Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Mindfulness without Meditation?
Mindfulness seems to be everywhere lately. Just today I read on the Action for Happiness Facebook page and mindful.org that the UK became the first country to publish an all-party parliamentary report on the benefits of mindfulness. That is huge!
Just a few weeks ago my 11 year was excited to tell me they had a mindfulness meditation practice in gym class! In my small corner of NJ that is also pretty huge! Funny how when mommy suggests meditation, I am usually met with that infamous "tween" eye roll…
My journey with mindfulness is a relatively recent one. After leaving a long career in Sales Training and Sales Management I returned to my very first passion, Social Work. I began practicing as a clinical therapist using skills from my Columbia University MSW in the 1990’s as well as more recent training and coursework in Positive Psychology. Meditation and/or Mindfulness has become a significant part of my work, yet it was something I found challenging personally.
It took me a while to get to where I am now, practicing meditation fairly regularly. That means around 5 out of 7 days per week, approximately 10 – 20 minutes a day. For me, that's awesome! I am careful not to judge myself or get frustrated when I miss days here and there.
Feeling and experiencing the subtle changes that mindful meditation has brought into my life I try to encourage it with others however not everyone is open to the idea. That got me thinking about mindfulness a little differently. In ACT, which is a part of my work, mindfulness does not need to be connected with formal meditation. It dawned on me that I had been using a form of mindfulness as a child when I would swim. Being on a competitive swim team throughout my childhood I can remember hours and hours of swimming laps in the pool. I would see swimming as a way for me to relieve stress and “clear my head”. The silence of being under the water and the rhythmic movement of my stroke gave me with a sense of comfort and calm even though I really did not understand why at the time. I would breathe every third stroke and would often find myself saying to myself “1…2…3… breathe…1…2…3…breathe” over and over as I practiced.
For those of you with a curiosity about mindfulness but not really sure if you are ready to introduce something new into your life, here are just a few of many ways that may help you start to be more mindful without meditation, similar to the experience I used to have when swimming:
Like in my experience, repetitive exercise like swimming, running or yoga that requires you to focus on your body and on your breathing can be a way to practice mindfulness.
Painting, drawing, coloring or other creative activity where you can focus your full attention on making something beautiful can be a great way to recharge your batteries and reduce the chatter that goes on in your mind.
Listen to music without distractions. Take time to fully hear the different instruments playing, lyrics and notice the feelings or emotions that come up as you listen.
Daily journaling or writing can be another way to be mindful. It could be a gratitude journal or other type of writing or just simply jotting down your day. My grandfather used to keep a daily journal and after he passed away my cousins and I would read through them and wonder why he would write every day, even the most simple, uneventful and mundane things. Now I better understand the benefits of his writing.
Find a few tasks you do every day, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower or washing the dishes. Stop multitasking and focus on those tasks with curiosity and wonder as if you had never done them before. What does the water feel like, what sounds do you hear, what other senses can you engage as you perform this task?