Mindfulness is such a trendy word, but what does it actually mean?
Living mindfully is the shift from moving away from autopilot to living in the present moment. Have you ever gotten in the car and driven home only to realize you’ve arrived but can’t recall the actual journey?
Mindfulness equates to fully experiencing. The widest known adage of “stop and smell the roses”, if you will.
It’s through mindfulness that we learn how to pay attention to our emotions and process instead of brushing aside.
Mindfulness helps us reconnect to our basic ability to be fully present and stay cognizant of where we are and what we're doing. It helps us wake up, lift out of autopilot and use our brain in a more balanced way.
So what exactly is mindfulness? One commonly used definition is that it's the act of paying purposeful attention to all elements of our experience with an attitude of open acceptance, non judgment and compassion.
Living with purposeful attention.
Why do we want to live mindfully?
Let’s take a moment to check in, fully and with purposeful attention. How are you feeling? Check in with your emotions, do you feel tension anywhere? Do you feel angry? Do you feel pain somewhere? Do you feel fearful? How about levity and openness? Do you feel happy? There are increasingly more studies and explorations into our emotions and relationship to the body (somatic experience, meaning a relationship between body and mind).
Our bodies have a whole host of knowledge and wisdom. Over time and evolution we have disconnected from our authentic selves. The ever growing to do list, the place you have to be, the way you are supposed to look, the amount you’re supposed to show up. These are called internal and external drivers. We have an end goal which is fuelled by society’s expectations which in turn fuel our own. But are these expectations realistic? Do these expectations actually have our best interests in mind? Biologically, our nervous system hasn’t had the opportunity to evolve at the same rate as our minds and communities. This creates another layer of distraction because we can certainly feel like any time something doesn’t align with our expectation, our experience can feel catastrophic! So these feelings of stress and anxiousness that you may feel underlying your day are a common side effect of distracted living.
The most impactful benefit of a mindfulness practice as it pertains to our current climate, is that it negates feelings of anxiety and stress.
When we think about how the mind works, our thoughts are brought into “what if” or “if only I had of “ which is past or future. This is evolutionary as mentioned before - we haven’t caught up to our current environment so we are still in our fight or flight mode to survive. Our thoughts take us down a road, but these thoughts aren’t necessarily ours, and they certainly aren’t present.
If we're being mindful, we can notice these thoughts as they arise and make intentional choices that prevent us from getting lost in them (you may have heard of these running thoughts as “stories”). A regular mindfulness practice teaches us how to observe our own mind, which helps us to understand that even though thoughts can feel extremely powerful, they're simply appearances in consciousness - akin to a cloud floating by in the sky.
Now if you’re thinking “hey now, I’m the thinker of my thoughts! These are mine!” I encourage you to just pay attention to your thoughts as they arise. Where did these thoughts originate? There’s a difference between initiation and engagement, which are you having the relationship with?
Let's do a quick exercise to illustrate this point.
Think of a food item. Could be ANY food item. Could be a meal, could be an individual ingredient.
Now if you’re like me, you thought of a few different options and then went back and forth and ultimately decided on the final choice. What’s interesting in this experience is the dialogue you likely had with yourself - the convincing of which item would be best and why, and then food items starting falling into the margins of your consciousness.
You could have picked any item - any single one that you are aware of, and ultimately you landed on one. The thing to contemplate here is of all of the food items that you know of, only a few landed in the pile to choose from - so how did this get filtered?
If we can open ourselves to this contemplation of thinking awareness (the recognition that all thoughts are not necessarily your own - so many reactions are stemmed from conditioning (external)), then we begin to notice that it’s the next thought that tends to be our conscious thought. This thinking sets us on a path that allows us to see our thoughts in new ways and to learn to relate to them very differently. We can begin to take our thoughts less personally (we can begin to peel the layers off) and keep them at some distance from us. If we can become a witness to thought rather than a thinker of them, we have so much more space to decide what to do with them. At the very least we can ask ourselves, is this thought helpful or unhelpful? Without energy from us keeping those thoughts alive in our mind, thoughts will disappear all on their own. It might feel a bit unsettling to let go of the idea that you’re not responsible for the thoughts you produce, but there’s also tremendous freedom in it.
Incorporating Living Mindfully into your day
There are a multitude of practices that can support you in your journey to living more mindfully, one that we are a huge fan of is the somatic practice of our in studio classes: using movement and stillness to become more aware of our own autonomy.
Journaling can be an incredibly freeing practice, as it is a safe space for those obstructive thoughts to be cleared out.
Simply breathing intentionally can be such a beautiful way to remind yourself to come back into the moment as breathing is the one action we can do consciously and subconsciously. When we shift our attention to the psychosomatic impact breath has, we begin to realize the relationship our (mind) intention can have on our (body) being. Breath is a gateway to regulation of our nervous system, so we are literally calming ourselves down when we breathe deep and intentionally.
Being aware of our senses helps to bring us to the present moment, after all, our senses are our greatest information receptors!
Join us in Exploring Mindfulness, a new class added to our schedule every month, as a way to practice these and more techniques to bring mindfulness into our lives every day!