With everyone's stress levels climbing by the minute, we are hearing a great deal about how to relieve our stress. Mindfulness being front and center. Meditation as well. "Try some yoga" you may be told, but where to begin? How do I meditate? or a statement I hear often, "I can't meditate." What does being mindful mean? How is that different from meditation? So many questions with such little guidance. I am sad to say that the majority of health care providers out there are still not fully on board accepting the positive outcomes that these ancient practices can have on ones overall well-being and their efficacy in lowering stress levels. The suggestion may come from your primary, your pain management Dr., or your mental health provider with not much more in the way of guidance and so the action stalls. While I am far from the expert on the subject, I believe I can offer some clarity and clear up some confusion on the differences between mindfulness and meditation and how to begin.
In my mind, meditation is a deeper state of consciousness. We arrive in that state through focus and allowing ourselves to be absorbed into that which we are focused on. The point of focus can be imagery, our breath, a candle flame or a mantra. (Not limited to only these). Once completely immersed, we enter a deeper level of awareness and quiet. This state brings about peace, clarity of thought and ease in both the physical body and the mind. It may not be easy to meditate but it is absolutely not as hard as some may think. It does take practice. To retrain the mind and the body to be still. To sit quietly. It is not in most of our natures' to take that time for ourselves and just sit. The easiest way to begin is to simply set a timer for about two minutes to start and just notice your breath. That's it. If you can do that, you will have done a meditation on your breath. Easier said than done if you try it. How many times in two minutes did your mind get distracted? That is the challenge. Keeping your mind focused only on your breath for the whole entire time! If you can, in that short period of time, you will notice a subtle shift into peace. Yes!! in just 2 minutes you can do that FOR YOURSELF. That is one of the things I love about these practices is that you give the control back to the client. YOU are helping heal YOURSELF! Be patient with yourself and the process. It doesn't matter how many times you need to redirect your thinking mind, just do it kindly and without beating yourself up over it. It will become easier if you stick with it. So meditation would be something you bring into your daily life to live with more ease. To enable yourself to see the world differently and interact with others differently.
Mindfulness on the other hand, in my experience, takes a more active approach to daily life and all that is happening. I use the word "active" because as an adult we have drifted so far away from being present it takes effort to be there. It focuses on being fully immersed in every moment of every day. That is much harder than you think. To test this, take a task that you do each day. Eating, showering, breathing, driving.......and dissect it so you are completely present through every moment of the task. Stating to yourself, " I am chewing, " describe what you are chewing, the texture of the food, the temperature, the spiciness or lack of spice, " I am swallowing" etc. It slows the process down. Provides you with more awareness. Awareness is key when you are trying to bring about change. Take cues from children. Most kids, are not in the future. They are, wherever they are. And they LOVE being there. They're bouncing on a trampoline or selling lemonade at their little stand on the driveway, they are NOT thinking about when they will do homework, or what to eat for dinner. They are immersed in what they are doing. Now, of course there are kids who suffer with anxiety and I am not getting into that dynamic in this blog. For the most part, elementary school aged children are unconsciously mindful .
In a stressful situation, our brains kick into fight or flight mode without us having to think about it but usually, our response is inappropriate for the current situation and thus, we are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety or anger. Mindfulness can anchor and calm you if you have enough awareness to do so. To actively ground yourself in the present moment by saying "I am inhaling" and take a very slow deep breath, and then "I am exhaling" and slowly release the breath. You can also connect with your physical body, paying attention to the soles of your feet and feeling them firmly rooted on the ground. Anything that brings you back to the present moment and out of the land of anticipation and worry and anxiety. Your breath and your body are 2 things that you have at your disposal at all times so they are easy to focus on. Keeping yourself in the here and now, each and every minute of each and every day will bring peace and happiness because you are not in the past with regret, doubt and therefore usually depression and sadness, nor are you in the future with what ifs, and worry and anxious thoughts. I am sure as you read this you can appreciate how difficult it is to remove the sense of auto-pilot that we have all adopted with those parts of our lives that we feel we don't need to consciously think about, however, if we can try to approach being mindful with baby steps, one task at a time, we can bring that calm into our lives that we all crave so much. You do it each time you come to a yoga class, it then becomes your responsibility to take that off your mat and into your life to keep that peace with you always. Like anything else in life, those goals that require the most effort usually yield the highest reward and mindfulness is no different. It is definitely something worth practicing and investing your time once you see the joy it can bring to your world and to the world of those around you.