We go through our days distracted. Our attention gets pulled in many directions. Sometimes, we focus our attention on people and events such as our family, friends, work, politics. And other times, we focus our attention on the minutiae of life such as television, shopping, doing the laundry, video games. Mindfulness, being present in the current moment, has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health.
How to Begin a Mindfulness Practice
Observing is one of the core mindfulness practices. Observing aids us in becoming more aware of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We start observing by focusing on learning to tune into sight, sound, taste, and touch. Learning how to be present, to live in the moment begins with becoming more aware of our internal and external sensations. Observing practices reduce stress caused by worrying about the future. When we live in the present, there is no room for fear.
Practicing observing and increasing sensory awareness can be most beneficial when used in conjunction with other wellness practices. The benefits of observing are enhanced by practices such as meditation, yoga, psychotherapy, massage, writing, and artwork.
3 Observing Practices to Try
Our breath is one of the most steadfast things about the human body. As long as we are alive, our breath goes in and then goes out. Breathing is a natural reflex. Breathing is a simple way to support the parasympathetic nervous system to return to a calm state.
“If you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong.”~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
To begin a breathing practice, find a comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes and start to breathe naturally. Start by observing the sensation of the air moving in through your nose and out through your mouth. After several breaths, begin to deepen your breath. Notice the difference in how the air fills your lungs and abdomen. Notice the rise and fall of your chest.
Eating engages all of our senses: smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight. Take a few slow deep breaths while sitting at the table. Notice the food on the plate, the colors, the smells. Pick up the fork and scoop some food. Focus on the weight of the utensil in your hand as you lift the fork to your mouth. Notice how it feels when you place the food in your mouth. Feel the texture. Savor the flavors, identifying each flavor present in the food. Chew slowly, notice how the food feels between the teeth; consider what the food sounds while chewing.
You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Walking meditation focuses on the senses of sight, sound, and touch. A walking meditation may be done in almost any setting; however, starting in a quiet, safe place such as a park can improve your ability to engage more fully in the experience.
The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.~ Nhat Hanh
As you begin to walk, notice how your body feels. Focus your attention on the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and arms. Are they loose and comfortable or tense and tight? Focus on the hips and legs. Do they move easily, or do they seem to be resisting walking?
Notice what it feels like when the right foot lifts from the ground and then touches the ground again. Observe the difference in the weight on the toes and the heels.
Look around as you walk. Observe the colors of the trees and plants. Are there cracks in the sidewalks or paint peeling on the fence?
What can you smell in the air? Is it the scent of flowers or fresh air, or car exhaust? Note whether the aromas are pleasant or unpleasant.
No Better Time Than Now
The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Studies continue to show the benefit of mindfulness in reducing stress and anxiety, increasing focus, improving memory, and increasing positive traits, including empathy and compassion. Take a breath, and begin to observe these changes in yourself.
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Seeking Health and Happiness One Day at a Time.
Marcy Berg is a writer and therapist living in the Pacific Northwest and Exploring thoughts on mental health, wellness, and happiness. She can be found at Growing Through Life and Seeking Greener Pastures.