5 Important Pieces to a Mindful Life
Using Mindfulness for Mental Wellness
Mindfulness is having its moment right now, and while some wellness ideas and trends fall off the map when something new or better comes along, mindfulness isn’t going anywhere. Mindfulness has been around and used as a spiritual and wellness practice for thousands of years; more recently (as in...the last 100 years), it has been used in psychology as a practice to reduce stress, combat anxiety and depression, and improve overall mental health.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of noticing without judgment. And while the definition is simple, the practice can sometimes feel far from simple. Especially if you’ve experienced a traumatic event in your life, deal with chronic stress, or have complex trauma, mindfulness can feel like an invitation to jump into a stormy sea.
A simple moment of mindfulness
Let’s try it for a moment. Just stop what you’re doing, remove distractions (tv, phone, etc.), sit in a comfy position, and close your eyes (if this is uncomfortable, lower your gaze to the floor instead). Take a deep breath and notice what you feel like in your body. You might notice sensations, feelings, thoughts, pop into your consciousness. From here you could move into mindful meditation, but for now, just notice what you feel. This is being mindful at the most basic level. You’ll read more here in the coming months about the deeper nuances of mindfulness and meditation, which is a practice I use with my clients here at Novo Life Counseling.
5 Important pieces to living a mindful life
I was driving home down a road that I have driven often. Deep in thought as usual, I spontaneously looked up and saw the trees. Trees that have always been there, on a hill that has always been there, and yet for some reason, in this moment I noticed them.
I had always been deep in thought on this road previously and sincerely could not remember seeing the trees the way they were in that moment. It sort of surprised me. And then, as my mind made sense of this “new” sight, I noticed my perspective of the area changed. The way it felt was different and the way it looked felt new to me. It reminded me of the importance of living mindfully and just how easy it is to not live mindfully.
1. It’s a marathon, not a 100 meter dash.
The roadblocks I run into personally and with clients is often that the wish is to be mindful now. How can I be a mindful person now?? While this would be so helpful to be able to just flip a switch and turn on mindfulness, like most things in life, it takes practice.
2. Remember the “without judgement” part.
So it's not a 100 meter dash, right? Well, often what can happen is that our first attempt (or first several!) at mindfulness is just a battle to do it “right,” which causes us to feel that we’re failing at it. Somehow we can even set a standard for how to be mindful, when the only requirements are to notice. But it’s important to remember that all the information we take in is just that...information. We aren’t looking to judge what we take in and notice, we’re just looking to notice.
3. Mindfulness is moment by moment, not just every once and awhile.
While there is not a standard to doing mindfulness “perfectly” or “right,” it is something that needs to be consistent. The more you notice, the more you notice. Practice mindfulness often, the more that your mind will be used to doing it. Which means you will begin to see that you’re being mindful without thinking about it. Over time, you’ll start to notice your needs and feelings without being controlled by them.
4. Look at everything as information, not instructions.
Feeling stressed? Feeling afraid? That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to act on them. But, when practicing a mindful life, you take all this in as information to explore. If I pause to be mindful, notice that my heart is beating a bit hard, I feel a little shaky, and I notice anxious feelings, I can explore that a little bit to see what the cause of my anxiety is, what I might need in the moment, what patterns may be in my life that contributes to anxiety, etc. Notice how in the moment, I didn’t react to the anxiety? I explored it, examined it, and let it inform me.
5. Mindfulness is not only for our feelings.
We don’t have to be sitting in silence to practice mindfulness. We can be mindful in all areas of life! We can practice mindful eating by noticing how certain foods affect our bodies, eating when we are hungry, stopping when we are full, enjoying each bite we take and the flavors, textures, and other sensation we feel while eating, and more. We can practice mindfulness in relationship by noticing how people impact us, how certain activities with others bring up feelings, etc. We can even practice mindfulness sitting and watching television. Again, mindfulness is noticing! And living our lives gives us lots to notice.
Mindfulness is a practice that will benefit you in so many ways. You’ll be more aware of yourself and surroundings, you’ll discover what you need, and you’ll be able to explore feelings and needs without being controlled by the sea of your emotions. Tell us, have you practiced mindfulness before? What was your experience like?
Thanks for reading!
Erin Sanchez, M.S., LMFTA