Intention

5 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness Everyday

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We’ve all read the articles and heard our friends talk about mindfulness. Sometimes, it seems like a trend that will just pass. Hopefully, this is one trend that is here to stay. The benefits of a mindfulness practice are numerous - better sleep, reduced stress, increased positive emotions, improved attention, the list goes on. Who doesn’t want those benefits in their life?

So, what exactly is “mindfulness?” Brené Brown’s definition states mindfulness is “taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not ‘over-identify’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.”  Zen master Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Don’t those definitions sound lovely? Less attachment to negativity and less judgment… I’m in!

I often incorporate mindfulness practices with my clients to address anxiety and depression. However, I often hear clients reflect on how difficult it is to just sit and “be” in the present moment when they are feeling so low. Below are my recommendations for those of us who either struggle to sit still and empty our thoughts or those who have busy and/or hectic lives with constant distractions (anyone have a toddler at home??). Try incorporating one mindfulness practice each day. Even if it just takes 10 seconds, the consistency over time will have positive impacts, I promise!

  1. 5 Senses Pause: Take a moment and just name (silently in your mind) what each of your five senses is experiencing. This doesn’t take long and is a concrete way to check in with the moment. This is great for grounding when you are stressed or even solidifying a memory you wish to keep. I did this during my wedding ceremony (when my mind wanted to drift to the awkwardness of so many eyes on such an intimate moment), and to this day, I can remember how my husband’s hand felt in mine.

  2. Intentionally Brush Your Teeth:  The next time you brush your teeth, notice each sensation as you brush each tooth. Direct your thoughts only to the task at hand. If you mind drifts, be kind to yourself and simply bring your mind back to brushing. Notice the sensations you feel. Bonus benefit - a sparkling smile 😁

  3. Listen with Attention: Next time you step outside, pause and see if you can notice all the sounds around you, whether near or far. Try not to label the sounds but simply take in the sound.

  4. Box Breathing: This one is especially good when you feel your emotions rising to an unpleasant state. Take 5-10 box breaths. A box breath is simply inhaling for 4 seconds, holding that inhale for 4 seconds, exhaling slowly for 4 seconds and then holding the exhale for 4 seconds.

  5. Mindful transitions: On a busy day when you’re going from one task to another, take a couple of seconds to end one task and begin the next. Simply put, acknowledge to yourself where you’ve come from and where you’re going. An example might be to take mental note in between tasks, “Okay, email to my boss is sent;” take a pause and a deep breath to finalize the task, so to speak, and then give yourself permission to move on to the next task, leaving the last one behind, “…and now I will make dinner.” If you notice yourself ruminating on a task you’ve let go of, simply come back to the present moment with a gentle reminder: “I’ve finished that already, there is no more I can do; now I am ______.”

The most important thing to remember when beginning (or continuing) a mindfulness practice is to be kind to yourself. Even meditation teachers with decades of experience will tell you that their mind wanders. It is not an indication of your effort, your motivation, or your ability to have a wandering mind. That is simply your mind trying to take care of you and protect you from perceived danger. Though often unhelpful, the intention is good. We simply have to build the muscle of mindful attention to teach the mind we don’t need protection from danger most of the time.

Leave New Years Resolutions in the Past. This Year Reset with Intentions!

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Naturally at the start of the New Year we often think about our “New Year’s Resolutions.” Resolutions can vary from setting out to accomplish a specific goal or making a commitment to change in some way, shape, or form. The New Year seems to be an organic time to reflect on our past year and look forward to the next. We might take an inventory on what we accomplished (or didn’t), and assess how we might want to be different moving forward. While setting New Year’s resolutions can be a wonderful way to create personal and professional goals, it may also set precedents that can be unrealistic, sometimes difficult to measure, and hard to manage during the unexpected turbulence that life seems to throw at us. Because of this, I invite you to re-frame the idea of establishing your resolutions into intentions.

I first must credit a yoga instructor in the Austin community whose class I was fortunate enough to attend on December 31st. She spoke of intention setting in the New Year and inspired me to reflect on how setting an intention, rather than a resolution(s), can influence our mental and emotional well-being. An intention is a state of mind that symbolizes a dedication to following through with purpose. The idea of committing our year to purpose rather than tying ourselves to any particular goal, can be a liberating and intentional way to cultivate an open mind about changing goals throughout the year while maintaining the consistency of following through with our ambitions utilizing a mindset of intention.

I am not suggesting abandoning the process of taking inventory on the past year and creating meaningful, inspiring goals for the New Year. Goal setting and living with intention are not mutually exclusive; actually, the two ideas go hand-in-hand. For example, we might create a health goal that is rooted in intention (i.e. being active, practicing body kindness, getting outside, etc.). If we apply our intentional mindset to this goal, we consider the purpose of this goal and how it fits into our life. This allows us to create both structure and flexibility around this goal so that it can be something realistic based on our lifestyle and flexible enough to allow re-evaluation if the structure does not seem to work for us. If you feel lost or defeated about your goals, come back to intention and purpose. Perhaps there is a different avenue for you to pursue your intention without the limitations of your predetermined goals.

As you begin to incorporate intention into your everyday choices, you may notice that you are making decisions and creating goals that align with your values. Perhaps you begin to notice that not only are you following through with the goals you created at the New Year, but you are continuing to create additional goals that support your purpose and your values.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year filled with intention!