As a holistic psychotherapist, health coach, and yoga and meditation teacher, I often hear my clients say, “I just want less stress and more peace in my life.” I don’t hear people saying they could use a little more stress and drama in their lives. We can all relate to the intention of feeling calmer, more grounded and centered. However, that feeling often eludes us. We more often feel like leaves flapping around in the wind, at the mercy of external circumstances than the strong centered calm grounded being that we ideally envision for ourselves. Intentionally developing a mindfulness and meditation practice can help you do just that.
Daily Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is a simple and accessible technique that can help everyone enjoy more peace and clarity in their lives. Mindfulness has a lot of buzz in the media but many people ask me “what exactly does it mean?” There are many ways to define mindfulness. Let me give you a couple of thoughts on what mindfulness means. It means “being fully present in this moment, exactly as it arising”. It also means “waking up to our lives, becoming more self-aware and fully conscious, having the courage to cut through self-delusion.”
And how do we practice it in our lives? Mindfulness has both formal and informal practices. The formal practices include meditation (body scan and sitting/awareness of breath) as well as mindful yoga. The informal practices point to how we move through the world, cultivating certain principles, attitudes and behaviors. Both the formal and informal practices help us move from habitual reactionary patterns to more skillful responding to what life presents.
Integrative research has shown tremendous benefits to practicing mindfulness. Some of these benefits include improved immune system functioning, reduced inflammation, reduced anxiety and depression symptoms, greater stress resilience, greater capacity for happiness, regulated blood pressure, improved pain management and pain reduction, improved sleep patterns, faster healing rates, and so much more.
In order to enjoy these benefits, consistency is the key with mindfulness. So it’s better to practice a little a lot than a lot a little. It’s better to practice a little each day than a couple of hours a few times a week. I encourage you to set yourself up for success when starting a practice. Perhaps try 5 minutes a day to start. Once you have created a habit of meditating and feel comfortable with 5 minutes, try bumping it up to 7 minutes. By the way, your mind most likely wont be clear the entire time. It takes time for our minds to settle down. When you observe your mind wandering, simply bring your awareness back to your breath. Follow your breath from the beginning to end of each in-breath and each out-breath. Poet and teacher Stephen Levine reminds us “that we are reborn on the in-breath each morning.” And my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of this truth by reciting “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” The breath is a simple tool to lead us into a meditative state that will help produce the benefits we are seeking. It is ever present and always accessible. When we practice on a regular basis we literally begin to rewire our brains and nervous systems, unlearning years of bad habits and negative conditioning of the mind-body.
Tips for Beginning a Meditation Practice
A few additional tips in creating a successful meditation practice:
- Meditate in the morning to set a tone for the day. You will benefit greatly.
- Meditate same place and same time each day to create a habit.
- Set a timer so you will not be wondering how long you’ve been meditating.
- Ritualize your practice by lighting a candle, incense reading sacred literature, or wearing a meditation shawl.
- Make sure there are no disturbances. Turn your electronics off and let all residing in your home know that you will be practicing during that time.
- Create sacred pauses or mini-meditations throughout your day. Take some moments to find your breath. Perhaps enjoy 3 deep belly breaths, maybe even stretch your body and clear your mind. Creating this steady thread of calm and centeredness is key.
While formal practice is essential to success, informal practice is rich in its offerings as well. Informal practice is how we move through the world and learning more skillful ways to respond. Pick one mindful word, phrase, attitude or habit to focus on for the week. Some examples include: Calm, Slow Down, Patience, Breathe, Compassion, Spaciousness, Clarity, Equanimity. Choose something that is important to you and use it as your aspiration to feel and be your best. I encourage students and clients to put that word on sticky notes by the bed, on the bathroom mirror, on the car dashboard, and on the computer terminal so that it doesn’t get pushed to the back burner.
We each have the power of self-efficacy, which means that we have the ability to influence our health outcomes. This is exciting news! And mindfulness is a powerful portal to take you where you would like to be. Enjoy the journey!
Byline: Angela Buttimer, MS, RYT, NCC, CHC, LPC is a holistic psychotherapist, health coach, yoga & meditation teacher and owner of Atlanta Center for Mindfulness & Well-Being. She is also the co-author of CALM: Choosing to Live Mindfully book and CD. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org