The Well


by Andrew Shaw on Oct.30, 2009, under Archives

Mindfulness is sort of a buzz word right now in the mental health field, although it has been around and has been a topic of research in western psychology for over twenty years.  And, its origins are actually much older, almost 3000 years.  Mindfulness is a concept that comes from Buddhism and Buddhist practice.   

Essentially, Mindfulness is being fully present.  It means bringing full attention and awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment.  Much of the time, we are lost in thought, worrying over the future, upset about something in the past, or we’re just running on auto-pilot not really paying attention to what’s actually happening here and now.  Mindfulness is a skill, that can be learned, practiced, and strengthened, that will help us to be more present and focus our attention and awareness.  It also allows us to be more accepting and open to what is happening in our lives.

So how do we develop this skill?  Mindfulness can be practiced formally, such as through various meditations, such as traditional sitting meditation where you focus your attention on  your breathing or on a mantra.  This allows you to concentrate and quiet the mind.  Other formal meditations include walking meditation, body awareness, yoga, tai chi, and metta (loving-kindness meditation).  Mindfulness can also be practiced informally, in our day-to-day lives, by bringing full attention and awareness to any regular daily activity or a particular experience.  So anything we already do during our day can be done with mindfulness.  You may garden mindfully, wash the dishes mindfully, drive to work mindfully, wait in line at the store mindfully.  The point is not to complete the task so much as it is to simply be in the moment, fully aware and focused on what you are doing.  So if you’re driving, you’re just driving.  Washing the dishes, just washing the dishes.  You pay careful and close attention to the simple action itself.  Notice the sound of the running water, the feel of the warm water on your hands, the smell of the dish soap, the colors and shapes of the dishes.  When the mind starts to wander, you simply bring your attention back to just washing the dishes and to noticing the subtle aspects of this activity.

In addition to using your senses to be more present, try focusing fully on your breathing and your body.  Notice how it feels in your body to breath in and out.  It may be helpful to place your hand on your belly and say the word “rising” as you inhale and your belly rises, and the word “falling” as you exhale and your belly falls.  You can center and ground yourself in the moment by paying close attention to sensations in the body.  What physical sensations do you feel in your body as you move, walk or stretch? See if you can be aware of the sensations in your feet and legs as you take a gentle step.  Notice the contact of your feet with the ground and the shift of your weight as you walk slowly.  Try stretching mindfully, paying close attention to how it feels in a particular part of your body as you extend and then release.

Your homework for next week is to buy a box of raisins… I’ll explain more in the next post, when we’ll do a guided mindful eating exercise, so you can really experience mindfulness.  

Be Well


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