What is mindfulness? (And how the heck do I do it?)
In 2016, I took a course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). We met at a yoga studio once a week for 8 weeks. We were taught several mindfulness practices including:
· Body scan
· Sitting meditation
· Walking meditation
· Mindful yoga
· Eating meditation
· Routine activities at work and at home
This was my first introduction to both mindfulness and meditation and it began to lay the groundwork for my healing and ability to cope with intense stress and grief.
So What Is Mindfulness?
According to the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness, “Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment to thoughts, feelings, and body sensations with full acceptance.”
Sounds simple enough.
The MBSR class I mentioned was an intimate group of about 12-15 people. The instructor had created an environment of vulnerability and trust. We were learning and implementing. It felt great to have these connections with myself and with the group.
I was feeling good about my grasp on mindfulness.
Then, about 2/3 of the way through the course, a classmate said something as we were packing up to leave that really hit me. She said, “Well, I’m off to mindlessly scarf down my lunch in the car while I rush to work.”
The reality was that transferring the skills we were learning into our everyday lives was hard. We aren’t a society that values going slow or being in touch with yourself. We’d all been conditioned to live mindlessly for decades.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
When I was going through a particularly hard time with my daughter, I had a wonderful therapist who used mindfulness.
It took her asking me over and over what I physically felt in my body during stressful times for me to be able to fully grasp mindfulness in a functional way into my life. Her prompting helped me be able to stop and scan my body for physical sensations during times of duress and intensity.
By being able to take a pause in the middle of intense emotions, I believe it helped to loosen the grip of those emotions. It was a way of telling my body that it didn’t need to be in fight, flight or freeze mode. It told my brain that I was safe and my nervous system could calm down.
And then, by identifying the physical sensations, I could address them.
If I noticed my chest was tightened, I could take slow deep breaths. If my shoulders were tensed up, I could concentrate on relaxing them down and softening my facial muscles.
It was during one of these mindful check-ins that I first recognized an emotion as different to what I thought I was feeling.
After an intense “battle” with my 17-year-old daughter over getting her a new diaper, I sat with myself. It was only during that intentional check-in with my body that I realized it was grief I was feeling and not just stress, which is what I had labeled it all those times before.
This was a huge turning point for me.
Mindfulness Made Easy
I hosted Cindy Ralph from Sacred Pause to speak to my Flight Club members last month.
Cindy is gifted at making mindfulness easy to understand. She explained that mindfulness is really about awareness and self-awareness. Cindy said, “It’s the notion of paying attention to what is happening within you, what's happening around you, and with the intention of paying attention. So the intention to pay attention.”
What I loved is that Cindy added that mindfulness also helps with compassion.
She explained, “When you're mindful and aware of yourself, and what's going on inside, you can eventually meet it with compassion. And when you have that compassion for yourself, you're able to then extend that compassion outwards, to people in your life.”
It wasn’t until she said it this way that I realized that is exactly what happened to me when I struggled that day to change my daughter’s diaper.
The moment I realized I was feeling grief instead of stress was a huge turning point in my life. I was able to give myself so much more grace for the grief than I allowed myself for the “stress”. I was able to give myself compassion, just as Cindy had described.
Flex Your Muscles
Cindy explained that mindfulness takes practice. It’s like a muscle you have to get into shape for it to be able to perform for you.
It’s easiest to practice new things when you aren’t under pressure. That’s why we practice being in touch with all the sensations, thoughts, and emotions of a moment in any given situation.
Mindfulness teachers like us to practice while we do ordinary things like washing the dishes or folding the laundry.
If we use the mindfulness muscle enough in everyday life, it will be ready to perform in those high-stress situations when we really need it. We will be able to quickly do that body check-in and be able to address the physical sensations and calm our nervous system from fight, flight or freeze mode.
What’s on Your Mind?
Do you have a mindfulness transformation story to tell? I’d love to hear it! Leave a comment or send me an email.
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