While I attend a weekly yoga class, I often receive gentle messages from my instructor to be mindful of my breathing, or the tension in my neck or the placement of my toes or shoulders, etc. When I first began yoga, I would feel discouraged when I realized how often my instructor had given me extra help or showed me how to make the poses really work better. I felt worried that I wasn’t good at understanding the instructions or physically strong enough to execute the pose.
It took me some time to realize that his messages are always to be “mindful” not “better” or “best” or “perfect” at my practice of yoga. Once I began to understand what mindfulness meant, I was able to be less judgmental of my yoga practice and actually get more out of each class.
Mindfulness is defined as creating non-judgmental awareness of oneself. Observing and noticing how we experience life can help us stay involved in the here and now, and not be overly consumed about the past (sadness or regret) or the future (worry or fear).
Mindfulness can be applied to any situation and provide us with necessary information about how we feel or behave. Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, and now is much more widely recognized as way of well being, rather than a religious activity.
An essential feature of mindfulness is the absence of judgment of what we are observing.
If I sit and ponder the writing of this article, I may be inclined to judge how long it took me to complete it, or to criticize my own writing or choice of topic. If I were to mindfully observe myself in the writing of this article, I may notice how my mind wanders at the completion of each paragraph or that my back is uncomfortable when I sit in this position at my desk.
I don’t pass judgment on myself for having difficulty paying attention, or for having poor posture. I just observe how it feels to work on this task at this time.
Feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress can be impacted by creating mindfulness. Improving physical health, reducing the risk of addiction relapse and increasing quality of life for those suffering from chronic mental or physical illness are also outcomes of mindfulness practices.
I can be mindful in yoga class and concentrate on my breathing. I can be mindful as I write an article to notice how much more I can write if I take a break and return to the article later. I can be mindful at mealtimes, noticing the flavor, texture and source of my food. I can be mindful during communication with my child, noticing how I feel when she doesn’t respond to my request to clean up her toys.
All of this mindfulness allows for more attention to what is happening, rather than what I fear could happen or what I regret has already happened.
Mindfulness can take place in the form of meditation, sitting or lying quietly with eyes closed to allow for more focused attention to how the body and mind feel. Mindfulness can also occur in more active experiences like exercise or in conversation with others. Experiencing quiet focus, listening, and observing help with creating clarity with emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
Using mindfulness while engaging in individual or couple’s counseling can help with deepening your understanding of yourself and others, as well as provide the foundation of non-judgmental thinking that will make the change process more positive.
Here are some wonderful websites, books and guided mediations which promote mindfulness:
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications by Ruth A. Baer (2006)
http://belleruthnaparstek.com This website has multiple guided meditations from Belleruth Naperstak