Techniques To Enhance Mindfulness Practice
Daily mindfulness, or meditation, practice has had an incredible impact on my life. It has changed the way I think, act and live and has enhanced my life in every way I can think of. The practice itself can be challenging at times. Our minds are made to wander making it difficult to keep them calm and focused. These are the techniques that I have used that has helped me guide my mind back to a state of clarity.
Anyone who has tried to meditate knows the first step. Focus on your breathing. Simple right? Simple yes, easy no. The goal is to let your body breath naturally and to not control it, but if you are focused on it some of us have trouble letting our bodies take over while we maintain our focus on it. I am one of those. This part just takes practice and it’s important to note that it will come only if we let it happen naturally and if takes a while it doesn’t really matter. You will enjoy the same benefits either way so simply let it happen whenever that is.
Turn Nothing Into Something
Before my mind can wander and I am comfortable with my breath I repeat the word nothing in my mind. I tell myself to think about nothing. My mind then tries to visualize “nothing” which is my way of tricking it. It’s kind of like when in the movie War Games Mathew Broderick configures the computer that’s about to start thermonuclear war to play itself in tic-tac-toe forcing it into an infinite loop of tie games thus causing it to self-destruct (Yeah I went way back for that reference). My mind is now telling my mind to think about nothing which it then tries to visualize and comes up with nothing. In doing this I tend to wander less than I would.
This part is the most important part of meditation for beginners. Your mind will wander. It was made to. Many of us tend to get frustrated when it does which in turn makes it more difficult to refocus. The important thing to remember here is that the very first goal in meditation is to recognize that your mind has wandered so this is actually a time to celebrate, not be frustrated. If you are aware enough to realize your mind has wandered then you are already winning. Give yourself a mental high-five and then focus on guiding your mind back to your breath (or the word nothing or your mantra, etc).
Labeling And Letting Go
Once you become aware of the wandering mind you can use a technique called labelling. This is where we apply a generic label to what you were thinking. If you were thinking about work you can call it “work” and let it go or visualize it dissolving or floating away on a stream. This technique envelopes the thought allowing you to let it go cleanly.
Basking In The Good Thoughts
Of course simply letting go is easier said than done and some thoughts linger for a while. I recently started to let them linger if they are positive thoughts. The main reason for doing any self-improvement be it meditation, training, constant reading, etc. is to, simply put, increase happiness. If my mind stumbles onto something that makes me happy I completely bask in it as I let it fade into the ether and I refocus my mind on the practice. I even smile.
How do I know I’m improving? I use the Muse Headband and App to measure (which I’ve written about before). I make notes at the end of each session around what’s worked and not. Below is the brainwave activity from 3 months ago and one from this morning that shows a considerable improvement in my calm state.