Learning to “Just Be”: Mindfulness and Breath Awareness
March 2, 2021
Mindfulness is a word we hear more and more of lately. There is growing interest in our society around mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness practices can help us with concentration and memory, dealing with anxiety or depression, improve relaxation, or can even help increase self-awareness and compassion.
John Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, noted mindfulness is awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. I think a lot of us can struggle with getting caught in our minds, judging ourselves, being anxious about the future, regretting things in the past, and don’t notice how often this happens or the impact it can have. We might go through the day judging ourselves or even worrying about something that never ends up coming to pass. We do these things and then feel sad and/or exhausted by the end of the day but often don’t know why we feel the way we do. Practicing mindfulness can be a way to check-in with ourselves, get ourselves out of our heads, and be more in the present moment. The present moment is often more neutral and less loaded with emotion. We learn the practice of just “being” and observing, rather than fretting, judging, ruminating, worrying, and getting caught up in those emotions that come with these thought patterns.
The idea of mindfulness is really noticing when your mind drifts away from the present moment and then, non-judgementally, bringing your attention back to the present. Sometimes we get into the trap of thinking we need to do it perfectly or get frustrated if our minds seem to be drawn elsewhere rather than the present moment. There is no such thing as “perfect” in mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness is to just notice when your thoughts wander away from the present and bring them back to the present.
You might be asking yourself, “So how do I become more mindful in my day to day?” Here are some tips to help you get started…
1. Start small Whenever starting something new, start small. Don’t expect yourself to sit down and have a quiet, present observing mind, for 25 minutes straight. Think about trying to practice it for a few minutes here and there in your day.
2. Be mindful (present focused) in what you are already doing In your day to day, you probably do a number of things so automatically your mind goes elsewhere when doing them. Think about brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, getting dressed, folding laundry, etc.
Pick one small task you already do in your day to day and try to do it mindfully. I like the idea of doing it when brushing your teeth because we already do it everyday so it can help us get mindfulness into our daily lives. Just notice what the toothbrush feels like in your mouth, notice the sensation of the toothpaste, notice the toothbrush on your teeth, the temperature of the water, and when you become aware your mind has gone elsewhere, bring it back to brushing your teeth. Once you get the idea of it, try being more mindful with other tasks in your day to day.
3. Using the breath The breath can be a great way to help ground ourselves in the present and get us out of our heads. Set a timer for a couple minutes and practice paying attention to your breath. You can pay attention to different areas such as the nostrils, belly, and chest. You don’t need to try and adjust it to start, but just pay attention to your breathing. When you find your mind has wandered elsewhere, bring your attention back to your breath. It is a grounding tool that is always with you.
5. Practice Make mindfulness a practice in your life in both informal and formal ways. Informal mindfulness can be done during those moments such as sitting on the bus, going for a walk, tying your shoes, or doing the dishes. Formal mindfulness is setting aside a designated time to meditate or engage in a breath awareness activity.
6. Have patience It takes time to develop a new skill and find our rhythm. Having patience is a part of the process.
Adam Koenig is a Registered Psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. He is also a Canadian Certified Counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Associated and is Certified in Thanatology through the Association for Death Education and Counseling.