In their most essential form, practices of mindfulness all come down to the same idea: presence. The idea of being mindful is similar to being intentional. Every action you take has a reason because you’re aware of your actions. But for brains capable of somewhat predicting the future, cataloging decades worth of information and processing multiple conversations at once – settling down enough to be grounded in the moment is not a natural setting. We’ve been conditioned to get the most out of our minds by making them work as hard as they can. The three practices I’ve listed below are just simple ways to help retrain your brain to focus on the present moment.
I feel like I’m always talking about exercise for one reason or another on the site – but it’s because there are so many more benefits to exercise than weight loss. The diet culture that runs rampant in our media and our lives has hi-jacked exercise for its own purposes. But mindfulness and exercise have existed in harmony since the beginning.
For me, running is the most mindful exercise because I’m not very good at it. I have literally no arches in my feet. I have to wear special inserts and expensive shoes just to get them to be able to do what they’re supposed to during a run. Concentrating on running on the balls of my feet and not pronating out to the sides (making my feet go in funky directions), requires at least a surface level awareness of what my body is doing. Forty minutes of that kind of concentration, as well as the extra steps of focusing on the muscles in my thighs and calves that get me up hills, focus on my breathing and what my hands are doing, focus on the trail itself – all hold me in the present moment. Rarely do my thoughts run away to something else, and if they do they are usually quickly pulled back to the task at hand.
Many people find this kind of awareness through yoga, through dancing, through things like crossfit. Exercise doesn’t have to feel like a punishment for a body you might not treat right all of the time. It can be a great time to bridge the connection between your body and mind in the present moment.
Crafts and Coloring
As a kid I was obsessed with paint by numbers. I used to have them around all of the time. As a I grew up there was a shame involved in not being able to create work that great on my own. When I got sick and needed a ton of activities I could do in bed, my husband found these really complicated paint-by-numbers that required a delicate hand and concentration. They aren’t necessarily a creative endeavour – most of the time mindfulness activities aren’t really geared around creativity. Instead it is an activity that brings me to focus on the numbers, the paint brush, the textures of the paint.
Other crafts I’ve used before and would recommend to those looking for mindful activities are cross stitching and coloring in adult color books. I have some really nice colored pencils that I use for my more intricate designs. The act of coloring itself takes me back to a time when I was younger and didn’t have as many thoughts crowding my head. I can just sit and be while the pencil meets paper. In the same way, cross stitching is a guide-based activity. It requires your hands to be busy and creating, but there is less pressure because you’re following somebody else’s instructions. The end game of mindfulness in these types of activities is just the activity itself. If you find that you’re concentrating on making it look perfect or what other people think of you doing the activity, then this is probably not a mindful activity that will work for you. The point is the practice of presence.
Use the Five Senses
Earlier this week I shared the sentiment, “Notice the things that give your life texture.” How often do we ask ourselves, “What makes today objectively different from yesterday?” Compare the feeling of the air on your skin. Notice if it’s humid or cold. Notice if you feel the suns rays. That’s touch. Sight is another sense we can use for comparison. Remember those old Find the Difference games you played in Highlights? Play that in your room. Play it on the street. Concentrating on what you see every day in a way that allows you to catalog and store the information requires a huge amount of presence. Even if you don’t carry that over into the next day, the act of noticing is mindfulness.
Using taste and mindfulness as a combination has been a huge help in the way that I experience food. Before, I was very often disconnected to the act of eating. I ate past the point of being full because I was more concerned about whatever else was going on or just finishing my plate as a habit. Really taking the time to savor food, to examine what you like and don’t like about your meal, can help you to think of food as fuel and detach the ideas of it being a negative or positive. It’s just food. Mindfulness in eating helps us to simply enjoy the food in front of us without attaching all of the other thoughts we surround food with.
Scent is the most visceral of the senses in connecting us with the past, so using it as a practice in mindfulness might seem counter-intuitive. However, while scents can take us back to a memory, they have a very present reaction on our body. Whether it’s in reaction to the scent itself or the memory invoked by the scent, our bodies go through emotions and feelings in reaction. For me, the scent of vanilla gives me a sense of calm and lightness in my limbs. When I close my eyes I can feel peace in my chest. Next time you catch a smell, notice what your body is doing in reaction.
Hearing for me is the easiest way to bring me into the present. Music and I have an incredible connection to each other. I feel the sound of good music as much as I hear the notes themselves. But music doesn’t have to be the only way that we experience sound in the present. Next time you’re on your own, listen to your breath. Listen to the sound of the room. Of the air conditioner running, of the insects outside and the cars passing by. Again, the point of the exercise isn’t really to achieve any particular sort of epiphany. It’s simply just to notice the present in all of its fullness.
These beginning steps are just ways for us to get started on the idea of the present. Just thinking about mindfulness more often can show us when our thoughts are straying from our present moment. Next week, we’ll talk about meditation and mindfulness and how the practice can change our experience of our daily lives.