By Patricia Chilangwa, Pretzel Kids Teacher and Mindfulness Advisor
People often ask me, “What exactly is mindfulness?”
I always find myself falling short of an answer that resonates with everyone. That’s because, in theory, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be present with whatever you are doing. And, in practice, it’s so much more than that!
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It involves awareness of the present moment and a gentle attitude of acceptance and non-judgment with every experience.
To back up a bit, we live in a fast-paced and busy world that is flooded with information, distractions, and day-to-day stress. As a result, it’s easy to become disconnected from your true essence and from things that really matter. We get it: You’re just too busy focusing on moving through your daily activities.
Mindfulness, however, is a reminder to shift away from autopilot mode so you can experience and appreciate life - instead of rushing through it. Mindfulness is not a “magic pill”, but if practiced with intention, it can help you navigate the highs and lows of this journey that we call life.
How to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Life
Mindfulness can be thought of as a state, a trait or a practice.
For example, you can have a moment of mindfulness (state) or an overall individual ‘baseline’ of mindfulness (trait). You can also practice mindfulness through seated meditation, mindful walking, mindful eating, or other techniques.
While a formal meditation practice is not the only way to infuse mindfulness into your daily life, it certainly helps create a healthy habit. And, this can bring about more mindful moments throughout your day.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
As you’ve probably noticed, everyone is talking about mindfulness these days. There’s a good reason for that. Scientific research is finally shedding light on the potential benefits of this practice.
Here are just a few of the benefits that have been linked to practicing mindfulness:
- Reduced risk of depression
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Increased focus and concentration
- Enhanced work performance
- Improved self-regulation
- Improved interpersonal relations
- Increased immune function
- More contentment with life
How to Begin Practicing Mindfulness
I know we all love a quick “how to”, but it’s important to understand that mindfulness is not something that emerges overnight. Think of it as both a daily and lifelong practice.
If you’re ready to dive in and get started, here are some basic instructions.
- Find a quiet room where you can sit comfortably, with your spine erect, but not rigid.
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and allow your body to relax. Notice any physical sensations. Warmth? Tingling? Vibrations?
- When you feel settled, bring your awareness to your breathing. There is no need to control or change anything about it. Just observe its natural flow.
- Each time you realize that your mind has wandered away from your breath - and it will wander often - gently bring it back. Sounds, thoughts, and sensations will arise. Just allow them to come and go without getting caught up in them.
After a few minutes, open your eyes and reflect on your experience. Repeat these steps the next day!
Some Mindful Meditation Tips
There is a misconception that mindful meditation requires total concentration and a blank mind. This is not the case.
Instead, think of it this way: Your thoughts are not your enemies, and the goal of meditation is not to control these thoughts. Rather, focus on cultivating a benevolent awareness of whatever is happening within yourself and in your environment. By doing this, you’ll soon see that your thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t rule you and you can always redirect your attention whenever you get stuck on habitual negative thinking.
Some other important ways to enhance your mindfulness practice:
- Mindfulness is a practice of kindness, so be patient with yourself.
- Make a point of noticing the little pleasures in your life, and be grateful for them.
- Slow down and unplug every now and then. Take periodic breaks from your phone screen and from social media.
- Go for a walk in nature.
- Nourish yourself with healthy food.
- Make more conscious and mindful choices whenever you purchase something!
The Importance of Mindfulness for Kids
Not surprisingly, more parents and teachers are seeking advice on practical ways to bring mindfulness to children, and I love it!
Although the human brain is constantly developing and changing, children’s brains create a high rate of circuit connections during the early developmental years. We also now know that emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of life success than IQ. Despite this knowledge, kids often do not learn the social and emotional skills necessary for building resilience and well-being. On top of this, children are under a lot of stress juggling school, independence, and social relationships.
Mindfulness, however, can offer children and teens coping strategies - every step of the way. Are you ready to start practicing mindfulness today and make it a family affair?
About Patricia: Patricia came to the practice of yoga in 2000 and has never looked back. Motivated by a desire to positively impact children’s lives, Patricia incorporates mindfulness-based practices into her kids yoga classes. She draws on her years of experience as a preschool and elementary teacher to design and implement developmentally-appropriate curricula for children of all ages and abilities. Patricia also serves on the Board of Directors at the United Nations of Boston, where she collaborates in educational initiatives to benefit girls and women. She is currently pursuing a Master Degree in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University.