I’ve been hearing a lot lately about “mindfulness” – but what is it exactly? Mindfulness essentially means to focus on the task you’re doing and being aware of your surroundings, your actions, your innermost feelings, devoid of judgment – living in the moment, being attuned to all your senses without critical analysis. Or more simply, a kind of conscious meditation. So why practice mindfulness? Self-awareness teaches us to have self-compassion – learning to love ourselves is integral to overall well-being. So mindfulness through meditation, as Kris Carr perfectly articulated, “teaches us how to be loving towards ourselves and to others.”
Everyone – and most emphatically, the positive psychologists – has been raving about the impressive effects of practicing mindfulness in one way or another so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
This week I practiced mindful eating by focussing on the smell, taste, and texture of food, as well as my thoughts. And what an extremely gratifying experience it was! I enjoyed each meal simply by savouring each and every morsel I put in my mouth. I became conscious of the different flavours and textures as my senses came alive during what had recently become a routine, habitual activity. Whilst I generally enjoy food, I tend to be an emotional eater and I can often finish a meal without actually “tasting” it. I had been eating mechanically, without being fully aware of each aspect of the process. But after practicing mindful eating for one meal each day, I found that I ate less and felt fuller for longer. With each meal, I made a conscious effort to make it healthy to ascertain if my sense of taste would be affected (instead of tasteless, unhealthy options). Intuitive eating helped me to realize that all food is tasty. I actually began to look forward to the next meal and was eager to try some new ideas. It also eliminated any feelings of guilt associated with enjoying food and I am optimistic it will change the dynamics of my relationship with food in general.
Mindful breathing though was much harder to practice. I was only ever conscious of my breathing during bouts of stress-induced asthma and attempting to calm my breath at this time had only a mild effect. Taking a few moments to breathe mindfully, whilst sitting at my desk this week, also took some effort as my mind kept wandering to my never ending list of things to do. On the first day, I tried to reflect on my first ever yoga class a few months ago when I first discovered the power of mindful breathing. I recalled the sense of calm and relaxation that I felt and wanted to retrieve that moment, completely defeating the purpose of being present and being mindful of the breath in that given moment. Breathing is something that is done mindlessly and yet it was a struggle to pay attention without feeling anxious. Mindfulness in practice, whether breathing, eating or even thinking, clearly requires readiness, acceptance and an overall connectedness, completely and wholly, to the task at hand. Mindful breathing is one practice that needs a lot more conscious effort from me.
For a bit of a mindful challenge, I attempted to apply mindfulness to driving, by noticing my surroundings: I took note of other vehicles, smelled the fresh air through my open window, and became aware of drivers distracted by eating, smoking or talking on their mobile phone. I wanted to stop at a local park I hadn’t seen before that looked empty and inviting. I would usually be in a mad rush to be somewhere and never notice a thing. It felt liberating to enjoy what would normally be a mundane task. I aimed to incorporate some of the major pillars of mindfulness practice: non-judging, patience, a beginner’s mind, and acceptance. It was quite enjoyable.
I have to admit, I now understand what all the fuss is about, even though I would never have envisaged the depth to which implementing mindfulness could have on my life. I realize too that through practice, “mindfulness imparts the individual with freedom and, therefore, the responsibility for constructing a more purposeful and meaningful existence” (1). The possibilities are endless. Have you tried mindfulness before? I’d love to hear about your experiences and if it has had an impact on the way you things.
I will leave you with these final words from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR):
“Anything and everything can become our teacher of the moment, reminding us of the possibility of being fully present: the gentle caress of air on our skin, the play of light, the look on someone’s face, a passing contraction of the body, a fleeting thought in the mind. Anything. Everything. If it is met in awareness.”
- Garland, E. L., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Mindfulness broadens awareness and builds meaning at the attention-emotion interface. Mindfulness, acceptance, and positive psychology: The seven foundations of well-being, 30-67.
- Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for beginners: Reclaiming the present moment—and your life. Sounds True