Take Time to Slow Down: Further your Mindfulness Practice
Developing a mindfulness practice is critical to understanding and transforming our thoughts and emotions. Before we can take control of our mind and redirect negative thoughts to a positive place, we must first become aware of how we respond to situations in our daily life. This is easier said than done, particularly in the modern world where we find ourselves constantly connected to those around us. There are numerous benefits to this interwoven society, but the downside is that it distracts us from gaining a deeper understanding of our inner voice.
With the world around us moving forward at a mile a minute, the best way to tune in to our own mindset is to intentionally make time to slow things down. It is admirable to be striving for excellence and hustling during the day, but it is beneficial to find small pockets of time where you can step away from the grind and focus on awareness. Awareness is simply the act of being fully present and focusing on what is happening around, and within, you at this exact moment in time. If you are constantly focused on the next meeting, the next action, and the next item on the ToDo list then it becomes impossible to develop true awareness.
Awareness is an abstract concept, and developing it can occur in a number of arbitrary ways. Therein lies the problem! Thinking too much about how to effectively take a step in the right direction deters many from ever taking a step to begin with. It is important to understand that the goal is the process and not the destination. Learning how to slow your mind down has myriad health benefits including decreased stress and cortisol levels, increased sleep quality and, in a subjective sense, increased happiness and satisfaction with life. By simply trying to develop awareness, you will gain all of these benefits. There is no such thing as “winning” or “losing” when it comes to developing a mindfulness practice; it is your unique practice, and different strategies will work better for different people. Understand that you are winning by simply making the decision to dedicate some time to this endeavor.
That being said, there are some basic principles that will help you develop awareness and gain a better understanding of your inner voice:
- Start with just 5 minutes at a time; extend it to 10 or 15 minutes as you progress and as your schedule allows
- Some time is better than no time! It doesn’t need to be perfect, just jump in
- Start by focusing on your breathing — long breaths through the nose
- Begin to count your breaths, and focus only on how you are breathing
- Think about quality of your breath: is it smooth like silk or labored and jagged?
- As you breathe, try to clear your mind and focus only on your breathing
- If your mind wanders, it’s okay! Bring it back to the breath as soon as you notice
- Don’t beat yourself up if you get distracted or have difficulty; the victory is in coming back to the present, not in never wandering
Thinking about the nature and quality of your breath is a useful tool that allows you to focus your energy and your mind on something as opposed to nothing. Clearing the mind completely of outside thoughts is nearly impossible, and having a focal point can be beneficial in maintaining concentration. The quality of the breath is important; it should be long and smooth, with a consistent tempo throughout. If you find yourself taking shallow or irregular breaths, try to elongate your breathing and stay relaxed. This focus will allow your mind to stay locked in to the task, and the moment, at hand. From here, you will gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts and feelings which might otherwise go unobserved.
Focus on starting with awareness of your breathing and let your practice develop from there. Learn to slow your mind down and focus on nothing outside of the present moment. You can keep your eyes open or closed — don’t think that you need to sit cross-legged in a zen temple to effectively meditate and develop your practice. All it takes is some dedication to stepping away from the hustle and bustle of your daily life for a few brief moments each day. Think of it as an investment, and an inexpensive one at that! All it costs you is 5 minutes of your day, and the return on that investment is increased happiness, decreased stress and improved quality of life!
Until next time.