Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness meditation as: “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”
One of the responses that I hear most frequently from people in regards to beginning a mindfulness practice is that they could not possibly succeed because there is no way that they could sit still for meditation.
I get it, I have been there and have 2 fidgety daughters, one who is 5 and a teenager who has expressed that the thought of sitting in silent meditation actually makes her more anxious.
The beauty of mindfulness is that you don’t have to be sitting still at all! You just need to be present
When I first started my practice, I remember thinking- “there is NO way that I am going to be able to quiet this mind of mine!”
All of this is very much normal, you are not broken, we all hold the power to be more present, which aides in quieting the mind of worrying about the future or fretting about the past.
What is important, is that you approach your mindfulness practice with an open mind, and remember to be kind, and patient with yourself.
There are a variety of reasons that a traditional sitting meditation may not be optimal for some, such as injury or pain.
Being unable to remain still or in a seated posture for an extended amount of time most certainly does not put you at a disadvantage for practicing mindfulness or meditation.
The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere at any time by simply being present in the moment.
Seated meditation and stillness are of course quite effective methods of being present in the moment, but what if I told you that you can practice mindful meditation a variety of other ways that don’t require sitting, or closing your eyes?
Mindful Walking Meditation
One effective yet simple technique that aides in cultivating mindfulness is mindful walking, also known as walking meditation.
Walking meditation can be practiced by simply noticing that you are walking, noticing your steps and the sensations arising in the body right then in that moment.
When we walk mindfully, we intentionally bring awareness into the experience of walking.
To begin, stand still and become aware of your breath.
Focus your gaze in front of you and try not to look down at your feet- the goal is to feel the sensations that come along with the act of walking.
Feel your feet planted on the earth, notice how your legs feel as they start moving into their journey of walking.
As your legs start to carry you, notice the shift in weight from foot to foot.
Notice how your body moves and feels with each shift from side to side.
Feel the air on your skin- is it cool? warm? Notice your breathing, perhaps feel your heartbeat increasing.
When you really start to pay attention, it is amazing to see the complexity of something so simple that we may take for granted daily.
Simply notice that you are walking and take this time to feel gratitude for the sensation in your legs and feet. Focus your awareness on your lower extremities, when your mind starts to wonder, you can simply draw your attention back to the feet and legs and notice the feelings and sensations.
It is important to note, that this practice is versatile and can be practiced as part of our daily tasks and routines such as walking somewhere from your desk in work, or walking from your car to house- simply maintain awareness while doing these every day, mundane tasks.
Simply. Notice. Body. Walking
Mindful Eating Meditation
Another way to incorporate mindful meditation into your day is while you are doing something that you most likely do multiple times per day- Eating.
Practicing mindful eating is beneficial to both our brains and our bodies.
Start by observing what you are about to eat.
Note the shape, texture, smell and perhaps the color.
Note any feelings that may arise from your awareness of the food in front of you.
Once you have completed an outward observation, bring your attention to your arm and hand as they work in tandem to move the food from the surface it lies on, to your mouth. While slowly and thoroughly chewing, take notice of the taste- is it spicy? sweet? tangy? What is the texture like?
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Take notice of when it is time to swallow your food, feeling it travel down your esophagus and making its journey through the body.
Noticing each step of the process of eating slows down your pace and gives your body more time to process the inbound delivery. This is great news for our digestive system as it certainly makes its job easier when it is not overloaded with a large influx of material to process.
Eating mindfully also brings awareness to impulsive and emotional eating.
If you struggle with impulsive or emotional eating, it may be beneficial for you to note the emotions surrounding your eating, pay attention to any physical sensations you may be experiencing as well?
Are you feeling emotional or physical discomfort?
Pay attention to how much you are eating and type of foods you are eating- note how they make you feel before, after and during eating.
If a certain bite of food is especially enjoyable, savor that and be with it without thinking of the next bite.
Appreciate what is going on right at that moment.
Now, you may be thinking- “Who the hell has time to eat like this?” or at least something along those lines- understandable.
While it is optimal to eat most, if not every meal in a mindful, meditative like process, it just simply is not feasible in our busy days.
Incorporating this practice into some part of your day may be a challenge, but it is worth it to become more in tune with your body and your relationship with food and eating, while also building a more consistent mindfulness practice doing something that you do every day anyway.
By paying attention and being mindful of our eating, our relationships with eating can change drastically.
Informal Breathing Meditation
Breathing is at the core of mindful meditation.
If you are reading this, then congratulations! This is something that you are already doing daily.
Bringing attention to the breath is a powerful grounding technique to calm the mind and invite clarity.
Breathing is what the body does, wander is what the mind does, when the breath is used as an anchor, the mind can truly be present in that moment.
During traditional seated meditation, every time the mind wanders, we greet the incoming thought with patience and kindness before returning awareness to the breath.
For a less formal practice, that does not require sitting, laying down, closing your eyes, or even stopping what you are doing, you are essentially doing the same exact thing, while simply moving about with your day.
The beautiful thing about mindful breathing is that it does not need to be formal at all.
You can draw awareness to your breath at any time of any day, any place, and with anyone.
To practice, simply bring awareness to your breath at any time during your day.
You may start by noticing the rise and fall of the chest or belly.
Notice the air going in and out and any sensations that go along with this exchange of air. Notice any thoughts that flow in and greet them with compassion and kindness before letting them float off on a little thought cloud and returning awareness to the breath.
Repeat this process for as many breath cycles as time allows and as many times per day as you can. When first starting, you may need to return to the breath quite frequently as thoughts arise and that is perfectly normal.
As time goes on, you may be able to increase the amount of time you spend in this practice, which contributes to a quieter mind. With consistency, taking a moment to be with your breath to gain calm, clarity and simply be present in your mind, will become a routine and anticipated part of your day.
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Night-time Body Scan Meditation
And finally, to end your day of mindful walking, eating, and informal breathing meditations, treat yourself to a relaxing and grounding body scan to prepare your mind and body for a restful night’s sleep.
Now I know I said that you won’t have to sit still, technically you will be laying down to participate in this practice.
As with the activities above, sleeping is something that you are bound to do at some point in your day and this makes for a lovely time to practice mindful meditation
Take this time right before bed to scan your body and be present with the sensations that come up.
~Eyes can be closed, open or fixed with a soft gaze.
~Bring your attention to the breath, perhaps noticing the rise and fall of the abdomen while having full awareness of the length of both the in breath and out breath.
~Starting at either foot, bring your awareness to your toes noticing any sensations in your foot and toes. If you don’t really feel much in the moment, it’s not a problem, simply notice that you don’t really feel anything!
~Breathe slowly and deeply, directing your breath towards your foot, as if you are breathing through the soles of your feet.
~Continue in this fashion, moving slowly from the ankle up the leg, continuing along to the side body and down the arm, staying with your fingers and hands for a moment.
~Moving back up the arm, slowly through the shoulder and neck regions.
~As you move along noticing each body part, direct your breath to each region you are visiting.
~Once you have reached the top of your head, continue down the other side, slowly, while continuing to notice and breathe into each section.
~Upon reaching your toes on the opposite side from where you started, spend a moment directing the breath through the soles of the feet and out the ends of your toes.
~Finish off this practice the same way it began- focusing your awareness on the rise and fall of the belly with each breath.
So there you have it- these are just a few ideas to get your started on your journey to a mindful meditation practice.
As I have previously mentioned, each technique does require some practice, but if you are determined to start living a more mindful existence and are looking for some effective ways to cultivate this existence.
Start small- take a few minutes to try it here and there. Gently work your way into a regular practice. Approach your practice with curiosity, patience, love and kindness.
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