All This Talk of Mindfulness … What IS IT?
Partially re-posted from my “Eating Disorders in Schools” blog on Gurze publications.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”* When I teach students about mindfulness I explain that it is an important part of living consciously. It is important to be aware – awake – alert. Without paying attention, our life flies by… usually with a LOT of stress.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be a long meditation or yoga or other practice. There are an array of “daily” things that deliver the same impact — and they are user-friendly, too. Oh, and by the way — mindfulness is also REALLY good for you. In fact, mindfulness techniques and strategies have been particularly effective in managing, treating and healing eating disorders. Part of the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) style of therapy draws on the ancient concepts of mindfulness and meditation. Patients who struggle with high anxiety, high blood pressure or cardiac issues are given mindfulness exercises.
So here are a few tips about how you can start incorporating mindfulness into your life in less than five minutes a day …
Journal writing. Yes. That’s right. Journaling can help us cultivate mindfulness. Writing is a proven stress management technique that we can use to instantly calm us down and unite our body, mind and spirit. The physical act of writing physically connects the brain to the body and allows emotions and feelings to flow onto the page. The act of writing and journaling is also something that brings us into the present moment, where we can live more consciously and in a state of mindfulness. Through journaling we can begin to observe the conscious and unconscious choices we make in life. According to the American Psychological Association, expressive writing offers physical benefits and improves immune functioning.**
I recommend that you should journal or free-write at least 2 minutes per day. In doing so, you will learn how to cope with stress, you will be brought directly in contact with the present moment, and — because journaling has clinically shown to reduce anxiety and enhance immune system functioning — you are accessing a quick and easy point of entry to mindful living.
Mindfulness is a crucial part of stress management — a healthy addition to your arsenal of coping skills.
So … What is meditation?
Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are that “Meditation is synonymous with the practice of non-doing. We aren’t practicing to make things perfect or to do things perfectly. Rather, we practice to realize the fact that things are perfect — as they are. This has everything to do with holding the present moment in its fullness without imposing anything extra on it, perceiving its purity and the freshness of its potential to give rise to the next moment.”*
One of the tools we have to access mindfulness and meditation is actually contained within our own body. Our breath allows us to become mindful (almost immediately) and is a crucial aspect of meditation. In fact, in ancient traditions, breathing is referred to as “life force” or “prana.” According to Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Breathe, You Are Alive, “Breathing is a way of awakening and maintaining full attention in order to look carefully, long, and deeply, see the nature of all things and arrive at liberation.”
Most every yoga, movement, exercise or meditation practice is centered around a breathing technique. In yoga, we call these techniques “pranayama” which translates to mean life-force lengthening. Our breath is our life force. It connects our bodies, our minds and our spirits to all things. Our breath can tie us to the present moment, it can calm us, it can reduce our heart rate during anxious times, it can help us find peace.
Most everything you need to calm down is inside of your own body. One of the breathing exercise that is most calming and centering, is called Nadi Shodhana or “alternate nostril breathing.” For a demonstration, watch this video.
Often students ask me what they should be thinking about as they breathe. Truly — the goal is to think about the breath. It is that simple (and yet complex). To simply follow the breath in and out without judgment or negativity. There are a few poems or mantras that can help. For example, “breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.” or “Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.”*** But really, all you need to try to do is focus on your breath.
Naturally, minds will wander, so is important to reinforce that you should observe your thoughts without judgment, in a state of loving-kindness and see if you can direct your thoughts back to the present moment.
Mindfulness and conscious living isn’t easy to do, which is why it takes practice — and why we call these exercises a “practice” — they take time for everyone to learn and to feel comfortable with. For more mindfulness resources and articles, visit NORMAL nonprofit’s website.
*Kabat-Zinn, J., Wherever You Go, There You Are p. 19-25.
** Gortner, E.M., Rude, S.S., & Pennebaker, J.W. (2006, Sep). “Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms.” Behavioral Therapy, 37 (3), 292-303.
***Nhat Hanh, T., Breathe, You Are Alive p. 25-82
Robyn Hussa is the Author and Editor of the We Are The Real Deal blog universe and Founder and CEO of the NORMAL nonprofit. She is a national speaker on the topics of body image, eating disorders and mindfulness. Learn more…