In a world that bombards us with expectations, to-do lists, and a general litany of distractions, how does one begin to cultivate a practice of mindfulness?
I remember going through my first guided meditation in a yoga class. I had previously thought of meditation as a state wherein one's mind was entirely blank, and I had therefore determined that it simply was not achievable for myself. However, as my teacher guided me through breathing exercises and detailed body scans, I realized that meditation was so much more than that. And more importantly - it was entirely doable.
As my own meditation practice has grown, I have found that it is most accessible through what I can "Mindful Minutes" - these small spaces of time we all have wherein we can (instead of choosing to give into a distraction) meditate. Here are some ways I use these minutes:
This time is particularly fruitful for me as I live in rural Wyoming and my commute is a 30 minute drive on a lonely highway, but I believe it could be adapted for nearly any setting. Instead of turning on music, making phone calls, or running through your day's mental to-do list, use this time to engage in pranayama (mindful breathing). Focus on having your inhale and exhale be equal lengths, and hold slightly at the end of each (I usually start with inhale for 6 seconds, hold for 2, exhale for 6, hold for 2, etc). Notice the way the skin between your ribs expands in full inhales, and pull in your stomach at the end of each exhale to really expel any stagnant breath. Something that simple can greatly alter your presence of mind as you enter/exit your work day.
Okay, so I know this one may seem odd, but it is legitimate. Next time you have a meal, turn your TV off and set your phone out of sight. Between each bite, set down your fork and do not pick it up until you've swallowed the bite you're on. This simple practice has had pretty big results for me. I notice my food more (texture, flavor, etc) but I also notice how it affects me more (am I feeling bloated from this? Am I full yet?). One of the biggest results has been that I notice being full before I feel uncomfortably full, whereas I used to keep eating until it finally "hit" me and then I would feel like I overate. Ultimately, this little adjustment to meal time can really impact your experience.
These times are inherently relaxing for most of us, but why not take it a step further? You can again utilize pranayama in this venue, but another option would be to review the best part of your day or catalogue for what you are grateful. Meditation sometimes looks like a deep, trance-like focus. But sometimes it looks like shampooing one's hair and focusing on the good of the day rather than the bad. Gary Kraftsow, in his book Yoga for Transformation, describes that our personalities are not "fixed" things; we have the ability to alter them (even when it feels "un-us" to do so) if we would rather be different. This practice of mindful positivity rewires our brains to focus on the bright side, and we all know that when we are focused on that side of things it benefits us all day long.
I don't know about you, but when I am getting ready to sleep, I often set the alarm on my phone. And then I do a last social media check. And then I check the weather. And then 30 minutes of absolute nothingness has passed and I am still wide awake in bed. Ultimately, this is not a routine that aids in my sleep or, well, anything for that matter. A simple meditation before bed is much more beneficial. A nice end-of-day reflective practice is setting an intention for the upcoming day and also letting go of the "baggage" from the current day. I usually pair this with pranayama exercises. Start with eyes closed and just observe your body and your breath and your mind. Then think of anything from the day that has weighed you down, but which you do not need to carry (maybe it was a comment made by a colleague or a news headline about which you can do nothing). On every exhale, imagine these items leaving your body. Then, begin to think about an intention you can set for the next day (to love more, to be more patient, to smile more frequently, etc). With every inhale, picture this intention filling your body. You may do this sitting or lying down, but either way let the focus be on release -- sink into this evening time as you prepare to sleep.
If any of the above don't seem to work well for you, a very simple way to incorporate mindfulness is by creating "mini-pauses" throughout your day. These pauses are simply moments where you stop what you are doing, sit in stillness, and observe your breath and your senses: What noises do you hear? What smells are in the air? Is your breathing slow or fast; shallow or deep? These pauses can be 1-2 minutes long and are incredibly unobtrusive. Consider making them a habit by setting your phone alarm to go off every hour. Or, if you work a desk job you might say that after every 10 emails (or every ___ calls, etc) you'll give yourself a minute (literally) for mindfulness.
The important thing to know is that starting your own mindfulness practice does not need to be a big, dramatic commitment. Honestly, if you start out with the goal of, say, 30 minutes a day, then you might find that you've set yourself up for failure. The fact of the matter is that mindfulness is not particularly easy, so by using little times and spaces that already exist in your day, you'll find it easier to step into the practice. It all starts with one small decision; one little step; one short minute. Commit to that and see where it takes you.
Brooke is a contributing author for Tada Rugs. Tada Rugs is a 5x7 yoga mat disguised as an artistic area rug that you never have to put away. Tada is short for tadasana, or mountain pose, and our own backyard in the San Juan Mountains of Durango, Colorado is where we find our inspiration. Check out our new designs, enter for a chance to win a new Tada Rug, and be sure to follow us for deals and insider specials! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, or contact us through our website! Tie a room together and bring your practice home.
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