If you aren't the meditative type, you may not have tuned in to the recent buzz about mindfulness, but you don't have to be a Buddhist to recognize the benefits. How great would this be?
Never spend an extra 20 minutes stuck in traffic because you miss your exit on the freeway.
Meet someone you find very attractive and actually remember what they talk about rather than the imaginary evening you conjured up and the thousand other things going on in your head at the time.
You get to the end of a busy day and feel great because you accomplished what you set out to do, instead of wondering "where did the day go?"
As you can see, mindfulness has a lot of benefit for "regular guys"! Here are some ways to improve your own life with it.
Mindfulness—What It's All About
Being mindful means being present in the moment, aware of your surroundings and what's going on, but also aware of what's going on inside yourself. A key part of the experience is being aware of what you are thinking and feeling, without judging it, trying to change, or giving in to your impulses.
It's Good for Your Health
Jon Kabat Zinn, author of the national bestseller "Wherever You Go, There You Are," is the founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts. He studied Buddhist meditation and practiced mindfulness back in the 1970s, but went on to develop a structured course presented in a scientific framework called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
In addition to lowering stress levels, mindfulness training helps people overcome depression and anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance addiction, and even relationship conflicts. It has also been proven to have many physical benefits. Mindfulness practices can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, relieve gastrointestinal problems, help heart disease, and reduce chronic pain.
Mindfulness Practices to Start Out With
With all those benefits, it's certainly worth investing a little time each day. Here are some practices you can integrate in your daily routine.
Centering Breath – Sit upright, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Close your eyes and relax as you put your full attention on your breath. At first you may find it helpful to think the words "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale. If you still find yourself thinking about random things, try counting slowly from the beginning of each inhale through the end of the exhale.
Breathing fully and expanding your lungs with each breath has additional benefits, but be attentive to not overdoing it. You don't want to hyperventilate. If possible, continue the breathing routine for ten minutes. That will give you time to really arrive at a quiet mind and be prepared to focus on the events of the day.
Observation – It's easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget to pay attention to what's around us. To break out of that cycle, choose something natural to focus on. It could be a seashell that you found, or something active in nature at the time, like waves or clouds. Just look at it and be aware of its role in the world. Feel its energy, but don't try to describe it in words. Just enjoy feeling its presence and observing it.
Extend Your Appreciation – Gratitude is an important part of happiness, and people who express gratitude are more satisfied, but there are a lot of things in your life that would not be likely to make the list. Usually, the things we think of to be grateful for are fulfilling needs we are conscious of, like food, shelter and love.
For this exercise, the idea is to notice things that you normally fail to appreciate because they seem automatic or insignificant. Choose something such as electricity, or birds flying by. Look at the details that you can see. How does that thing or process relate to the rest of the world? How did it come to be? What would happen if it wasn't there?
Be Compassionate with Anger – Anger management techniques often either have you denying or feeding your anger by shouting or punching some benign target, but the mindfulness approach is quite different. Anger is an energy that resides in you, and the best way to release it is to become aware of it, honor it, and release it by separating yourself from it.
Begin with a few centering breaths as described above, then start to pay attention to the feelings in your body, particularly your gut, chest and face. Is your jaw clenched? Stomach tight? Hands in fists? As you breathe in, imagine the air coming in and going to the parts of your body where you are holding tension. As you breathe out, imagine that tension leaving on the waves of air, or passing out of your feet into the earth.
Continue breathing and notice what your thoughts are. Step back from the thoughts and just note them objectively. If you think "I'm getting ripped off," or "That's a lie," just observe the opinion independently of the emotion, and continue to breathe and respect your feelings. Practice being an observer of your thoughts and feelings, while recognizing that you are not either one.
Doing this will often help you get in a clear enough space to talk to the other person involved. It's always best to express what you feel and think rather than making accusations or placing blame, but this mindful practice will help you clarify your thoughts and get to a place where you can take action in a positive way.
These practices are all ways to become more mindful that anyone can start working on right away. After you get your feet wet with these introductions, chances are you'll want to deepen your practice to experience even more benefits. We hope you'll try them out and share your results with us in the comments below!