I'm writing this on Wednesday, September 12th, which happens to be World Mindfulness Day; perhaps another made-up instagram holiday, but one I've been celebrating nonetheless. The day has caused me to reflect a lot of what mindfulness is to me, and my journey with it.
I think that when words become trendy like "mindfulness" has, it can feel less tangible, more detached. Like, what actually IS mindfulness? And furthermore, is it for me?
When I lived in Colorado I'd go to yoga classes but didn't subscribe to any yoga things. I think it's easy to put different practices, beliefs, ways of living into certain buckets, and then decide as a whole "that bucket is not for me." It's easy to write mindfulness off as woo-woo, as something only yogis do, or as a complete and total waste of time (all 3 of these described my personal opinion on mindfulness back in the day).
You might know that my relationship with mindfulness began as a result of massive anxiety. Even after a summer of terrifying panic attacks, I still felt resistant and honestly I thought meditation - like, sitting still with crossed legs on my floor - was the only way to practice. But what I've learned over the years since those first futile attempts is, in fact, you can bring mindfulness into every day life, and, well, you should.
But I think maybe we should stop saying "mindfulness," and break it down. What is it? Why do we give a shit about it? Why should I waste my time when I'm being soooo productive?
There are a lot of ways to define mindfulness but my personal definition is "paying attention." That's it. It sounds easy, but typically we are a million other places besides the present moment. It's easy to get caught up in thinking about your grocery list, your weekend plans, or even running a past scenario over and over again in your mind. I get it. I still do it. All the time. And I even remember saying to my good friend in CO, who was also my acupuncturist and was probably my first exposure to any kind of holistic wellness, that I actually enjoyed lying in bed at night and planning things out. To the last detail. Sure, it kept me up, and I was walking around with anxiety all the time because things had to go as planned, not to mention exhausted from not sleeping, but I liked running through all the scenarios. It felt comforting; like I was in control.
And then, you know, panic attacks.
So I started to dip a toe into the mindfulness bucket, and what I've found is that mindfulness is actually the antidote to anxiety. It's been practiced throughout history but is needed now more than ever as we have so many things (i.e. technology) pulling us out of the present moment. And turns out the present moment can become a lot more interesting when you start paying attention.
Mindfulness has been proven to provide a myriad of benefits, including stress relief, boosted immunity, help with anxiety & depression (actually on par with anti-depressants), improved mood, enhanced cognitive control, and better concentration, to name just a few. Like, if there was a pill that listed all those things as results, and had no negative side effects, wouldn't you take it??
So okay, let's get to the tangibility. I already said you don't have to sit in a cross-legged seat on your floor and meditate to practice mindfulness, so how can you bring it into your everyday life?
Again, pay attention.
If you're eating - slow down. Notice your food before you even pick it up. Notice it's texture, it's smell, it's colors. Gently place it on your tongue. Notice the taste buds reacting. Notice it's weight, it's consistency. How does it feel to chew?
If you're walking - slow down. Feel your feet hit the pavement. Feel the momentum in your legs as one foot lifts and the other lands. Notice the slight breeze as you walk. Feel your clothes move with your body. Feel your shoes squish, or clack, or whatever it is they do. Notice it. Feel your body and the dynamics of your own movement (the human body is kinda incredible).
If you're interacting with others, or watching a show or performance - slow down. Notice body language. Notice how certain words make you feel. Can you pause before reacting? Can you notice the energy that feeds off one another? Can you really listen to that other person, without waiting to talk? Can you take it all in, without judgement?
As you see, the common thread here is slow down. If you're walking down the street, notice your surroundings. Notice the weather, the light, the people or the birds or the trees. If you're waiting at a stop light, or in a line, just wait. You don't need to multitask. Challenge yourself to just be there, taking it all in.
THIS is your life. Not what might happen in the future. This, right now. Be here for it, and it will not only become more enjoyable, but it won't feel like it's flying by quite so fast.
Going to sleep now. Like, for realz.