By Lisa Adams Walter
For months leading up to the first of January, I often find myself resolving to begin anew in the coming year. Intentions range from getting my house in order, to eating healthier, to increasing my physical activity, to spending more time with those important to me, to continuing personal career development and more. In total, the list can be a bit daunting and overwhelming.
Planning for this New Year (and with the dawn of 2020, this new decade!) I have a singular resolution and personal initiative on my list: mindfulness.
What does being “mindful” mean? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, mindfulness is defined as, “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.”
More simply, be intentional, be thoughtful, be aware -- of your world and of yourself.
While this may sound selfish and focused internally, the practice of mindfulness should instead lead to a more calm and balanced life that, in turn, results in a steady, kind and peaceful existence with others.
As the word implies, mindfulness resides in one place. Within your mind. There are many physical activities, however, that lead to a mindful existence.
The Mayo Clinic online resource recommends the benefits of mindfulness exercises, describing mindfulness as a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. The resource goes on to state that mindfulness activities can include breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind, help reduce stress and better engage in the world around you.
The impact of the mind on the body, has long been formally researched. Having been studied in many clinical trials, the overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions, including anxiety, stress, pain, insomnia, depression and high blood pressure.
In addition to meditation, simple acts of mindfulness integrated into daily life can result in positive results. To incorporate mindfulness into your life, I suggest that you consider some of these activities:
• Live In the Moment – Rather than look ahead, or think back, be present. Be in the moment and focused upon what is happening right now. Use all of your senses to fully experience the life you are living at this second.
• Slow Down – We are all moving at a crazy fast pace. Technology, social and professional commitments, and perceived community expectations can whip us around and wear us down. Instead, slow down. Physically and mentally, give yourself breaks.
• Pay Keen Attention – Pay attention to yourself. What is it that is happening around you and how does it make you feel? Pay attention to others too. Being mindful of yourself will naturally make you more aware of the feelings and emotions of others.
• Move – Get out and walk, exercise like an Olympian or gently stretch in the comfort of your own home. Your level of movement is totally up to the new mindful you. Notice how your body feels with each subtle movement. If you are so inclined, practice or take yoga. The peaceful nature of yoga both invigorates the body while calming the mind.
• Breathing and Self-Care – Along with movement, breathing naturally impacts the entire body. Breathe deep and often. Shallow breath is not sustainable. Guided breathing exercises are available to make this a natural part of your life.
• Find Joy – If there is joy, it will lead to peace and happiness. Find joy in other people, in natural surroundings, in the color of the winter root vegetables at the farmer’s market, in the melody of favorite tunes. The simple things, they are the best. They really do spark joy!
• Be Kind to Self – We have been taught from an early age to be kind to others. It is often a learned behavior, frequently much later in life, that we also need to be kind to ourselves. Love, respect, admire and nurture yourself. Especially if you are being mindful, you will realize that you deserve to shower yourself with kindness.
Studies have shown that mindfulness can improve overall health, increase attention span, help with better sleep, improve relationships, decrease professional burnout and bolster happiness!
Happiness for free? Sign me up! If you are not sure where to start your mindful journey, there are many resources such as books, articles and websites. With a tap on your phone, there are many applications (apps) for mindfulness too. Some that I plan to try this year, all within the App Store, include:
#Mindful – One reviewer described, “This app is kind of like getting a text from a good friend telling you how much they appreciate you… puts a smile on your face and reminds you what’s really important in life.”
The Mindfulness App – Meditation for everyone. The app immediately encourages you to “Breathe Deep” and then introduces five daily practices, with guided and silent meditations that range from three to 30 minutes. Programs, courses and categories such as Focus, Body, Relationships, Stress Relief and Sleep are part of this comprehensive application.
Mindfulness Coach – An app, interestingly developed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, begins with a “Training Plan” to help get one started with a basic mindfulness practice. A small tree appears on the first screen, and as a user your tree “grows” as you complete levels of mindfulness, learn the principles and overcome common challenges.
Finally, to become completely mindful, I not only need to feel differently, I need to keep a written plan and record. For me, living with intention and being mindful, includes visualizing and journaling. Vision boards and written lists of gratitude, personal dreams, wishes for others and motivators serve as ancillary tools for my own mindfulness. I have started and stopped journals and vision boards in the past. This year I am going all out with intention, and creating time most every day to record my goals, feelings and desires, remaining grateful and being mindful as I write things down.
Over time, my hope is that mindfulness will become so natural that I won’t even think about it. I may not even need an app! Mindfulness will be part of the way that I live, with love, kindness, attention to detail, compassion and intention for myself and those around me.