Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose and in the present moment. If that sounds deceptively simple, annoying even, you’re not alone. I’ve haphazardly tried various meditation and relaxation techniques only to later abandon them in a humph.
But after talking with local experts, I learned that mindfulness is a skill—like riding a bike—that requires practice in order to create new habits and reap big rewards.
“Your mind will never be convinced there is time to pause. Because the mind is always rushing into the future. Mindfulness is being in the present,” Sarah Guglielmi of the Himalayan Institute told me when I visited her.
This rush is especially true for a society where busyness is treated like a badge of honor. Our minds race from the time we wake until our heads hit the pillow at night. But there are small changes you can make to be more mindful in the moment without overhauling your entire lifestyle.
“Whatever you do the first thing in the morning, especially the first hour, sets the tone for your day. If you’re rushed, you will feel that imprint the rest of the day,” said Guglielmi.
Instead, she suggests setting aside the first 10 minutes of your day just for you. Before you look at your phone or turn on the television, sit in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee and allow yourself to just be.
“Most of us, we know what it feels like to be doing but we don’t know what it feels like to just be. You have to learn how to pause and stop the momentum,” added Guglielmi.
Use your senses
Nicole Chumsky, a licensed mindfulness coach at Be Embodied, shared tips on hopping off the endless thought train that prevents us from being in the here and now.
“From right where you are, create a list. Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste,” said Chumsky.
“This helps you get present-moment focused and pay more attention.”
She also offered a body-scan exercise if you’re feeling jittery and distracted by thoughts. In a meeting, for example: “Feel your feet on the earth and your back on the chair. These points of contact will help anchor yourself in the moment and calm your body.”
Take a breath
Mindful breathing can be intimidating. So many techniques are floating around the internet, it’s hard to know what to do. But according to Chumsky, “you don’t have to change your breathing in order to do it. Simply try to have your exhales double your inhales.”
If you naturally breathe in for two seconds, try to exhale for four seconds and repeat. By breathing more mindfully, you can lower your heart rate and feel more calm.
The above may be all new habits for you, which is why it can feel daunting to start.
“It helps to attach (your practice) to something you’re already doing,” added Chumsky. “Maybe when you’re brushing your teeth, you can run through the five senses exercise. It will help get your mind accustomed to focusing on what you’re doing in the moment.”
Stretch & expand
If you’ve mastered these smaller changes, you can introduce other training to further enhance your practice.
Yoga is a natural extension.
“Yoga works with physical postures that build strength and flexibility but also teaches you to become more aware of what you’re experiencing. Your breath and the rhythm of the breath when you’re doing the practice,” said Guglielmi.
The Himalayan Institute offers beginner-level classes over the course of six weeks, ideal for learning postures and guided relaxation techniques.
Be Embodied offers Mindflow Yoga, a specialty yoga practice designed to weave mindfulness meditation and trauma-informed practices into traditional styles of yoga.
These locations also offer various meditation classes based on your skill level.
“The expectation is that you should be good at (meditation) quickly, which is actually false,” added Guglielmi. “If you can see how our lives are organized, we never take a break. We are always managing multiple things. You have to learn how to counter that. But it is doable. You just need to recognize that it’s a skill that needs to be cultivated and takes practice and instruction.”
The elephant in our hands
On average, we spend three hours and 15 minutes on our phones per day. Maybe you’re above average. Maybe you’re below average. What matters is recognizing your relationship with your phone.
“What are you looking at and how is it impacting your day-to-day? Are you not paying as much attention to your friends? Are you running late because you get lost in it? Is Instagram making you feel inadequate? What is your screen time doing to you?” asked Chumsky.
Those answers can help you determine if your phone is affecting your ability to be in the present moment. But be gentle with yourself. “Phones are necessary and useful, but you can learn to have healthier boundaries with them,” said Guglielmi.
Here are some tips to slow your scroll:
Check your stats
Many phones have added screen-time totals in recent operating system updates. It helps to first become aware of your usage, which can motivate you to make a change, if necessary.
Text message, email and social media notifications distract you instantly. You can disable them, instead choosing to check in as necessary.
Create a phone-free space
Guglielmi was inspired to make a bigger change after reading “How to Break Up With Your Phone” by Catherine Price. She stopped keeping her phone in her bedroom to eliminate late-night screen time. If you use your phone as your wake-up call in the morning, this would require purchasing an alarm clock—like the good old days!
As a millennial, I do feel the need to defend our devices. It’s not all spaced-out swiping. In fact, there are plenty of apps to improve mindfulness. Calm and InsightTimer both have free versions with guided meditation, bedtime stories and music tracks to put mindfulness right at your fingertips.
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