(Re)starting a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness has become quite popular recently and rightly so. It’s based on a Buddhist meditative practice of being present focused and non-judgmental, simply observing what is happening right now. Another key part of mindfulness is only doing one thing at a time; no multitasking! And mindfulness also requires not trying to change anything, not even trying to breathe more deeply. The practice has been adapted for use in medicine and psychology to treat stress, depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness training often starts with a breathing exercise or breath awareness. The person might move on to longer periods of breath awareness before trying other exercises such as body scans and sitting meditations. With therapeutic approaches using mindfulness, the ultimate goal is to use it in everyday activities from interactions with other people to daily activities like walking. By being in the present moment more often, the idea is that stress is reduced and people are more effective in what they do. The mistakes of the past and the trials of the future are not burdening you (if only for a few minutes).

One thing I’ve noticed with mindfulness and relaxation techniques in general, is that after a person becomes proficient, there eventually comes a time where they have to return to basics. With mindfulness, this might mean using a recorded audio walk-through of a mindfulness exercise rather than attempting the meditation on one’s own or possibly returning to a class. In my own practice, I recently found that I had to use a recording of a breath awareness exercise again because my skills had atrophied. This was partially due to extremely high stress levels and inconsistency in my every day mindfulness practice.

I’ve noticed other people will oftentimes listen to the mindfulness meditation recordings a few times, read the books and then continue to “practice” mindfulness without the recordings or books. However, these people often seem just as anxious as before. When I ask if they are practicing their mindfulness, they will often say, “Yes, while I’m doing the dishes and watching the kids.” Well, since they are multitasking (dishes, kids, trying to focus on their breath) it’s highly unlikely they are actually practicing mindfulness.

It is hard to find 20 or 10 or even 5 minutes in a day to fully practice mindfulness. But there are ways to make it easier. While I wrote these suggestions for people who need to restart their practice, they can also work for people trying mindfulness for the first time.

1. Put a 5 minute recording on your phone. If you are away from home all day but occasionally have downtime, you can practice anywhere no matter how long your break.

2. Find a place where no one will bother you for 10 minutes and sit there being mindful of your breath. If your office has a wellness room, use it. Find an empty office or conference room.

3. When your alarm goes off in the morning, get up instead of hitting the snooze button. Sit somewhere else (so you don’t fall asleep) and do a 5 minute meditation on your breath or the sounds around you. Or try a walking mindfulness meditation if you need to be moving.

4. Restart small then work up to more frequent practice. Try having a short, formal practice only once or twice a week. Then after a few weeks, add another day. Then another day the next week and so on until you practice each day. Or start with a 5 minute practice twice a week, then increase to 10 minutes twice a week and so on. The point is to make this a habit like brushing your teeth.

Sometimes the informal practices have to be supplemented by the formal meditation practices and supports like recordings, classes and writings. You might have to try a few strategies before finding something that actually works for you so do not get discouraged if your first few attempts fail. Write down your own personal benefits of practicing mindfulness and read it each day. Try to practice the non-judgmental attitude towards yourself and try to be in the present moment, focusing on what you do now.

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