Mindfulness: 5 Tips for Practice Success

Mindfulness meditation seems to be everywhere these days, and for good reason.  Its practice has been scientifically shown to be beneficial for improving mental health, reducing depression recurrence, managing chronic illness, and addressing insomnia.  Neuroimaging studies are beginning to uncover the effects of mindfulness on neural activity.

Contrary to a popular misconception that emptying your mind and getting rid of thoughts is the cornerstone of success or doing it "right," mindfulness involves training the mind to attend to the present moment with a non-judgmental attitude of openness, acceptance, and curiosity.

The following are five simple tips to get you started with your mindfulness practice:

1. Opt for guided practice initially.  As with any new skill, having someone guide you through the practice initially will be invaluable, as it will provide pacing and structure for the practice.  Guidance might be from a therapist who offers individual or group training, or from online sources.  The appropriately named, Franticworld.com, and Headspace.com, are good, free sites to start with.  Franticworld features downloadable MP3 files both for general mindfulness practice and for applying mindfulness to coping with health conditions.  Headspace offers a 10-module crash course in mindfulness practice with clever animations and videos to illustrate key mindfulness concepts.

2. Allow the mind to wander.  The truth is, your mind will wander.  Your mind wanders throughout the day and it will wander during mindfulness practice.  There really is no way around it.  Trying to control the wandering mind or expecting otherwise is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.  Regarding mind wandering: Expect it, accept it, notice it, then redirect your mind back to being mindful of whatever you are being mindful of, such as your breath or body sensations.   Noticing when your mind as it wanders and redirecting it to present experience is an important mindfulness skill thought to be central to managing mood.

3. Practice first thing in the morning.  Think about your current morning routine and how it sets the stage for the day for you, mentally and emotionally.  Does your current routine reinforce or encourage a mentally and emotionally grounded approach to the day? Or, does it engender franticness, dread, and stress?  The nice thing about practicing mindfulness first thing in the morning is that you can settle your mind and bring a sense of centred awareness into your daily activities.

4. Practice in the evening.  Mindfulness practice at the end of the day can be an effective way to calm the mind and settle the self emotionally and physically.  This can be part of an evening wind-down routine that can promote separation or distance from the events of the day, which can also be beneficial for sleep (For additional ideas on how to sleep better, click here and here).       

5. Keep an eye on judgment.  A frequent question that may arise during mindfulness practice is whether you are doing it "right."  Or you might ask if mindfulness is "working" or why it is that you cannot seem to settle your mind? Such questions are natural but shift your mind from being open and observing of your present experience to being judgmental or evaluative of your experience which is counter to the core intent of mindfulness.  When these types of questions or thoughts arise, notice and label it as "judgment or evaluation" and redirect your mind to practicing mindful awareness.          

Stay tuned for my next blog post, which will include tips for mindful living.

Physical Activity Levels and Mood: Another Reason to Get Moving

Photo by:  Orapan Jampa

Photo by: Orapan Jampa

Modern life sets the stage, unfortunately, for a sedentary lifestyle.  Many of us have occupations where we spend the majority of our time sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer.  In fact, research suggests that more than 80% of modern jobs are classified as requiring just light intensity physical activity, whereas in the 1960's, more than 50% of jobs in private industry required at least moderate intensity physical activity (1). 

Not only is this downward shift in our activity levels believed to be one of the reason why we are getting heavier, which inherently can affect how we feel, our activity levels can influence our mood states.  Studies suggest there is a positive link between physical activity levels and our mood, in that engaging in physical activity is associated with improved energy levels and greater positive feelings.  The good news is that forty percent of Canadians report already using exercise as a stress coping strategy (2).  There is also an exciting body of research looking at the effectiveness of physical activity as a treatment for depression, with research showing that exercise is as effective as antidepressant therapy and these effects are maintained if exercise is continued (3). 

So how much physical activity do we really need to enjoy its benefits on mood? The answer may surprise you.  Researchers maintain that people can enjoy the mood-enhancing benefits by integrating just short bouts of physical activity, 10 minutes or less, into their daily routines (4).  The best thing about this recommendation is that it counters the "no time" barrier that many of us come up with when it comes to exercise. 


Success then happiness, or the other way around?

This TED talk is a humorous and inspiring look at happiness and work, through the lens of Positive Psychology.  In it, Shawn Achor suggests several strategies to re-wire our thinking so that it is less negatively biased.  One exercise that he mentions that I really like is the Gratitude journal, which I have included in my past stress management classes.  This is a 21 day challenge during which you write down 3 things that you are grateful for, each and every day.  Challenging your brain to contemplate gratitude can shift the balance of your thinking so that it is less skewed towards the negative and can thereby improve your sense of life satisfaction. 



Lyubomirsky S, Dickerhoof R, Boehm JK, Sheldon KM. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: an experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion. Apr;11(2):391-402.