Last Wednesday night, I sat down to watch an episode of my favorite show, Ted Lasso (if you’re not familiar with this show, I highly recommend you check it out!). As the Greyhounds were strategizing how to turn their season around, I remembered there was a fresh pint of Phish Food in my freezer. As I retrieved my favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, I considered scooping it into a bowl. But, I told myself that dirtying a dish was unnecessary since I was just going to eat a few spoonfuls.
At the end of the episode, I was surprised to find myself scraping the bottom of the Phish Food container. Did I really eat the entire pint? Ugh. I was frustrated with myself that I had consumed so much ice cream without even noticing how it tasted, questioning whether or not I felt full, or wondering if I might regret this later. I had not been in the present moment, and I was most definitely not practicing mindfulness.
Can you relate?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment. It means focusing our attention on the here and now, over and over again. Mindfulness encourages us to notice our thoughts, feelings, sensations in the body, and the surrounding environment through a lens of non-judgmental awareness.
It can also be helpful to consider what mindfulness is not…
Have you ever been eating lunch and wondered what you were going to cook for dinner?
Have you ever sat at your desk, trying to compose an email, and started thinking about where you were going to send your kids to summer camp, wondering if you paid the trash bill, replaying the argument you had with your partner two weeks ago, and reminding yourself to make the vet appointment for your dog?
Anytime we are thinking about the past or the future, and therefore not in the present moment, we are not being mindful.
Benefits of practicing mindfulness
It can be liberating to let go of worrying about the future or ruminating on the past. When we give ourselves permission to be present and mindful, we may notice feeling calm and relaxed, focused and centered. Practicing mindfulness daily can help us relieve stress and become less reactive. It can improve our cognitive ability and give us a tool to reduce anxiety. One study showed that mindfulness practices were beneficial during times of crisis.
Sounds pretty good, right? Then, why don’t we practice mindfulness all the time?!?
Our brains like constant stimulation and distraction, and our attention spans are pretty short. The brain is wired to problem solve and create. We often prefer to rewrite the past or plan for the future. Noticing the quality of our breath or how the floor feels beneath our feet may not be as exciting as scrolling instagram. Besides, being quiet and still with our thoughts can be scary, frustrating, and sometimes, painful.
3 ways to start practicing mindfulness today
Practicing mindfulness is not a sprint or a “one and done” accomplishment. It’s something we can practice daily and in small chunks (so there will still be plenty of time to watch cat videos on YouTube!).
Here are 3 ways to start incorporating mindfulness into your day:
- First thing in the morning – As you’re taking your first sip of coffee or tea, notice the color, texture, and temperature of your mug. How does the container feel in your hands? Observe the aroma of the coffee, then take a sip. How does it taste? How are you feeling at this moment?
- One minute meditation – Now don’t freak out just because I’m suggesting meditation. You don’t need a special pillow, insight timer, or skill set. The one minute meditation can be done anywhere ~ sitting in your car when you get to Target, before you respond to a text message, or while waiting in line at the grocery store. Simply soften or close your eyes, then breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4. Repeat five more times. That’s it!
- Catch yourself anticipating the future or replaying the past – The more we practice mindfulness, the more often we’ll notice when we aren’t in the present moment. So, when you find yourself worrying about the seating assignments for the Thanksgiving table (and it’s barely May 1st), pause, take a breath, and remind yourself that the present moment is happening now.
BFFs: Mindfulness & Yoga
I didn’t even know mindfulness existed until I started practicing yoga. One of my first yoga teachers suggested the intention to let go of expectations and be present. When I heard those words, I vividly remember feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t have to have it all figured out!?! I could be here and now, enjoying this moment. Wow!
Thousands of yoga classes later, I’m still working on mindfulness and being present (remember the cautionary tale about Phish Food!). Mindfulness is a lifelong process.
If you want to give it a try, join the Peace Yoga at Home community and practice mindfulness in a yoga class on Saturday, April 29, 2023 at 9:30am EST. This virtual mixed-level practice, Mindful Movement & Intention, will be an opportunity for you to explore putting some mindfulness strategies into practice. The replay will be available, as well. Check out the details here.