In light of yesterday’s post on willpower and how to improve self-discipline, today’s GradHacker post Mindfulness: Awareness for Stress-Reduction seems well-timed. Though I’ve read about and been told about benefits of practicing mindfulness many times, it’s still not something that I’ve committed to habit.
I first became aware of the practice of mindfulness in my first or second year of college in a bio-behavioral health class. The professor touted the benefits of mindfulness and meditation as particularly important aspects of holistic health. (Holistic health is the concept that physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being are all interconnected. To be healthy, one must achieve balance across all aspects of well-being). The practice of mindfulness, rooted in Buddhist tradition, encourages one to be aware of one’s own body and mind. Often, we are so involved in fretting over the past or worrying about the future that we forget to focus on the present, the reality of now. All of that worrying over things that are outside of your control surely causes an imbalance in psychological or spiritual health.
Consistent with suggestions of holistic health professionals for dealing with stress and anxiety, GradHacker outlines two basic exercises for practicing mindfulness. Neither of them are time consuming, but having attempted to practice both of them in the past, I wouldn’t say that they’re particularly easy to accomplish without practice.
The first exercise is the Body Scan exercise. We practiced the Body Scan exercise in my bio-behavioral health class in college; I actually still practice it when I’m having difficulty falling asleep. Lie down, or sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Then, starting with your toes, release any tension you might be holding. Proceed to release any tension you’re holding in your ankles, up through your calves, knees, hips, torso, neck, and face. Don’t forget your arms and hands! I find that I’m usually holding a lot of tension in my jaw and forehead.
The second exercise is a simple breathing meditation. Set a time for a specific amount of time. GradHaker suggests 5, 10, or 15 minutes. I suggest starting out with 2 or 3 minutes. You’d be surprised at how long it feels. After you set a timer, sit in a comfortable position (ideally with your hands on each side of your body, palms up) and close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. GradHacker suggests counting from 1 to 10 continuously, but I do not count because that’s now how I practiced in meditation sessions that I attended. As you focus on breathing, you’ll surely have other thoughts. Don’t ignore the thoughts, but acknowledge them, and return your focus to your breathing.
The practice of breathing meditation is something that I often think I should do more often, but rarely actually do it. When I do try, I find it disconcerting just how easily my own thoughts can distract me from a mere 3 minutes of meditation. Because one of my goals for 2013 is to spend less time consuming mindlessly, I have given myself the perfect opportunity to practice mindful meditation more regularly. Rather than checking my Facebook feed during conceptual breaks, I will instead try to devote 3-5 minutes to a breathing meditation. With any luck, I’ll find that I can meditate for 10 minutes without becoming completely distracted before the end of this year.