MINDFULNESS, MY WAY
“Yes, my mind still wanders when I am trying to focus on my breathing but now I don’t see it as a mistake.”
“Mindfulness” and “Meditation” these days have become one of those magic marketing jargons, just like “organic,” “gluten-free” and “artisan” have been in the past.
How many of us actually know what gluten is and why is it bad for us? Are people actually allergic to gluten or is it just that we think it sounds cool to say it? It is the same thing with meditation and mindfulness. People are flocking to it without asking questions like, what does it mean and is it good for me?
I had struggled with the idea of mediation and being mindful for the longest time. I love doing yoga and have been practising it since I was 6–7 years old. An Indian girl who likes yoga, promoting stereotypes, ain’t I? :D
Coming back to why I am sharing my story, as much as I loved yoga as a form of exercise, I could never get my mind to totally give-in to it. Even when I used to do breathing exercises or the savasana, my mind would always wander to things I have to do. I would be making lists in my mind and that used to stress me, rather than relax me.
I have nothing against either of these techniques. In fact, I have seen it do wonders for a lot of people but just like everything else there is always the case of ‘one size doesn’t fit all’.
There are ideally two ways to practice mindfulness. The formal way is through meditation and the informal way is the rest of your life. The rest of your life seem like a long time to practice a relaxation technique doesn’t it?
So how can a person like me learn to stay in the moment, as that is what mindfulness means to most of us. Although right, there is an important part of mindfulness that we either don’t know or forget about, which is no judgement.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness doesn’t mean staying in the moment for every minute for the rest of your life, which to be honest is impossible to do. According to a research a person spends 47% of their time without being fully aware of the environment, which is very aptly called being on ‘autopilot’. So let’s break it down to things that we can do to be as aware as, we can humanly be and how does it help us.
Let’s get straight to the point from the start, mindfulness is not about changing thoughts or even getting rid of them, it is about being aware of your thoughts and mind without any judgement. You can’t always have positive thoughts and your mind in bound to wander, what mindfulness should be used to achieve is no matter your thoughts, you should not get overwhelmed, agitated or disappointed with them. Your end goal is to be comfortable with yourself and not to change yourself.
Here are a few things I have been doing to keep myself grounded and focused. I don’t know if they classify as mindful activities but they sure help me.
Practice regularly but be prepared for failure: Every time I practice mindfulness in any way, nowadays I don’t try to force control over my thoughts. If while meditating, a negative thought pops in mind, I do not fight it anymore. I acknowledge it but slowly I have learned to accept it for what it is, just a passing thought.
Ease into the process: If anxiety and negative thoughts are something you have been dealing with for a long time like me, thinking that a 10 minute listening is going to instantly fix it, is just not the right way to go about it. Using activities like a mindful walk, trying to be mindful while eating or cleaning, even taking a shower are great ways to ease into the process. Since these activities are usually recurring on a daily basis, it helps you to create a habit out of mindfulness.
Make it fun: Mindfulness does not have to be a set activity for a set time that you decide on and feel a pressure to do it on a daily basis, it can be fun. For example, my daily commute to work was a major contributor to my daily anxiety. I would spend all my time, staring at the road or google maps with those red lines making me more and more anxious. I would often keep arguing with my driver to take shortcuts to avoid traffic and that would instigate a state of anxiousness through the entire day.
What I started doing recently is instead of focusing on the traffic, I notice the people, their faces and imagine their stories. The writer in me gets lots of inspiration and the emotional side of me captures moments that reinforces positivity in my day, like seeing a father dance with his daughter in the garden, a woman run out of her house to give her husband a helmet as he gets on his bike. Find something that not just distracts you but actually something that interests you and spend your time focusing on that.
Don’t try to constantly analyse yourself and the progress you are making: I know that often when we turn to mindfulness our motivations are change and control. Those were my motivations too when I started but my experience so far has taught me that is exactly the opposite of what I was trying to achieve. The day I stopped putting pressure on myself that today I have to feel calmer or happier because I took a mindful walk or practised mindful breathing, that was the beginning of my journey.
Today every mindful activity that is part of my daily routine is fun for me. Slowly but steadily I have developed empathy for myself. Yes my mind still wanders when I am trying to focus on my breathing but now I don’t see it as a mistake. It is part of who I am and that is okay with me.