Mindfulness has the power to relieve stress, clear your mind, and even improve your physical health, especially if you practice it on a daily basis. But many people are intimidated to start, believing that mindfulness meditation is a practice reserved for only the most patient or enlightened among us.
The truth is, mindfulness is a generic mental experience that can be practiced in a number of different ways – and all of them can be valuable.
What Is Mindfulness?
Let’s start by clearing up some misconceptions. Mindfulness is the practice of allowing your mind to become fully present, focusing only on the immediate, present moment. It’s a bit of a contradiction since it both requires total focus and forces you to clear your mind of distracting thoughts.
Ordinarily, we’re constantly pulled in many directions. We’re watching something on TV, vaguely listening to a conversation in another room, and dealing with a bombardment of thoughts that range from “am I going to get fired at work?” to “I wonder what happened to Jenny from high school.” Mindfulness serves as a kind of alignment, silencing your inner chatter and giving your mind some stress-free clarity.
When practiced deliberately and often, mindfulness will strengthen your emotional control, give you the ability to experience less stress (and control it better), and allow you to be more patient, kind, and humble.
Ways to Practice Mindfulness
The great thing about mindfulness is that it doesn’t have to unfold in any specific way. As long as you’re concentrating on the present moment, and filtering out distracting thoughts, you can experience mindfulness.
Here are just a few ways you can experience it:
- Simple meditation. You can start with a simple meditation exercise. Meditation itself can be practiced in many ways, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation here. But in its simplest form, all you have to do is focus on the present moment. When you experience a distracting thought, and you will, simply acknowledge it and let it pass. Recognize that you’re thinking it and recognize what you’re feeling – but don’t let yourself become absorbed by these things.
- Coloring. You can also practice mindful coloring. Coloring doesn’t require you to pay much attention or think complex thoughts; instead, you’ll be repeating a familiar, relatively easy movement over and over again. These days, you can even print your own coloring book and have a fully customized experience.
- Chanting a mantra. Some people prefer to achieve mindfulness by chanting a mantra – a short, meaningful phrase that gives you a focal point and allows you to filter out potential distractions. This can be a religiously significant phrase, a positive affirmation, or something else entirely.
- Playing music (in some ways). You can practice mindfulness by playing music in the right context. If you’re very familiar with an instrument, you can play something calming and repetitive to achieve this undistracted, present-focused state. If you’re inexperienced, you can tinker with percussive sounds on almost any surface. The key to mindfulness through music is to play something simple and repetitive, so you’re not forced to think too far ahead or participate in complex actions.
- Deep breathing. There are dozens of breathing exercises, all of which can be useful meditation tools, but simple deep breathing is highly approachable. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, then let it slowly out, pausing when you’ve totally exhaled. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and if you follow the pattern consistently, you’ll achieve mindfulness somewhat naturally.
- Certain crafts. You may be able to achieve mindfulness with the help of certain types of crafts. For example, some people can achieve mindfulness by folding simple origami patterns using sheets of paper. These motions are simple, repetitive, and calming, making them perfect for mindfulness.
- Scanning the body. Some people practice mindfulness meditation by performing a kind of internal “body scan.” You’ll bring your awareness to different parts of your body, one at a time, and relax the muscles associated with that area. It’s a great tool for relaxing and allowing your mind to clear.
- Walking. It’s even possible to achieve mindfulness by walking. Just make sure you’re in an open, safe area that doesn’t require much concentration, and walk forward at a steady pace.
Complex tasks, like playing chess or cooking dinner, generally require your attention to shift on a near-constant basis; you’ll be juggling several different ideas simultaneously and engaging your body in a variety of different ways. Accordingly, they’re not a great way to achieve mindfulness. However, the above list is far from comprehensive, and if you’re willing to experiment, you can likely discover a wide range of different activities that can help you stay mindful.