Being mindful is one way to strengthen your connection with the ones you love and the world around you. Have you ever noticed yourself tuning out when you are involved in a conversation? Or have you found yourself zoned out while you make dinner or help the kids with homework? Of course you have, everybody does it. It doesn't mean that something's wrong with you, it just means that you're human.
When you learn different ways to be mindful, you learn how to engage and pay attention to the world around you. Being mindful can also provide health benefits. For example, mindfulness can improve your sleep and reduce your stress levels. Learning how to be mindful is a smart investment in yourself, both physically and mentally.
What Does It Mean to Be Mindful?
To be mindful means to be aware of what is happening around you in the present moment. When a person is present, it means that they are fully engaged, physical, mentally, and emotionally. Another aspect of mindfulness is observing these thoughts and sensations without judgment.
For example, imagine you are having a conversation with someone and notice that your thoughts have started to shift to a chore you need to do later. If you note your thoughts and bring your attention back to your conversation, you're practicing mindfulness. It all comes down to being intentional with our attention.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Why you should start a mindfulness practice? There are numerous health benefits associated with the practice that have been shown to improve a person's overall well-being. Some of these health benefits include:
- Decreased physical and psychological pain
- Improved memory
- Improved sleep
- Increased abilities to cope with illness
- Increased energy
- Increased rates of stress management
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower heart rate
- Reduced rates of anxiety and depression
How to Be Mindful
Whether you want to work on being mindful to experience health benefits or improve your quality of life, there are ways you can start to practice it today. But remember, mindfulness is called a 'practice' for a reason. It's developed through constant attempts to achieve improvement. There's no finish line for you to cross or gold medal to win. The only way to 'be mindful' is to practice.
Meditation is a tool that can help people connect to their deeper selves. It helps people practice ways to be mindful and brings their attention to their mind and body in a variety of different ways. For example, meditation practices often center around your thoughts. More specifically, how to keep your thoughts on one specific object or aspect of the body. When you focus on your breath or body, you are able to give them your full attention. Some different types of meditation include:
- Body scan - In a body scan practice, you bring your attention to the body. Lie down or start in a seated position. You can start at either the head or the feet and slowly work your way throughout the rest of the body. Scan the arms and legs. Notice what sensations or feelings you are having at the moment, and try not to judge them in any way. Once you have made it throughout the entirety of your body, you've finished your first body scan.
- Guided meditation - For a guided meditation, sit comfortably in a chair or lie down. Choose a guided mediation from an app or online source that you would like to practice. Then, simply listen to their words and follow the sound of their voice. If your thoughts wander, it's okay. Just bring them back to the guided meditation.
- Yoga - Yoga has been shown to lower a person's resting heart rate and increase their endurance. It is a practice that has been around for centuries that brings the body and mind together. The practice aligns the breath and body movements with one another and encourages people to focus on both elements during the practice. Attend a yoga class, or try an at-home session with the help of online videos or virtual classes.
Start a Mindfulness Journal
One way to be more mindful is to start a journal dedicated to mindfulness. In this journal, you can practice body scans, and note whatever sensations you are feeling at the moment. You can also reflect on both positive and challenging events of your day. Whatever you write about, just try your best to give it your full attention. If you have thoughts that you can't seem to get off your mind, you can write those in your journal, too, and reflect on why you think they constantly reappear.
Make a Gratitude List
Multiple studies have shown that people who practice gratitude experience numerous health benefits, such as decreased stress, lower rates of depression, and increased overall life satisfaction Being grateful for the positive aspects of your life allow you to better appreciate them. A gratitude practice can be as simple as writing down five things you are grateful for every evening or telling your loved ones that you appreciate the joy and support they bring into your life.
Savor the Good Things
The process of savoring something is connected to gratitude but can be practiced separately. When you savor something, you allow yourself to thoroughly enjoy it. For example, to savor a walk in the park, you might notice how the sun feels on your skin, the bright flowers in the grass, or how it feels to breathe fresh air. Allow yourself to enjoy every aspect of it. You can do this with your favorite foods or when you spend time with family. You can savor anything at all that makes you happy.
Dedicate Your Full Attention
To be mindful is to be present, in the moment, in your body, and in the world around you. In order for you to be present, you need to allow yourself to dedicate your attention to what you are doing. For example, when you eat an apple and note its crunch and sweetness, you're giving it your full attention. There are probably a million things racing through your mind every moment, which can make it difficult to focus on just one thing and that's okay. Some ways to be more present are:
- Engage in activities with all five senses
- Fully pay attention to others when they are speaking
- Monitor your thoughts and bring yourself back to the moment when they start to wander
- Notice how you are feeling in your body and sit with the sensations
Practice Breathing Techniques
Although breathwork is often included in some mindfulness practices, breathing techniques can also be practiced on their own. Breathwork draws your attention to the body. It helps you focus on the sensation of the breathe and the rise and fall of your stomach. Deep breathing can also help trigger the body's natural relaxation response. Some breathing techniques you may want to practice are:
- Box breathing - Breathe in through your nose for the count of four. Hold for the count of four. Breathe out for the count of four. Hold for a count of four. Then, repeat.
- Diaphragmatic breathing - Simply taking deep, slow breaths. Take three deep breaths. Or take five. Take whatever you need at the moment until you feel relaxed and connected.
- Lion's breath - Breathe in through your mouth until your breath fills your lower stomach. Then, breathe out through your mouth fully. Be silly with it. Stick out your tongue as you exhale just like a real lion would.
More Ways to Be Mindful
Chances are good that you have practiced mindfulness today and didn't even notice. Whenever you take a break from work because you feel tired, that's being mindful of your mental energy level. If you turn off your phone notifications when you have lunch or take a nap, that's also a mindful choice. Mindfulness can encompass a wide range of activities and choices.
Mindfulness doesn't require a major commitment of your time or resources. There are simple, small changes you can make to help you become more mindful.
- Don't overload your schedule with activities/obligations that push you beyond your means
- Don't watch screens while you eat meals
- Remember to eat meals when you're feeling hungry
- Rest when your body tells you you're tired
- Set an intention for your day when you wake up
- Try not to look at your phone first thing in the morning
- Turn off phones at the dinner table
However you decide to bring mindfulness into your life, there are a few important things to remember. First, mindfulness is a practice not a single accomplishment. There isn't an end goal where someone gets to tell you that you have officially become a mindful person. Rather, you will notice the changes gradually. You will start to feel like you are more aware and connected.
Lastly, remember to go easy on yourself. It can be hard to develop mindfulness, especially if it's your first time trying any of the practices. It won't happen overnight, but with consistent practice, you'll get there.