We get it! You survived this long without mindfulness; why should you start meditating now? Isn’t that just a bunch of hippie nonsense? Are we going to suggest you find a guru, shave your head, and join a drum circle? Hardly.
Mindfulness has come a long way in the recent decade and is now more mainstream than you might realize. Many of the world’s most successful people meditate daily, including Hugh Jackman, Paul McCartney, Jerry Seinfeld, and the late Kobe Bryant. If Wolverine and the Black Mamba find meditation helpful, maybe it’s something you should check out.
Current research points to older people over 50 experiencing more positive emotions than their youthful counterparts. Often referred to as the “well-being paradox,” studies show that people become more mindful as they age. We tend to focus more on the here and now as opposed to future possibilities. Mindfulness helps regulate emotions and relieve stress.
It’s no wonder why retired people seem to be in better moods than people suffering through the daily grind. Not that the stresses of everyday life disappear with age, but we wiser folk understand that there’s more to life than racking up accomplishments and making more money.
Mindfulness doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and we need regular practice to unlock its full potential. Some people find meditation difficult because they expect to sit down, and as the Nike saying goes, “Just do it!”
The trick to mindfulness is acknowledging that it’s not any single thing. There are multitudes of ways to be mindful that don’t require sitting on a cushion and trying not to think about anything. In reality, it’s virtually impossible for your mind to remain blank for even a short period. You’re always thinking about something.
Meditation is about directing your focus on a specific activity while allowing the clutter in your brain to pass through unnoticed. If you’re unfamiliar with meditation, here are some techniques to achieve the benefits of mindfulness.
Following your breath is probably the most popular form of mindfulness. It’s a simple technique of paying attention to your in and out breaths. Pick a point to focus your attention on. It could be your nostrils, chest, or belly, and notice the feeling of the air passing to and fro. Take normal breaths and concentrate on them for a minute or two until a sense of peace overtakes your body.
To calm anxiety:
- Consider a deep breathing exercise to relax your nervous system.
- Inhale deeply for a count of four, hold for another count of four, then slowly and completely exhale for an eight-count.
- Do this five times or more until you’re totally relaxed.
Take a nice leisurely walk in nature and leave your phone at home. Try not to think about anything other than what you see. If you walk the same path daily, challenge yourself to discover the changes in the surroundings. Did a tree blossom? Did the Ferguson’s chihuahua see a squirrel? What do the clouds look like today?
Walking increases blood flow to the brain, relieves mental fatigue, improves creativity, releases endorphins, and enhances overall cognitive functioning.
Every morning as soon as you wake up and get your coffee, grab a pen and paper to write down your thoughts. Write as a stream of consciousness exercise before checking your phone or watching the news. Consider it a mind dump, and just let flow whatever thoughts arise.
Journaling doesn’t require creativity or beautifully written prose. You’ll probably never read it. This exercise is purely a mental process intended to release whatever is on your mind. Think of it as free therapy where you can vent about anything you choose.
One of the things you may want to include in your daily journal or do before you go to sleep is express gratitude. Make a list of five or so things for which you’re grateful. The more specific you can be, the better. Don’t just say you’re thankful for your family but spell out exactly what makes you grateful. Say, “I’m grateful that my son came back from school for dinner tonight,” or “I’m thankful that I have a partner that wants to spend time with me.”
You can make a gratitude list or, better yet, write a note to the person for whom you’re grateful. Try not to be repetitive and really go deep on how other people affected your life over the years.
Looking, Touching, Smelling, and Tasting
This technique may seem a bit weird, but it can alter the way you look at the world. Before eating or drinking anything, take a moment to look at it, touch it, smell it, and taste it. Most of the time, we merely eat food without experiencing all of our senses.
Not only will this give you a new appreciation for the things you put in your mouth, but it will decrease your risk of overeating, indigestion, and bloating. This exercise also doesn’t need to be restricted to food. You can bring mindfulness to any routine activity.
Meditation is often referred to as a stillness exercise because you focus on an object, a sound, or a breath and remain perfectly still. This technique involves single-pointed concentration, and as your mind wanders, you redirect it towards the intended focus.
If you’re listening intently to a bird chirping in the distance and then suddenly notice a tingle on the end of your nose, practicing stillness means acknowledging the itch without scratching. Your mind says, “Hey! We have an itchy nose,” but then remembers we’re supposed to be listening to the bird. After you switch your focus back to the chirping, you soon forget the tickle on your nose.
After a short time practicing this technique, you’ll find yourself doing it on autopilot as your ability to focus strengthens.
Using an App
It’s not necessary to have electronic interventions for mindfulness, but like everything else in the world, there’s an app for it. Apps like Calm, Ten Percent Happier, or Headspace are valuable tools for people who struggle with mindfulness.
Apps offer guided meditations, videos, breathing exercises, and bedtime stories to help you get out of your own head. Many people find it easier to listen to direction instead of working through a cluttered mind for peace. A mindfulness app is a great place to start your meditative journey, and you can try most of them out for free.
Now that you know how to get started with mindfulness, what’s stopping you? The great thing about meditation is that you make it whatever you want. There’s no need to join a class or tell another soul that you meditate.
It’s only between you and your mind. Isn’t everything?
Take care, even down there.
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