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November 23, 2014

How To Practice Mindfulness

Having a Mindful Awareness Moment

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Life is what happens while you’re doing other things.” Mindful awareness plucks you out of “mind stupors” and plops you smack dab into what’s happening in the moment. It opens you up to the deep mystery of being alive without the need for numbing yourself with future worries, frenzied activities, or multitasking. You might even begin to notice a fascination with the simple things, beauty in the ordinary, richness in the humdrum.

Easing Yourself into the Present

Cultivating mindfulness in your life takes willingness, awareness, and a shift in your perspective. Here’s a real-life example to show you what I mean:

When it came to his high-pressured job, Jason squeezed every second out of his personal life. Most nights he came home beat, his two excited boys jumping all over him. As a way to reduce his stress, Jason decided to ask his wife and kids to give him fifteen minutes to unwind when he came home from work. But after learning about mindfulness, Jason had a lightbulb moment. He realized that the sweetest times in his life were when his sons tackled him at the front door. Why would he push away those tender moments, knowing that he wouldn’t get a do-over someday?

So instead of putting off his most treasured moments, Jason put himself into them and savored each second. The shift actually relaxed and rejuvenated him more than a fifteen-minute reprieve. Instead of changing his outer world, Jason’s revelation enabled him to switch his inner world. This is the first step in mindful awareness: close attention to what’s right before your eyes instead of rushing past it, pushing it away, or trying to change it.

Levels of Mindfulness Practices

As with any new activity, you can practice mindfulness at different levels. You can weave formal and informal practices into your life, depending on your schedule and how far you want to go with it. This chapter is concerned mainly with informal level 1 practices- mindful awareness as you go through your daily activities, which is a good entry into a mindfulness experience if this is new territory for you.

Practicing mindfulness is like a physical fitness program; you start slowly and build up your concentration and strength of presence. If you’re out of shape and want to get physically fit, you start out small by doing things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking a distance from the mall instead of parking near the entrance. In the same way, you start your entry into mindfulness with practices that are already built into your day. Without changing your routines, you can make small attitude adjustments in your daily activities like eating, cooking, walking, and working.

Level 1: Open Awareness Practice

Level 1 mindfulness is peacefully observing your awareness of everything you do. It can be any brief activity that makes you awake and aware of what’s happening as it happens in the flow of your daily routines. You can intentionally walk with present-moment awareness by bringing your attention to the sensations of your feet against the ground, or noting the feel of the open sky, sights, and sounds around you as you make your way to the parking garage.

You can even practice open awareness right now. As you read on, you might find your mind wandering from time to time. Just be aware of your wandering mind, let it be okay, and gently bring it back to the words on the printed page.

Level 2: Focused Attention Practice

If you have the time and interest, you can take your mindfulness practice to the next level. Level 2 practice is a more formal schedule that involves dedicated times to  focused attention. The equivalent in building your exercise regimen would be working out on your StairMaster for twenty minutes a day or going to the gym for an aerobic class three times a week.

Typically, in level 2 mindfulness, you set aside time in the day to sit down in a quiet place. You focus your attention on your breathing, a mantra, or an object of concentration.

Level 3: Intensive Event Practice

If you want to go hog wild, you can attend an intensive event at a mindfulness workshop or retreat center. Mindfulness intensives are held in a specific place with a group of people, often in silence, for an extended period of time. The exercise equivalent would be biking in the Tuscan countryside for a week or going to a weight-loss spa for several days. There are many excellent retreat centers across the United States.

Practicing Mindfulness Exercises

Informal mindfulness exercises can reduce the stress that accumulates during your daily activities, generating more energy to carry you through demanding situations. Paying closer attention to the routines that you usually fast-forward through will give you fresh, new insights to your life. If your mind kicks into high gear and tries to hurry you through these exercises, take a deep breath and gently bring your attention back to the present moment and the task at hand. Studies show that because this slowing down changes your body chemistry, you’ll be more peaceful on the inside and more productive in the long run.

Take a Mindful Morning Shower

Try a mindful exercise during your morning shower. Pay attention to the sounds and feel of thousands of beads of water splashing against your skin. Hear the rushing water beating against your shower curtain and smacking against the tub. As you lather your body, be aware of the smell and feel of the slippery soap gliding over your skin, the soap bubbles swelling and popping on your neck, arms, and chest. Notice how the water feels rolling down your body, the fresh fragrance of shampoo and its cleansing feel against your scalp. As you dry off, feel the fabric of the towel against your skin. Continue your present-moment awareness while brushing your teeth and going through the rest of your morning routine.

Prepare a Mindful Meal

Prepare a meal as if you’re cooking it for the first time. Pay close attention as you assemble the ingredients. Notice the unique character of each vegetable, fruit, or piece of meat- the myriad of colors, diverse smells, and varied textures of foods. Even the sounds are different as you chop, slice, cut, grind, and pound. You might pop an ingredient into your mouth, noting its texture against your tongue and its unique taste. As you combine the different ingredients, notice the visual transformation as they become one. While you’re cooking, observe the chemical process as the separate items morph into a collected whole. Inhale the aroma, noting if you can still identify the unique smells of each ingredient or simply one succulent blend. When you sit to eat, take in the smells and colors of the metal before you dig in.

Wake Up! Are You Out of Your Present Mind?

After you’ve completed a few of these exercises, you might discover another world that you hadn’t noticed before. Ask yourself the following questions and record your thoughts and feelings in your stress journal:

  • As you looked at your usual routines in a new way, what did you notice?
  • Were you aware that there’s more happening around you and inside you than you realized?
  • Did your thoughts kick into gear and try to rush you through the activity?
  • Were your old stressors along for the ride or did they stay behind?
  • As you notice where your mind is from moment to moment, do you feel more connected to yourself? Does your life seem more vivid?

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Bryan Robinson’s book: The Smart Guide To Managing Stress and has been published with permission from the author. 

About Dr. Bryan Robinson

Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., is author, psychotherapist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has authored thirty nonfiction books including such popular self-improvement books as: The Art of Confident Living (HCI Books, 2009), Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians who Treat Them (New York University Press, 2007), Don’t Let Your Mind Stunt Your Growth (New Harbinger Press, 2000), Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself (HCI Books, 1992), and Heal Your Self-Esteem (HCI Books, 1991). His latest book, The Smart Guide to Managing Stress, was released in April, 2012. Bryan’s debut novel, Limestone Gumption, (a Southern murder mystery) will be published by Gale/Five Star Publishers in January, 2014.

To know more about Dr. Bryan, visit his website

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