By Sarah Postlewaite, Courier & Press, Feb. 16, 2016 –
Mindfulness is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. It seems to be the “buzz word” of the moment.
However, many people don’t fully understand the concept of mindfulness. There is also a lot of confusion about how it works and how to do it.
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It is the faculty of purposefully bringing awareness to one’s experience.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers of mindfulness, defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Why do we want to be more mindful? Mindfulness has a whole list of benefits including improving attention, increasing compassion, assisting in emotion regulation, improving calming techniques, and improving adaptability and resilience. There is solid scientific evidence that mindfulness works and improves the quality of life for those who practice it.
Mindfulness practices can be applied to any experience: sensations in the body, emotional experience, thoughts, sights or sounds. The quality of the attention is more important than the object of attention.
So basically, it doesn’t matter what you are paying attention to; just pay attention. If you are showering, don’t plan your day — think about showering. Whatever the task may be, the purpose is to fully focus on what you are actually doing in that moment.
When discussing mindfulness, I hear others say the struggle is that their mind continues to wander or it is difficult to focus and get started.
The first method of practicing mindfulness that I learned and always share with others is the counting breath technique. Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet room and close your eyes. Then, just count your breaths.
As you breathe in, say “1” to yourself. As you breathe out, say “1” to yourself. On your next in- breath, say “2” to yourself. On your next out-breath, say “2” to yourself. Continue on until 10, and then start back at 1. It’s that simple. Count your in and out breaths until you get to the number 10 and then start over.
The counting breath technique is a formal mindfulness practice, a way of taking a moment out of your daily life to sit and just practice mindfulness. The formal mindfulness practice leads to more moments of mindfulness in our daily lives.
When I think of my own mindfulness practice and helping others with theirs, I always come back to wise words I heard regarding mindfulness years ago when I first began to practice:
Things will happen to us in life that can cause us a lot of pain and suffering. Learning and practicing mindfulness gives us the opportunity to not just cope with life, but to thrive.
We can’t always control the events that happen in our lives, but we can come out on the other side not just coping, but thriving.