Mindful Living

Frequently, my clients embrace the idea of practicing mindfulness as a means to ground themselves mentally and emotionally in the present moment.  However, carving out time to practice appears to be one of the main barriers to practicing mindfulness (or any other new skill for that matter).  How then, might one become more mindful, if attempts at scheduling it in or willing oneself to practice do not pan out?

Enter mindful living, which involves introducing non-judgmental, present-centred awareness to routine daily activities.  A recent study published in the journal, Mindfulness, examined mindfully washing dishes in a sample of 51 undergraduate students and found that mindful dish washers reported greater positive feelings, reduced nervousness, and greater state mindfulness, compared to non-mindful dish washers.

Here are a few ways to add mindfulness to routine activities, by incorporating your five senses:

1. Showering - Visual - notice colors, textures of the bathroom fixtures, floor, objects.  Sound - notice the sound of water flowing out of the shower head and onto you/bathroom tile/floor.  Smell - notice the smell of your shampoo, soap, shower gel, etc.  Touch - notice the temperature of the water, texture of the suds, flow of water over your hair/skin, texture of the shower stall floor, etc. Taste - taste of the water (or any soap/shampoo that accidentally gets into your mouth!).

2. Drinking coffee - Visual - notice the color of the coffee, shape of the mug.  Smell - notice the aromas of the coffee and your surroundings.  Touch - notice the weight of the mug, texture of the mug's surface, texture of the coffee as you take a sip of it, temperature.  Taste - notice any flavors, like bitterness, sweetness, acidity, or textures.

3. Eating - Visual - notice arrangement of food, colors, shapes.  Smell - notice complimentary or contrasting aromas.  Touch - explore the weight and surfaces of utensils, the table, texture of food as it is cut into, and sensations of food in the mouth while it is chewed then swallowed.  Taste - take a small bite, balance the food on the tongue, notice any flavours that emerge, chew slowly and notice any additional flavours that emerge.  

To get a sense of what eating mindfully looks like, click here for a guided mindfulness meditation using chocolate.   

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.

Mindfulness Practice: Benefits to the Brain

courtesy of  dream designs

courtesy of dream designs

Mindfulness involves training your mind to pay attention, purposefully and without judgment, to the present moment.  While mindfulness practice originates from Eastern traditions of philosophy and religion, mindfulness has been adopted by contemporary psychology for the management of recurrent depression, stress, anxiety, and chronic pain/illness.  

In addition to its benefits to mental and emotional well being, mindfulness practice appears to lead to changes in brain areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.  Read about this small, prospective study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital here: