Mindfulness practices are on trend right now for the treatment of stress and anxiety. What is a mindfulness practice? How can the average person benefit from starting one?
Mindfulness is self-regulation of attention facilitated in a breathing, movement or seated meditation, journaling, or gratitude practice.
We typically don’t observe the quality of our breath until we feel an emotion that steals our breath. Spending time slowing the breath down and practicing to regulate the breath at off-peak stress times will allow a practitioner to channel that calm breath in times of stress. Use the breath as a tool to calm the parasympathetic nervous system down to return to a state of calm.
There is a misunderstanding that meditation about training yourself to cease all thoughts. Have you ever tried to slow your car from 110 KM on the highway and take a short exit? That’s your brain hundreds of times a day taking many different exits! Now imagine you are driving down that same highway and you drive into an abyss – wouldn’t that freak you out? Luckily that’s not likely to happen, nor, is it likely, you will ever create a blank mind. Let’s stay with the analogy of thought as a car, the practice of mindfulness is about sitting inside your car, mapping out a route for your car and when it takes an exit become aware your car left the highway and bring it back on route.
The practitioner brings awareness into the present moment to observe thoughts and witness emotions tied to those thoughts without assigning judgement. The technique of observing thoughts reduces stress and anxiety by allowing the practitioner to come to a state of acceptance to what is rather than trying to manipulate what was or will be. By reducing overall stress, the practitioner can more objectively evaluate their thoughts. We like to call the focused state of observing our thoughts “witness consciousness.”
You may find you already have a movement-based practice that brings calm. Yogis practice the physical postures to train the body to be able to sit in seated meditation. Any fitness classes you take are movement meditations. Other movement meditations you likely have incorporated into your life are, for example, gardening, pulling weeds, knitting, walking, running and even, dare I say it? Cleaning the house! When the body is actively involved in a repetitive or focussed movement, the mind must be present. If you are engaged in movement meditation and your mind leaves the task at hand you will make a mistake. Drop a stitch, fallout of step, see? You feel me! You’ve done this! The goal is to have an active awareness of thoughts and harness them when they wander off then bring them back into the present moment. Akin to a kite on a string, the mind is let out to fly around and when it gets too far off course it is pulled back in.
Written Mindfulness Practices:
Journaling about the day’s event to rid your mind of circular thoughts is a great tool to releasing your mind from what it is renumerating on. Write it down and move on!
Gratitude practices are a wonderful tool for reprogramming the brain to look at the day’s events from a more positive scope. I’m grateful for the critical feedback I received from my boss, it will help me grow in my role. I am grateful I got a good night’s sleep. You get the idea.
Three Advantages to beginning a mindfulness practice:
it is not time-consuming – five minutes at any time of day will help ease the mind
mindfulness practices can be done anywhere
Mindfulness practices alone are not a panacea, however, it is a valuable tool to incorporate into daily life and in tandem with other physical and mental therapies. Take a mindfulness practice for a ride for a week and see how you feel! And remember – it’s a PRACTICE. You’ll never be perfect at it. Just show up and do it anyway!
The above is written by Michelle Shipley, Director of Yoga at Compass Rose Wellness Centre, which is in Komoka, Ontario, just West of London, Ontario. She is one of the co-founders of Mothership Yoga, which offers Yoga Alliance accredited ‘Boutique Style’ teacher training. Our mentorSHIPs guide each student through personalized yoga training.
More from the Author, Michelle Shipley:
“I’m in LOVE with my yoga practice! As a type-A personality, I found yoga after trying kickboxing and almost completing a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. In 2003, I tried a yoga class and was hooked. Returning to the mat, moving slowly and deliberately, began to offer benefits no other workout had. I began to sleep better, live with compassion, and deal with years of unresolved grief. I’m a firm believer that opening the body through movement and tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system while taking a breath will open the mind and bring a whole-body benefit to practitioners.
In January 2007, I travelled to the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica to study under world-renowned yogis, Don and Amba Stapleton. I became certified as a Yoga Alliance recognized Interdisciplinary Yoga Teacher. In 2017, I completed my 500-hour certification with gifted yogi Valerie Giles. My studies have included workshops and masterclasses in Yin yoga, pre/postnatal yoga, restorative yoga, meditation, breath work, and Vinyasa yoga.
As an interdisciplinary yoga teacher, the foundation of my class is Hatha yoga sprinkled with a little of the other disciplines to construct experiential learning while incorporating a strong emphasis on Iyengar’s alignment principles. Coming home to the body is a theme presented through each of my guided meditation and asana practices.”