Practising everyday mindfulness
Mindfulness isn’t just something you do at home or in a class; once you know how, you can practise mindfulness any time, anywhere.
Formal meditation practice can involve sitting, lying or standing still and doing something like focusing on your breath or scanning the sensations in your body, but this is just a starting point for practising everyday mindfulness.
Once we learn to master these basic skills, we can practise mindfulness anywhere.
For example, you can stop and take a few deep breaths as you walk towards a difficult encounter or in those moments of waiting between things (eg at a bus stop, while waiting for a friend or waiting for a meeting to start).
However, mindfulness isn’t only about breathing. It’s about using different cues in your environment to become aware of your body, thoughts and emotions.
You can use a number of techniques in your day to develop mindfulness, such as focusing on the sensation of your feet touching the ground as you walk. These are what Eric Harrison calls spot meditations.
As you gradually become more familiar with these practices, several things can happen.
You learn to pause
Pausing adds a different type of rhythm to our day and is an effective way of taking some control over the day’s progress, even when things may seem ‘out of control’.
You begin to become more aware of your body
Mindfulness is very much about the body, not just the mind. The two most popular mindful techniques (following the breath and scanning sensations in the body) rely on paying attention to the body to calm the mind.
Our body and its connection to the brain is a wonderful and complex thing, and we too often ignore the cues our body sends us. So, if your back is hurting because you’ve been sitting for too long, pay attention. Stand up and move around. You’ll quickly feel better for it.
You begin to become more aware of your emotions and feelings
Learning to read the way that your body, mind and emotions act as a connected network of signals means that when you sense something in your ‘gut’, you can pause and try to discern exactly what’s going on. Often just acknowledging, naming and noting a feeling will allow you to move forward more confidently.
Dr Chris Walsh, one of Australia’s leading mindfulness pioneers, suggests that doing simple mindfulness check-ins throughout the day has three significant effects:
- It helps to enhance positive experiences.
- It helps us manage difficult experiences.
- It helps us manage transitions.
In relation to this last point, Walsh notes that:
… managing transitions is really important and at times it can be quite difficult. It requires you to step back and reassess new situations. Sometimes we bring in something from the old situation that is difficult to let go of. For example, you may have had a hard day at work where you have had difficult interactions with co-workers … It is very hard to leave that kind of thing behind as you come home. If you are not able to leave it behind, at least you can acknowledge it in a respectful and mindful way, first to yourself and then to others if appropriate. If you let others know that you are stressed it can help them to orient themselves to you. (2016, para. 22-23)
Spot meditation and self check-ins for a pandemic
In times of crisis cultivating regular self check-ins and spot meditations become an important way of creating a routine that can anchor and support us.
One of the key pieces of advice from health experts about protecting ourselves and each other during the COVID-19 pandemic is to wash our hands frequently. This can become an invitation to pause and mindfully focus. Taylor Plimpton has some advice on turning these moments into meditations.
The Greater Good Science Center suggests six questions to ask ourselves as we “shelter in place”. One of these is “What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?”.
Which of these techniques worked best for you and why?
Share your experience and any other discoveries you made with other learners in the comments.
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