I recently attended a presentation on the practice of mindfulness hosted by Dr. Rochelle Calvert at New Mindful Life. I have heard about the practice of mindfulness before, but wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I imagined we would sit on the floor in the full lotus position trying to clear our minds of all thoughts. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, as Dr. Calvert explained, mindfulness simply means being aware of our thoughts and accepting them without judgement. When we practice mindfulness, we stay in the present rather than dredging up the past or being afraid of what the future may hold.
In order to understand a little about mindfulness, I only had to read the quote on the New Mindful Life brochure, “Between stimulus and response is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom,” Victor Frankl.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are some of these benefits:
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: Mindfulness practice has shown to boost our
immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: A regular practice can increase positive emotions
while reducing negative emotions and stress.
- Mindfulness helps increase focus: Mindfulness helps us tune out distractions while
improving memory and attention.
- Mindfulness is good for relationships: Training makes couples more satisfied with their
relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relax, and helps them feel more
accepting and close to one another.
- Mindfulness is good for parenting: Parents who practice mindfulness report a better
relationship with their children and their children were found to have better social skills.
Dr. Calvert led our group through some mindfulness based exercises. Surprisingly, I found the exercises to be easier than I thought. Once I was assured that it was okay to let my thoughts wander, I was able to “step outside” of myself and be the neutral observer. I noticed that my thoughts were almost all future-focused. I found myself thinking about my to-do list, what I was doing next, etc. I also found myself concerned with the experiences of others. “Were other people having a good experience?” “Did they think that this was helpful?” In the spirit of mindfulness, I tried not to assign a label of “good” or “bad” to my thoughts. Rather, I simply tried to remain curious. By the second mindfulness exercise I found that my thoughts were much more present-focused. I began to pay better attention to my physical self like my breathing and was able to relax my muscles where there was tension. I even found myself having enjoyable thoughts. Overall, the experience was truly relaxing and peaceful.
How to Cultivate Mindfulness?
Now that you’ve heard about the benefits and my personal experience being introduced to the practice, you may be wondering “How do I start?” Many clinicians encourage students to begin with just 5 or 10 minutes a day of mindfulness intention. Then, as time goes on, the amount of time devoted to a mindfulness practice can increase to 20 or 30 minutes. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Rather, finding the right balance for yourself is the most important. Here are a few key components of practicing mindfulness:
- Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
- Notice- really notice- what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
- Recognize that our thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
- Tune into your body’s physical sensations, like your breathing, any muscle tension or other physical sensations.
At first, you may find it helpful to find a guide to walk you through mindfulness-based exercises like the ones offered by Dr. Calvert. However, says Dr. Calvert, over time you will want to incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of what you do. It doesn’t matter where you are; whether you are aware of the sensation of water hitting your skin in the shower or noticing your thoughts wander while in a work meeting.
New Mindful Life offers courses on mindfulness training such as a six-week introductory training on mindfulness as well as drop-in mindfulness mediation group classes. Most of the drop-in classes are donation based and everyone is welcome. There are also classes offered on Mindful Parenting, Mindfulness for Youth and Mindfulness for Clinicians.
Inevitably there are times in everyone’s life when we are met with tremendous stress and burden. This may be associated with grief and loss, financial strain, divorce or separation, or conflict in relationships. So often we put our own self-care at the bottom of the list of priorities, especially at times when it is most important. I encourage you to visit the New Mindful Life website and review their class schedules. A little relaxation and conscious effort at “being in the moment” may be the best thing you’ve done for yourself in a long time.