensure that your posture is comfortable by keeping your spine flexible. Do not slouch; keep your upper body straight.
- Avoid the urge to fidget by crossing your legs or placing them firmly on the ground, and resting your palms on your legs. This also allows the free flow of blood throughout your body. You will later transfer your hands to your belly or chest to feel the sensation of your breathing.
- Eyes: Gently, lower your eyes and just look at whatever is in front of you without completely focusing on the object.
- Breathe: To get the most out of your meditation practice, you need to get the breathing right.
How to breathe during a meditation practice:
- Notice your natural breath: Once you get your posture right, just sit there, and notice your breath. Envision the flow of your breath through your chest, belly, back, arms, and down your legs. Judgments about your breathing may arise but just observe these thoughts and let them go. As you continue to observe your breath as it flows through your body, your breathing will begin to slow down. You will feel a general oncoming sense of calmness.
- Focus your thoughts on your breathing: Now that you have the gist of observing your breath, it is time to intentionally bring your thoughts to your breathing. This helps to break the pattern of racing thoughts taking place in your mind. As you continue breathing naturally, bring your right hand to the middle of your chest and place your left hand on your lower belly. Relax, breath naturally, and feel the sensation as your chest and belly rise and fall. Continue this for about 20 breaths.
- Observe the flow of breath into your chest: Get deeper and deeper into quieting your mind by breathing into the hand that rests on your chest. Try breathing naturally into the cavity underneath your right hand. Do this for another 20 breaths before inhaling and exhaling deeply. Then, go back to breathing naturally for an additional 10 breaths.
- Observe the flow of breath into your lower belly: Now, with your left hand on your belly, breathe into the cavity underneath your hand for 20 breaths. Then inhale and exhale deeply, before going back to breathing naturally for an additional 10 breaths.
- Observe the flow of breath into both your chest and lower belly: Next, it is time to connect the breathing in your chest and your belly to form a full circuit. Inhale and breathe into your upper chest where your right hand rests. Pause for a second or two. Then, let the rest of your breath into your lower belly before pausing again. Now, complete the circuit by exhaling from your belly, releasing your breath here and then some into the cavity of your chest before letting it out through your mouth or nose. Do this for about 20 breaths, then inhale and exhale deeply, before resuming your normal breathing for 10 breaths.
- Observe your thoughts: As you undertake this breathing exercise, thoughts will crop up and will distract you from focusing on your breath. Notice these thoughts, acknowledge them, let them go, and return to observing your breath. Practice watching your thoughts without fighting them. Just let them swim away.
- Finalize your practice with deep breaths: Take full in breaths and full out breaths. Prolong the out breaths. Inhale and exhale deeply for about 20 breaths before getting back to breathing naturally for an additional 10 breaths.
- Take note: As you end your meditation practice, take a mental note or even write down what your experience was like. There is no right or wrong experience. But, it helps to remember how the entire practice felt at an emotional, mental, and physical level.
Why Focus on The Breath?
Many meditation practices are rooted in the idea of quieting the mind by focusing on the breath. You may wonder why this is. Why not focus on something else, perhaps an object that you can actually see?
When you deliberately inhale and exhale, this action reduces the heart rate. This in turn calms the nervous system and results in a quieter mind. Breathing in through the nose triggers brain signals to the amygdala, the region of the brain that controls memory and emotion. 3
Therefore, when you want to meditate, slowly breathing in and out helps to calm your nervous system. This allows both your body and mind to be still. Other than playing a vital role in controlling our cognitive and physical functions, there are other reasons why focusing on the breath is an effective approach to calming your mind.
The Breath Just Is
This is a powerful realization. You do not have to do anything per se for you to breathe. The breath just takes its ordinary cause through your body in such a subtle way that you do not notice. With its calmness and its acceptance of the present moment, you can always look to your breath when you want to quiet your mind.
The Breath Is Resilient
As long as you are alive, your breath is always available. Whether you are going through a difficult breakup, facing great challenges at work, battling an illness, or struggling to overcome procrastination, the breath never ceases. It’s always available. When you want to calm your mind and root yourself when faced with life challenges, the breath becomes a dependable companion.
The Breath Flows Inside
As mentioned earlier, all the feel-good experiences we are all looking for including peace, joy, happiness, and fulfillment are inside us. If only we could slow down and pay attention to the present moment, then we would be able to access these experiences. As the breath flows inside the body, it invites us to look inside ourselves. The moment we do, we touch Life itself. All other external hardships then melt away.
The practice of mindfulness is simple but it is certainly not easy. Remember, if you are just getting started, you may not be able to calm your mind instantly. You will battle with judgment but the good news is that with consistent practice, you will be well on your way to experiencing the deeply fulfilling benefits of mindfulness.
- Bullock, Grace. “How Meditation Protects the Aging Brain from Decline – Mindful”. Mindful, 2017, https://www.mindful.org/meditation-protects-aging-brain/.
- Paul, Marla. “Rhythm of Breathing Affects Memory and Fear”. Northwestern.Edu, 2016, https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2016/12/rhythm-of-breathing-affects-memory-and-fear/.
- Bordoni, Bruno et al. “The Influence of Breathing on The Central Nervous System”. Cureus, vol 10, no. 6, 2018. Cureus, Inc., doi:10.7759/cureus.2724. Accessed 22 Apr 2019.