I get it. For some people, that act of sitting quietly in a meditative posture, eyes closed, on a cushion is too challenging, boring, or confusing, etc. Am I even doing this right, says the inner critic? It might even bring up too much distressing material. In fact, mindfulness meditation for trauma survivors can be overly activating and ill-advised at times. So….if sitting meditation is not part of your lifestyle for whatever the reason (NO judgment), I am sharing other ways to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your day. I tell my clients that the coping skills and lifestyle practices that I share with them are also ones that I do too.
But first- there is a lot of buzz with MINDFULNESS. SO what exactly am I talking about? A simple definition that is used to describe the act of mindfulness is: Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in one of his many excellent books (‘Wherever You Go There You Are) “Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to being present. There is no “performance”. There is just this moment. We are not trying to improve or to get anywhere else. We are not even running after any special insights or visions. Rather, we are simply inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness. The spirit of mindfulness is to practice for its own sake, and just to take each moment as it comes- pleasant or unpleasant, good, bad, or ugly- and then work with that because it is what is present now.”
Okay, that is a mouthful…….With this understanding in mind then, here are:
5 WAYS TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS MEDITATION WITHOUT SITTING ON A CUSHION
1. Walking: As you walk into your office/place of work FEEL each step. Step by step. Connect the soles of your feet to the pavement or grass. The simple practice of grounding can bring an overly activated nervous system into balance and into a state of openness and emotional stability. Sloooooooow the thoughts down. NOTICE the quality of the air. Is it fresh, stale, cool, warm, stuffy, energizing? Notice the sensations. Take in a deep belly breath and release with a slow exhale through pursed lips. (be careful if you have a tendency to get shortness of breath or dizzy- do what feels right with your body and work your way up to belly breathing if it is new to you). You have a full day ahead of you to give that anxious mind attention….for now, just connect to the earth one step at a time.
2. Affirmation: Repeat a mantra (usually one word) to yourself which feels mostly true and is kind and compassionate towards yourself and others, such as love, bliss, and joy. Or an Affirmation (more of a statement). Such as, “I’m doing the best that I can in this tough situation”. Or “I desire more peace (or whatever you want more of) in my life today” or “I trust the process of Life to take care of me” or “I open new doors to life” or “I always have a choice”…..I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Get creative and make it a meaningful statement to you and your life. As you say it, gently close your eyes and feel the words penetrate inside to any area of the body that feels right for you. Allow it to emanate to the world around you. For a minute, put aside the hundred things on your “to do” list. This is a mini-mindfulness break just for you!
3. If Depressed: If you find yourself in an acute depressed state, or if you experience chronic depression, you can notice the patterns of thoughts which feed the depression. Maybe you are caught in ‘all-or-nothing thinking’, generalizing (using words like always, never), jumping to conclusions or catastrophizing. CLICK HERE to learn more about thought distortions. These are just a couple of examples of ways that our thinking hijacks our natural state of being open, curious, embodied, and available for connection. SO- notice the pattern, name it “there is my depressed thinking” and let it go by visualizing it float down a river with a fast moving current. Don’t attach to it as the ultimate truth. Don’t let it define who you are. Research shows that labeling thoughts (‘name it to tame it’) can activate the brain’s hippocampus and “allow you to be more resilient under stress” (Schmidt, 2011). By giving some distance between YOU and the THOUGHT through noticing (Awareness) you induce mindfulness. Repeated patterns of mindfulness in this area will give you greater power over your life and the choices you make. Less reactivity and more responsiveness.
4. Driving: Ugh, this area is such a challenge, right? Personally, being in traffic has become sooo much easier since I’ve been practicing mindfulness. We can’t control other drivers. May I repeat….We have absolutely NO control over how other’s drive. We DO have all the control in how we respond and how relaxed or tense our bodies are. Are you in a traffic jam? Have you managed to hit every single red light? Maybe you got cut off by someone? And of course you are running late…..Whatever the trigger is -notice it. How does it show up? Rapid heartbeat? Fast breathing? Blood rushing to your hands? Racing thoughts? Maybe you notice none of these signs and it’s when you find yourself cussing out the person in the car ahead of you that signals to you that you have been triggered. Slow it down, breathe deeply. Activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Notice your hands on the steering wheel. Release the grip some. Notice you are okay, right now. Feel yourself in the driver’s seat, your back against the seat (get into your body…cuz your limbic system has been hijacked). It feels much better in the long run to be in control of your responses. Send kind thoughts to other drivers. CHOOSE kindness– you lose nothing by doing it. Relax any areas of tension in your body. Repeatedly practicing these mindfulness responses in the car will make your time driving more pleasant.
5. Mindful Eating: Another lunch date with you and your office desk? Rushing through dinner so you can tend to your children’s nighttime routine? Does you breakfast consist of coffee and anything you can grab for the road? What a treat it can truly be when we can be with our eating. Be with our eating? Yes! Notice when you are caught up in thoughts which keep you stuck in the past or worrying about the future…..and come back to the present moment. Notice when you are arguing with your partner in your head…AND then bring yourself back to this moment. Smell the food. Taste the texture. Chew slowly and purposely. I promise you won’t look silly. Take your meal or snack outside when you can. Feel the warmth of the sun, listen to the birds and other sounds of nature. Give your mind a rest. Give gratitude for the nurturance the food gives to your body. Shift your mindset to one of appreciation for the abundance of choices that surround you.
These suggested practices are a foundation to build on. So while you may not be sitting on the cushion (or chair like I do) meditating YET, I hope you find yourself feeling more empowered to head in that direction. Much research has been done on the positive effects of regular meditation, such as lowered blood pressure, changes to the brain structure, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression to name a few. Here is a link to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health where you can find more information.