Written by: Andy Vantrease
Mindful is an adjective lacing the covers of wellness magazines, blog titles (guilty), meditation apps, tea flavors, beauty products and even paint colors. For months when I read the word mindful, I found myself tossing thoughts around in my head, trying to understand what it meant, and more importantly, what it meant to me.
We’ve all heard the advice: “live mindfully,” “eat mindfully,” “breathe mindfully.” Seriously, it’s like an overplayed pop song: it’s catchy but what is it even about?
Being mindful, by definition, means to be conscious or aware. But, aren’t we always aware of what we’re eating? We are physically lifting a fork, spoon, straw, bowl (pick your poison) to our mouths and feeding ourselves. Aren’t we always aware of how we’re living? We spend each day making decisions, driving to and from work, checking things off our to-do lists, taking care of our families, planning for the future.
The truth is, life moves fast. Really fast. And although your body and brain are functioning, how often do you sit back and marvel at the sheer magic of life’s moments? How often do you think about the thousands of chemical reactions that are happening each second to get you out of bed in the morning and keep your heart beating? (Thank you anatomy and physiology class.)
I’ve learned over time that to be mindful is to be able to pause and appreciate these moments. To look at your food before you eat, thank yourself for nourishing your body and treating it well (well being the key word – eat those veggies!) To walk outside to your car in the morning and notice that the daffodils are beginning to bloom. To look up and notice that the sky appears bluer now against the green grass and white Bradford pear trees. To read – with new eyes – the “Have a great day!” text from a loved one.
It also means paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging, especially during challenging times. After receiving an email from your manager, who wants to discuss your tardiness. After another tense conversation with a child who seems to be in a never-ending phase of rebellion. After calculating the finances and realizing you’ll have to give up certain luxuries, or necessities, just to get by this month. After hearing that the health exam didn’t return favorable results.
Being mindful is to be able to FEEL all of this, BREATHE deeply through all of this, and TRUST this life. The more you stop to appreciate, the more thankful you will be for each waking day. When you can take a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and be aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, you will be overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude for your mind, your body and the opportunities you are presented.
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce physical symptoms of stress, boost your immune system, restore focus, promote relaxation and regulate emotions. Sounds great, where do I sign up? In a world of constant stimulation, most of us are hard-pressed to find 15 or 20 minutes and a quiet place to meditate. Luckily, all you need to begin your journey into mindfulness is a set of lungs and an intention to reap the benefits of this new skill.
At several points throughout the day, preferably during stressful periods of time, pause and take a deep breath in … then a deep breath out. Focusing on your breath, even if just for 20 seconds, gives your brain the ability to register one task or thought at a time.
Breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five – repeat several times until you feel your mind clearing and your heart rate leveling off. Observe and respond to what’s happening around you.
Practice this every day. If you skip a day, forgive yourself, and try again. Mental fitness, like physical fitness, takes time, effort and dedication. In life, as in yoga, your practice is your practice and only you know what works best for you. Thank yourself for showing up, taking time to pause, breathe, and appreciate.