Mindfulness Off The Mat

by | Feb 15, 2022 | Mindfulness

If you type “Mindfulness” into your Google search bar, you’ll find hundreds of articles on the practice and lists of the numerous ways being more mindful can improve your life.  There are many studies that prove practicing mindfulness can lower stress, improve sleep, help reduce chronic pain, improve concentration, lead to better self-control, and improve your overall mental health, parents are applying mindful parenting with their children – and that’s just a small chunk of the practice’s benefits.  Mindfulness, it appears, is an incredibly powerful practice that can support us in surviving the increasing demands of 21st-century living. 
We may hear many invitations to mindfulness while in a yoga class, or attached to a meditation practice. Unless you’re a Buddhist monk, you most likely spend just a tiny portion of your day or week on a yoga mat or meditation cushion.  So, how can we integrate mindfulness into our life off the mat?
First, let’s define what mindfulness is.  According to Merriam Webster, “[Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”  To put it simply, practicing mindfulness is noticing what’s happening in the present moment.  It is when you are truly present, mind and body together.  It involves paying close attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in your body without judgment.  Mindfulness is not dwelling on the past or thinking of the future.  It is right here, right now.
Leaning into this definition, you can start to see how you can integrate mindfulness into your everyday life.  
Mindfulness in the Morning
Let’s begin first thing in the morning after you blink your eyes open and rise out of bed.  Before turning on your phone, launching yourself into tasks for the day, let’s take a moment to really pay attention.  When you’re preparing your coffee or tea, invite yourself to be fully there in the experience.  Hear the sound of the water pouring over the tea leaves.  Smell the aroma of the coffee as the grinds take time to steep in the hot water.  Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, the warmth of the steam on your nose and cheeks.  Notice the warmth and the sound of your first sip.  Immerse yourself in these first moments of your day.
Mindfulness in Challenging Moments
When practicing asana, instructors often remind students to stay present with their breath during challenging poses.  To build self-compassion, to not abandon the challenge, to build resilience when we fall out of balance.  This is a lesson we can take with us into life off the mat.  We may meet challenges at work, in parenting, in relationships, or even with physical discomfort or injury.  Instead of distracting ourselves, or when we feel flooded with anxiety, we can invite the practice of mindfulness.  Begin with the breath.  Slowing and expanding inhales and exhales can welcome your mind and body, together, into the present moment.  Invite yourself to pause and explore what you are feeling, emotionally and physically.  It may be helpful to journal, and write down this experience.  Or even taking a walk, taking time to feel your feet on the ground, see your surroundings, and hear the soundtrack of the world around you.  Noticing when your mood has shifted or when your attention diverts from the present is the lightbulb moment of awareness.  It’s an invitation to come back to your breath, come back to the present.  This is the heart of mindfulness.
Mindfulness Out and About
How often have you caught yourself doing two things at once?  Maybe responding to an email in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.  Checking texts when your dinner partner gets up to use the restroom.  Scrolling social media while you wait at a red light.  Smartphones and access to the internet at any given moment have our attention spread in many different places in any given moment.  
Turning towards more mindful living, the next time you’re at a red light, take that as a signal to pause and breathe.  Sigh out a few times and consciously release tension from your jaw, your neck, your shoulders.  
When waiting for a meeting or appointment, take inventory of your surroundings.  Noticing the emotions and energy of other people in the room, without judgment.  Notice what you’re feeling as you wait to enter a new experience, this new part of your day.  Can you take a few rounds of breath to ground and center your mind and body?
The next time you’re out walking your dog, or taking a lunchtime stroll around the neighborhood, try leaving your phone at home or at least keep it silent and tucked away in a pocket.  Notice the sound of wind blowing through the leaves of the trees.  Notice the distant chirping of birds or children playing.  Watch as a squirrel scampers across the street and up into a tree.  Smell the scent of fresh-cut grass or the distinct smell of a season’s first rain.  Use your senses to explore your surroundings.
If you’re out on a hike or exploring a new city, challenge yourself to put your phone or camera away.  Oftentimes without our knowing, taking the time to snap a photo with our camera actually pulls us out of the moment.  We think about the perfect way to frame the scene, what we’ll do with that photo, who we’ll share it with, how many likes it might get on social media.  Instead of getting the perfect photo, just be there in that moment.  Allow yourself to really see the beauty of this picture-worthy moment and take a mental picture, instead.  You can share that moment with others later as you recall all of the details you gathered while you were mindfully present.
The Power of Breath
There’s a reason why there is so much focus on the breath in meditation and yoga.  Our body breathes naturally, without needing thought, direction, or command.  It is readily available at any given moment and it awakens our senses.  In the practice of mindfulness, when you breathe in, and when you breathe out, you are aware of your breath.  It is here where you touch and experience the gift of being alive.   
With consistent practice, you can really begin to notice and feel the positive impacts mindfulness can have on your daily life and overall well-being.  Over time you will learn to pause, breathe, and notice, turning what were once impulsive reactions into thoughtful responses.  You can learn to feel more comfortable and at ease in your mind and body because you have chosen to stay with yourself and your breath in moments that are challenging and uncomfortable.  The positive impact of that will ripple outward as you gain a deeper understanding of compassion, curiosity, and empathy by simply being aware of what’s going on around you.  As you invite yourself, over and over again, to stay fully engaged and immersed in all of life’s moments. 

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