By Lana Sevel
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and react reasonably to what’s going on around us.
We all possess mindfulness, but it comes more naturally if we practice it daily. Growing research shows that when we train our brains to be mindful, we’re actually remodeling the physical structure. One way to train our brains is through mindfulness meditation.
What is meditation? When we meditate, we explore our minds: our sensations (air blowing on our skin or a smell in the room), our emotions (love, sadness, craving) and thoughts (I wish I could fly). Mindfulness meditation asks us to suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind. We approach our experience with warmth and kindness to ourselves and others.
How do I practice? Your Yoga Practice is a perfect place to practice mindfulness.
Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
Set aside some time. You don’t need special equipment to access your mindfulness skills. Set aside some time and space. Start off with as little as five minutes each day.
Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not a state of eternal calm. The goal is to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. For example, when practicing yoga and you're in a pose that you don't care for, come to an attitude of gratitude. Focus on your breath and being present on your mat.
Let judgments roll by. When we notice judgments throughout the day or as they arise during our practice, acknowledge them but let them pass. Say to yourself "not now" and focus on calmness of each inhale and exhale.
Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds get carried away in thought. Mindfulness is the practice of beginning again and again by returning to the present moment.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts come up. Instead, practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off and gently bring it back.
Mindfulness is coming back to the present moment again and again.
A Simple Meditation Practice
Sit comfortably. Find a spot that gives you a stable, solid, comfortable seat.
Notice what your legs are doing. If on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor. Straighten your upper body, but don’t stiffen. Your spine has natural curvature. Let it be there.
Notice what your arms are doing. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs wherever it feels most natural.
Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You don’t have to close your eyes. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly or chest.
Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to the breath.
Be kind about your wandering mind. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, observe them without reacting or judging. Sit and pay attention. Come back to your breath over and over.
When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (open eyes if closed). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels, your thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditations and body scans, or mindful moment practices like pausing and breathing when the phone beeps instead of rushing to read a text.
That’s the practice. The work is to continue doing it. Results will follow.