Updated: Feb 2
As we steadily move into the season of organization and new routines, mindfulness can help us feel more grounded and balanced, even in the midst of so many unknowns.
You may have heard that mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment. It happens when we let go of future-oriented expecting or worrying and when we release the grip of past-oriented memories and cyclical thought processes.
When our mental energy is less consumed by the future or the past we become better able to focus on the authentic experience of right Now.
The present moment is the one that you have the most control over, so cultivating mindfulness in this way also allows us to let go of heavy feelings like the uncertainty of not-knowing, even if for only a few minutes a day. Mindfulness can help us greatly improve time management, focus and productivity, eating habits, quality of sleep and self care, relationship experiences, physical health and overall happiness. In fact, mindful presence can be applied to everything we do, and can help us tune back into our bodies, minds and spirits and re-focus on the things that are most important to us.
1- Learn to reduce your overall stress factor: Anxiety and chronic stress are enormous problems in the US, even pre-pandemic. Chronic stress is known to promote many health issues if it’s not managed. The uncertainty that’s inherent in the current political unrest and global health crisis have magnified the need for deep, therapeutic relaxation and stress reduction.
Practicing mindfulness meditation can impart a sense of peace and calm, especially when practiced regularly. There are also methods of relaxing the nervous system that have a bold and immediate effect. Mindful stress-reduction can help you let go of irritation or frustration in the moment, or release layers of built up stress and negative emotions that may be starting to affect the physical body. There are numerous breathing exercises and guided meditations that help to switch our internal signals so that the brain shuts down the stress response and turns on the calm. In this way we are mindfully attending to our body's need to rest and rejuvenate.
Try this example of a guided relaxation meditation. Download the 'CALM- Oasis Journey' guided meditation here: https://www.cntrdwellness.com/audio-video
2- Get in touch with your body’s messages: By practicing awareness of both the physical body, the state of the breath, and the interactions of the two, we become more sensitive to even subtle imbalances in our systems. We can now notice dysfunction caused by physical stressors and mental tension and we have the presence of mind to make actionable changes.
Scheduling mindful check-ins into our daily schedule helps us build a habit of consciously paying attention- to the body’s messages, to passing thoughts and feelings, and to our inner guidance system. An essential exercise when working on strengthening the attention is to simply attend to the sensations in the body or on the breath- as they exist, in this moment. Make this a part of your daily check-in routine, and your brain’s capacity for clear, focused attention will become fortified and more easily accessed when you most need it.
The body scan is a great introduction to mindfulness training. Try the following body scan meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS42695tTxs&ab_channel=CNTRDWellness
3- Sort out your WFH health habits: Students and employees have always suffered from conditions related to poor work habits and stress, but now that many of us are attending meetings and classes from home. And we don’t have an ideal set-up. Many are hunched over laptop zoom sessions or pounding keys at improvised workspaces at kitchen tables or the couch. The new ‘norm’ is proving quite challenging on many levels.
When working from home our previous poor work habits are often exacerbated- creating more physical and mental maladies than ever. On a purely physical level, improper tech ergonomics can cause discomfort, pain, fatigue, headaches, insomnia and more. Luckily, evidence-based research suggests that these issues can be relieved significantly by taking micro-breaks and applying mindful, targeted physical re-education and ergonomic adjustments.
Try this 3-part neck stretch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUcaFXINCcU&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=CNTRDWellness
4- Nurture your communication style and build compassion: Just as mindfulness of the body can help prevent injury to the muscles, joints and other systems, mindfulness while communicating can help keep relationships authentic and connected, saving time and misunderstandings.
Our attention is divided, and that is more true than ever during this trying time. People are processing a lot of complicated experiences and emotions related to the general unrest and state of the world. Listening empathetically means that in this moment, we are only concerned with hearing what the other is expressing.
Practicing mindful listening is a good first step to improving communication- in person, or over Zoom. It helps us tune into what the other is trying to tell us- not only their words, but also with their tone of voice and body language. We can practice staying present even when our thoughts run off with an idea or a question about something they just said, or we feel the impulse to respond, or an emotional reaction is triggered on our part. The quality of the exchange is greatly increased and will be felt and appreciated by the speaker.
Start by trying these mindful listening tips next time you find yourself in casual conversation:
~Several times during the conversation take a mindful moment to check in and see where your thoughts are- are they still on topic with the speaker?
~If your mind has wandered elsewhere or is occupied preparing a response, see if you can gently guide your attention back to their words again- without judging yourself for checking out or ‘planning’ what to say next. Practice self-compassion but swiftly come back to being present with their story.
~Afterward, reflect on how and when your mind stepped out of the present. There may have been a time during the conversation that you stopped hearing the speaker completely because you were so engulfed with your own train of thought.
~Try to bring at least one mindful check-in to each conversation you have. Begin to notice your patterns and strengthen your connections with others by trying to offer all of your attention during an exchange.