Mindfulness is being used in schools, colleges and universities to help teachers and students to improve their attention, interactions with each other, and understanding of others.
Lawyers and judges use mindfulness to listen to and present evidence and reduce distractions. In other work settings, business leaders, workers and HR departments are using mindfulness training to reduce workplace stress, improve focus, communication, creativity and productivity.
And mindfulness is widely used in the treatment of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety. It’s also used to assist people with medical conditions, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, hypertension and insomnia and to improve the symptoms of stress.
If you’re new to mindfulness, you likely already have some understanding of what it is and its benefits. Now you’ve made a decision to try it.
Many people have heard the definition of mindfulness: paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, nonjudgmentally.
But if you don’t have access to a mindfulness training program through your work or through therapy, how do you start a mindfulness practice?
It’s hard to learn mindfulness on your own. It is possible, just as it’s possible to teach yourself to play the piano by reading books and practicing on your own. Mindfulness can be learned on your own through books, apps, YouTube videos and other resources.
However, like playing the piano or learning a sport, good instruction can significantly improve your learning.
And so, the first step to a mindfulness practice may be to research work programs, the possibility of accessing programs through your insurance or a mental health provider or mindfulness opportunities in your community. Many yoga classes or studios, for example, incorporate mindfulness into the practice or have a class that is devoted to mindfulness or meditation techniques.
But like a new exercise regime, once you’ve made the decision to try it, you may want to just get started.
If that’s the case, you can try the following exercise, which is an example of a mindfulness exercise.
- Choose a time when you have 10 minutes to yourself and find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Whether you are at your desk at work or in your home, clear the space of obvious distractions. Put away phones, email and other distractors. If setting a timer would help you stay focused, rather than worried about how much time you have, then set a timer.
- Acknowledge any thoughts or judgments you have about starting your mindfulness practice. You may be uncomfortable, skeptical or excited. Our minds are constantly thinking, so you may want to notice whether you are caught up in thoughts as you get ready for your practice. If this is the case, simply acknowledge thoughts and emotions that come into your awareness and then refocus on getting settled and comfortable.
- Once settled and comfortable, you can choose to close you’re eyes or keep your gaze focused in one spot in front of you. Take a few deep breaths and then begin by bringing your attention to your breath, as you breath in. Notice the tip of the nose as your breath enters your body. Continue to breathe normally, following your inhalations as your breath flows down into your lungs. Notice your lungs expand as your breath fills them and then notice them begin to contract during your exhalations. There is no need to change your breathing. Simply notice it as it flows in and out of your body.
- Follow your exhalations, with your awareness, as they flow out of your body. Notice your breath flowing from the lungs, up through airways and out your nose again.
- Continuing following your breath in this manner for 10 minutes. The first few times you practice, you may find that much of your time is spent lost in thought, rather than focused on your breath.
- The practice of mindfulness is about beginning to notice these internal distractions and mind wanderings and, once noticed, to bring your focus back. You may lose focus and bring your attention back many, many times over the course of several minutes. Don’t worry, this is part of the practice.
When you practice a piece on the piano, your fingers are more likely to find the right notes with repetition. In mindfulness, with practice and repetition, you will likely find that you are better able to keep your focus and are less distracted by thoughts and emotions that come up during your practice.
A piano teacher may help you to make a song come to life, by focusing on dynamics or by following the beat. In the same way, learning mindfulness with an experienced practitioner can help you to improve your practice.
One of the appealing aspects of mindfulness practice is that it can be integrated into daily life, but to do that, you need to have times when you formally practice, either with instruction or by intentionally setting time aside for it on your own. Research studies tend to find positive outcomes with 20 minutes of daily practice.
Simply becoming more aware might sound easy, but we often don’t realize how distracted we are in our lives. Retraining our minds takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. And what’s better to focus your awareness on than the everyday aspects of your life?