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Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. It involves acceptance, or rather that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Man with things exploding from the head, out of control

During the COVID-19 epidemic, a lot of us are experiencing stressors that we have never dealt with before. While sometimes we just need to let it out and give life a good cry, other times life requires a cool-headed, calm and steady deliberate approach. Yet, oftentimes things feel out of control and being calm may seem impossible. It doesn’t have to always be like this though. Through mindfulness techniques and meditation practices, we can learn to calm ourselves and to be present with the challenges we face, thus making better decisions and reducing our anxiety.

How do we find Mindfulness?

Meditation is a way to find mindfulness. It is a practice in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress in our lives.

Oftentimes in our daily lives, we spend too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts that can be draining. It can also make us more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and instead brings your attention to the present moment.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation can help you experience thoughts and emotions with greater balance and acceptance. Meditation has been studied in many clinical trials and the overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions, including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Preliminary research indicates that meditation can also help people with asthma and fibromyalgia.

Meditation also has been shown to:

  • Improve attention (especially in children who meditate)
  • Decrease job burnout
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve diabetes control
  • Help ease the stress of a difficult situation
cute boy with smile, eyes closed, arms behind head, relaxing in grass

What are some examples of mindfulness exercises?

There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness. Some examples include:

Paying Attention.

We rarely remember to slow down and notice things in this busy world. Yet it’s important and the results are profound.  Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it. You’ve heard the saying, “stop and smell the roses”, that’s what I’m talking about.

Live in the moment.

Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.

Accept yourself.

Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend or how you wish you were treated by others.

Focus on your breathing.

When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

You can also try more structured mindfulness exercises, such as:

Woman relaxing, meditating lying down

The Body Scan Meditation. 

Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body.

Sitting Meditation.

Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then immediately return your focus to your breath.

Walking Meditation.

Find a quiet place at least 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.  Alternatively, go for a strolling walk outdoors and with each step feel your surroundings with all of your senses.

When And How Often Should I Practice Mindfulness Exercises?

Simple mindfulness exercises can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Research indicates that engaging your senses outdoors is especially beneficial. Connecting to the earth is especially helpful – think sunrises and sunsets, or overlooking beautiful scenery, etc.

Man looking towards a sunrise

For more structured mindfulness exercises, such as the body scan meditation or sitting meditation, you’ll need to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place without distractions or interruptions. A great time to practice this type of exercise is early in the morning before you begin your daily routine.

Aim to practice mindfulness every day for about six months. Over time, you might find that mindfulness becomes effortless. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nurturing yourself. Before you realize it, you will find mindfulness happening in your daily life.  You will notice what an amazing difference it makes in your relationship with your outside world. Your world will probably notice too.

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