Mindfulness is the quality of intentionally being present in the moment and clearly noticing what is happening in it. We can be mindful of everything that goes on around us including the sights, the sounds, the smells, what we taste, touch, think and what we feel through our emotions. It also means being open and honest about what is happening in the moment, and observing it rather than trying to control it. (Which is where stress usually comes from).
Mindfulness can improve our lives in a variety of ways. When we are mindful of each moment, our life takes on a reverence and awe, and we find gratitude comes easily because we are noticing the miracles of each moment.
Research has shown that this practice can benefit both the body and the mind as it helps reduce the stress we feel in our daily lives. It has been a proven way to deal with stress in the medical setting (Mindful Based Stress Reduction- MBSR) and is also being introduced in the school setting for educators and students. A growing body of research is finding that when students practice mindfulness, they experience better focus and concentration, an increased sense of calm, and can better manage their emotions.
Mindfulness is easier to practice when you anchor onto something that brings you to the present moment. It might help to think of an anchor in mindfulness just as you would on a boat. It keeps you in one place and if you start to drift away, it brings you back. Here are a few anchors to get you started:
- Your Breath– Focusing on the breath is an easy and quick way to center yourself. Simply sitting and concentrating on your breathing can bring you to the moment. You can focus on your belly rising and falling or feel the breath come in and out. You can also count your breaths to whatever number you choose (10 is a good number) and continue for as long as you are able. When you first start, 1 minute may seem like 1 hour, but as you practice and get better at it, you can sit for longer. (and that’s what mindfulness is- it’s a practice).
- Sound- Sound is another way to anchor your thoughts and focus on the present moment. Simply stopping to listen to all of the sounds around you can bring you back from whatever thoughts and emotions you may be feeling that you may not want to feel.
- Your Body- We can also use our bodies to anchor us. We often disassociate ourselves from what our bodies are feeling unless we are in pain, but what about paying attention to the body and the miracle that it is when we aren’t in pain? We do this by performing a body scan. You can find many guided meditations for this, but you can also do it yourself by focusing on different parts of your body. Think about your feet and put all of your attention there. How do they feel inside your shoes? How does each toe feel? Can you feel the pressure of the floor? Do they feel hot or cold? Heavy or light? Continue thinking about the sensations until you get to the top of your head.
There are many other ways to practice mindfulness, including using anchor words, mindful walking and eating, being mindful of our emotions and thoughts, and practicing heartfulness and compassion toward others. But hopefully, you now have a general understanding of what mindfulness is and some tips that might help you try it out. It works!