Whether you’re in your first or your final year, taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing is paramount to living a happy and fulfilling life. This article series aims to help you do that by introducing the linked practices of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. It will break down the core ideas and give you some tips for easy ways to start and set up a habit, including how to combine the three. Start a practice now, and it will last you through finals, social drama, and the rest of your life.
We’ll take the first step in this article and talk about mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be associated with the time of Buddha and his practice of breathing to achieve a state of greater consciousness. Like meditation, in general, was introduced to the West and secularised, it lost the focus on spiritual growth and transcending to live in a calm present state. Instead, it is now a way to reduce stress and improve healthy living – the same treatment yoga received in its transmission to the West, as it were. Mindfulness is one aspect of meditation that has thrived in this transmission. Meditation is a broad practice and is meant for one to enter a sustained state of consciously regulating one’s conscious and unconscious mind. Mindfulness is a way to achieve that state. Since everything in life is a paradox, it can also be trained through simpler forms of meditation.
At this point, mindfulness has become kind of a buzzword. There are mindfulness-centric articles and Instagram accounts. There are apps galore. Like many wellbeing practices, it’s been commodified. People cite it in health articles or promote it at yoga studios. The words are kind of all up in the air with one goal: to calm your mind and be at peace with yourself. It can be hard to know where to start.
So here’s an exercise. Take a moment to properly mull over these words and think back to the last time you can remember being fully engaged in a conversation. That means when your mind wasn’t flashing back to that awkward text you had received earlier in the day. Think back to the last time you looked up and took in the color of the sun-limned clouds, smothering the stress of the exam you were en route to for several precious minutes. Without being aware of it, you were practicing mindfulness in those moments.
Now focus on these exact words you’re reading, and take a breath. Those thoughts you were just thinking? Nice that you thought them – now let them slide on by. Lookup for a moment and take in what you see. Take another breath. Back to The Stork as you consciously scroll to read more. You’re having a mental experience, reading. But you’re not zoned out. You’re so aware of where you are right now and what you’re doing. Take a breath. There, you just had a go at practicing mindfulness right now.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I have a bad habit of living more inside my head than the world around me. Getting out of that space is not easy. Being mindful isn’t a trick, however. It’s an innate human trait you can tap back into. It’s a panacea to the disgruntled, discomfited way we’re living in a world of quick socializing through technology and high-stress environments, at university, at work, and in our social life. Mindfulness has numerous benefits, from cultivating better eating habits (no more mindless snacking!), to reducing stress and anxiety, focusing, and sleeping better.
The word “mindfulness” can be almost a misnomer in my opinion. What you’re doing is balancing how your mental space coexists with your physical space. You live in both and you need both to live! Simply put: mindfulness is about becoming fully present in the moment, engaged with the task at hand. You’re aware of yourself, where you are, what you’re doing and feeling, but you’re not obsessed with your thoughts. You’re able to let the past rest and quell your anxiety about the future. You’re more open and curious and pay more attention to what you’re saying and what decisions you’re making. You’re neither hyper fixated, nor attempting to take everything in, nor zoned out.
When it comes to mindfulness, you don’t need to get any special equipment or to pay for any apps or courses. You just need your brain and your body. Maybe an internet connection, to check out some free websites. I guarantee you have access to all of these – so here are three simple ways you can start straight away.
First: breathe. That’s it. Just breathe. We do it unconsciously 24/7. Now I’m asking you to do it a bit more consciously. Sit or stand still for a little while and just inhale, exhale. Turn your mind to the air you’re breathing in and out. You don’t need to try and change the pattern, or breathe more heavily, or slower. Just notice the air in your nostrils, your chest, your diaphragm. Follow one breath from the beginning of the inhale all the way to the last dregs of the exhale. Where one breath ends, the other begins. If your mind wanders? No worries. Once you’ve noticed it, acknowledge it, give yourself a little mental nudge, and come back to your breathing. You’re being mindful of both mind and body.
Another thing you can do is scan your body. You probably already noticed something while you were breathing. Body scans are an oft-touted method for mindfulness, and that’s because they’re easy, interesting, and train the principle. Your goal is to be aware of your body, to bring your mind back into sync with it. So often we dissociate and ignore what it’s trying to tell us in favor of chasing activity. So come back to it. Sit or lie down (if you’re worried about falling asleep, definitely sit!). Tune into your breath, and then turn your attention to your toes. Give them a wiggle. See how many you can move individually. Work your attention up to your ankles, your shins, your thighs. If you didn’t skip leg day, you’ll be very aware of the ache in your muscles. Don’t dwell on it, just be aware of it. It’s there because you worked hard. Carry on up your body, all the way to the top of your head. If you’re doing this before bed, you can take this one step further by relaxing your body bit by bit from bottom to top. It’s a wonderful way to calm the mind and turn one’s attention to serenity and sleep.
Now that you’ve breathed and scanned and woken up fresh, you’re out in the world. You’re doing things. Talking to people. Thinkings thoughts. Suddenly it’s lunch break. You head over to Faborit to get coffee and soup. Now, really pay attention to what you’re ordering – what ingredients are listed, what kind of milk you’re getting. Really listen to the barista when they ask you about an order, take in their expression but no need to think too much about it. You can see someone’s focus in their eyes, after all. As you sit down at your table, pay attention to the seat, the cutlery, the people seated next to you. No need to ruminate on them, just be aware of them. As you eat your soup, savor the flavor and the fibers. As you take a sip of coffee, feel the bite of the hot liquid and the bitter goodness giving you that little boost you needed. Really enjoy the food that’s giving you energy for the rest of the day, but don’t worry about mulling over what you’ll use that energy for.
And that’s a great start already. Habits, of course, are hard to make, but they’re equally hard to break. Once you make a habit of mindful living, it won’t leave you easily. So what’s the best way to start a habit? There’s an app for that. Simply search “habit tracker” on the App Store or GooglePlay and you’ll find dozens of options with the opportunity to set goals and reminders. Personally, I use Remente in tandem with a paper agenda. I’ve also found journal-keeping helpful. Presently is a gratitude journal, but I use it to make notes of things I observed and enjoyed in my day. The more mindful I am, the more there is to record. And, because I would have experienced the moment to its fullness, I have a powerful and fond recollection straightaway. Then I let it go, aware of my contentment but not caught up in it, and return my attention to the nice end-of-the-day task of writing in my journal.
Mindfulness helps you shift your energies from trying to think of everything you can’t do in one moment, to simply being in the moment – and being the moment.
In the next installment, we’re going more in-depth with meditation. We’ll talk visualizations, guided meditations, trance, and manifesting, gearing up to the final article on how to bring all this together with yoga.
Feature Image Source: Marija Savic via MindBodyGreen