If you are a person with access to the internet, radio, television or books and magazines, it’s very likely that you’ve come across the word “mindfulness.” Conduct a simple Google search on “New Year’s resolutions,” “how to deal with anxiety,” or any other self-betterment phrase, and you’re bound to find yourself sifting through pages of articles praising this seemingly miraculous technique. Even searching through our blog will bring up tons of tips and techniques for it! If you’ve met with me in any kind of therapeutic capacity, you’ve definitely heard this word and have likely even practiced it in some way.
So, if mindfulness is so important and apparently the cure all to what ails you, what even is it and why is it so hard to actually do? Despite its intent and purpose, I’ve found that the word itself can seem a little daunting – not only for me but for many of my clients as well.
According to Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher/professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the definition of mindfulness is this: to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. Though it sounds simple enough, how realistic is it for teens to take on this practice when judgment and comparison of self and others is practically core to the adolescent experience?
As I explored this issue with some of my teen clients, I realized that there was quite a bit of push-back on incorporating mindfulness outside of session. The stories shared with me spoke to a sense of being bombarded with the idea that we should all be more mindful and if we aren’t, then something is wrong with us (cue judgment and comparison, am I right?!). The images of “mindfulness” we see on Instagram are typically of people sitting cross legged in a very zen-like space filled with lots of plants, string lights, and all the tapestries and floor pillows Urban Outfitters has to offer. While I do love a good tapestry and plants (and Urban Outfitters, if I’m totally honest), we have to get real about what the practice actually is and recognize that this likable image does nothing but couple the word “mindfulness” with a sense of dread, inadequacy and failure.
To help empower my clients to redefine the word on their terms, I’ve created my own definition: “simply being, simply noticing; being right here, right now as you are; no more, no less; noticing that you are here and that you’re okay.” I like to think that “being” and “mindfulness” are interchangeable, and really just a way to move out of auto-pilot. For instance, we may be sitting in class, or our fingers may be scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram. While we may appear to be focused, our minds are often elsewhere, ruminating (aka dwelling) on past mistakes and anticipating future failures instead of just being right here, right now, and being okay.
If we can recognize that our mind is on a runaway train to nowhere but self-judgment, we can stop ourselves and check in with our surroundings. One of my favorite techniques is the 5 senses check-in: What do you See? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Additionally, try noticing the way the air feels cool going through your nose, and warm out your mouth. Notice how the trees move when the wind blows. Notice how your clothes feel on your body or the temperature of your beverage. There are many quick and easy ways to practice mindfulness without having to channel your inner Buddha atop an overpriced poof surrounded by wind chimes and incense. In fact, here are a few that you can do today just to get your feet wet...
Real Life Being and Noticing:
Holding a mug filled with a warm beverage, noticing the warmth, in your hands, watching the steam rise, and noticing the smell.
Brushing your teeth: notice the taste of the toothpaste, the way the bristles feel different on your teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue etc.
Noticing the way water feels on your body during a shower or bath.
Notice the feeling you get when you open a car window or step outside.
Notice the color of the sky, if there are clouds, if there are trees.
Sitting with a friend and watching the way they talk. Do they talk with their hands? Their face? Their eyes?
Notice any flowers. Notice the color, the smell, the softness of the petals or the texture of their stems.
Place your feet into a pool, tub, or local water source. How does the water feel on your feet? Between your toes? How did the water move? What do you feel under your feet? Did this cause any other changes in your body?
You and your fellow humans are wonderful and beautiful souls that are deserving of even just a few minutes of noticing, especially when you’re stressed (remember when we are stressed we don’t even think clearly!). Pay attention to your thoughts and if you catch yourself getting stuck in a doom and gloom spiral, slow it down. Stop, take a deep breath, and just notice what . Be right here, right now. As you are. No more, no less. Just Breathe.