Getting Started with Mindfulness

This year has been an incredible journey for me and my health.  I have more energy, feel happier, and I’m far more self-accepting of who I am.  I have also been blessed to meet a variety of wonderful people because of this blog.  One of those people is Justini Mastin a Councillor and Yoga instructor of yogaquest.org.

She first came to my attention because of the geeky narrative yoga classes she conducts, but during our online discussions she introduced me to mindfulness, and I knew right away this is information I needed to share on my blog.  Luckily, Justini was more than willing to share thoughts and ideas on mindfulness, and so has written up this introduction…

What is Mindfulness?

In the simplest terms, it’s being aware of the present moment. It’s important, because when we don’t practice mindfulness, we’re just going through life not noticing it. If we are focused on the past, we fall into depression; when we’re focused on the future, we succumb to anxiety. It is living in, and experiencing, the present moment where we find peace. Being mindful sounds easy – be aware of the present moment. But if it were easy, we’d all be doing it every moment of every day, and we don’t.

When people think of mindfulness, they often think of mindfulness meditation – and that is certainly something that you can do, but it can feel like a daunting place to start. How do you even meditate? Do you have to sit on the floor? What if I’m scared to close my eyes?

Tea Time

One place that I like to start with folks who are beginning a mindfulness practice is with a cup of tea. Most of my therapy clients practice this, and I will find them practicing it even in session. The purpose of this practice is to slow down and notice. mindful teaPay attention as you make your tea – take the time to pick out a mug that feels and looks comforting, next choose the tea – smell the tea leaves before you place them in the water to steep. Notice the tea. What does that tea smell like? What does themug feel like in your hands? Does the heat stay just in your hands, or radiate up to your wrists? Is it too hot to hold for very long? What does the tea look like in your mug? And finally, taking a few slow and deliberate sips, what does the tea taste like?

Sit with your cup of tea – savoring it. Noticing it. Being in the moment with it.  Even if it’s only for thirty seconds, sit with your tea without TV or computer or radio even without another human being (if that’s possible for you), and experience this moment that is right now. How is that experience different than the last time you had a cup of tea?

Thought for Food

As you sit down to your next meal, go through the steps above. Take just one bite with this mindful attention, and if it feels right, try another one. It’s too much to ask of yourself to take every bite of every meal mindfully. But each time you try this practice, you are gaining information.

Mindful eating is a huge opportunity for getting in tune with your self. Something that most people don’t even know how to identify is the feeling of hunger. Most people can identify when they are very hungry or when they are very full. But it is much more difficult for people to identify the feeling of mild to moderate hunger, and the feeling of satiation.

We have become conditioned to eat when we’re “supposed” to – it’s lunch time – or  when we’re not “supposed” to – it’s almost time for bed. What we’re missing there, is the bodily sensation. Take a moment and tune in to your body. What is it trying to tell you? Sometimes we reach for food but the feeling we’re experiencing isn’t physical hunger – it’s emotional. We can’t fill an emotional void with food, much as we try. If it’s an emotional hunger, start to ask yourself what is missing in your life that is causing you to feel depleted emotionally, and start to discover the things that fill you up emotionally. (Personally I like hugs from my kids – Mike :-)

Leveling up to Mindful Meditation

Once you’ve tried to experience a cup of tea, and a bite of a meal mindfully, perhaps you want to try out a seated mindfulness meditation. If you google mindfulness meditation, you’ll find a sea of information. Start small. Find a comfortable seat – on a chair or the floor, whatever’s most comfortable – if you’re in a chair, place feet flat on the floor, sit up as straight as is 15078184945_f2ebe577bb_zcomfortable, and place you hands in your lap or on your thighs. Have an object handy to focus on – in my therapy office, I have a Doctor Who K-9 figurine that we use as a gazing object, but use what works for you.

Focus on your object with your eyes, and start to notice your breath. Not trying to control your breathing, just notice what the air feels like as it comes in and goes out. Thoughts will come into your mind as you do this, that’s totally normal and something that will happen. Accept that the thought is there, recognize that it is a thought – you can even label it – this is a memory of the past, or this is a plan for the future – and then bring your attention back to your breath.

The Goal?

People often believe that the goal of meditation is to have a completely blank mind, but that isn’t really the case. The true goal is to keep coming back to the breath. It’s a circle – start with the breath, a thought comes up, we notice it and accept that it is there, and then let it go to return to our breath. It’s the recognizing and releasing of the thought that is the heart of the practice. If it feels comfortable, you can continue to practice this meditation with eyes closed – you can also try placing one hand to the heart and one to the belly – a great way to feel grounded in your body.

Take a moment to tune in to yourself right now. Notice the feelings in your emotional body – how is your mood? Notice the feelings in your physical body? Where do you notice areas of tightness or discomfort, and alternately, where do you notice areas of lightness and ease. As you do this check in, be aware that there is no “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong” there’s only what is, so notice what’s there. This is the root of mindfulness.

You can find more of Justini’s great writing on her blog, and I suggest you checkout her lastest post on food shaming. Also please consider heading over to the Yoga Quest Facebook page.  Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us Justini!

Images via Flickr Creative Commons: Green Tea – Kanko Dr. Who K9 – Counse Breath – Clint Lalonde

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