When you look around your house and see it full to the brim, what do you think?
Do you think, “Wow, I live an amazing, full life and my house is a perfect reflection of that!” Or do you think, “If only I could find “x” I could get on with things.” If you’re in the second camp then a bit of spring-cleaning might be in order.
Most often we think of spring-cleaning as de-cluttering our possessions. But did you ever think of doing some spring training for your brain with daily mindfulness?
Stop for a moment, take a breath and think of the last time you couldn’t find something. Was it because you didn’t have a proper place to put it? Or was it because you were thinking about something else when you put it down? Thinking so hard about this other thing that you didn’t even register where you put it?
If you’re like most of us you act in the present while your mind lives in the future or the past. When we can’t find our things we think we have too many things. What we really have is too little focus and attention! Time for some spring training.
Two Big Misconceptions
As a teacher of mindfulness I often run into two misconceptions that stop people from learning this wonderful skill:
- You have to clear your mind
- You have to stop your day to practice
First off, you can be very confident that you will never clear your mind of the thoughts that pass through. Minds are not designed to be clear of thoughts. They are the brain’s way of communicating important information with us. They become a problem when we get into a rut of unhelpful thoughts. The goal of mindfulness and mediation is to have the thoughts without being overly reactive to them.
When I’m practicing mindfulness I like to think of my mind as an open meadow, full of life. My thoughts are the visitors passing through. Sometimes it’s a beautiful butterfly fluttering by without making much of a fuss. Sometimes it’s a songbird that sings so beautifully that I stop and admire the music. Sometimes it’s a flock of angry crows that is hard to ignore. My mind is never clear and over time I’ve learned to let them all pass through.
Secondly, mindfulness is very powerful when you learn to weave it throughout your day. You can practice in the small moments of waiting for things – lines in the store, traffic jams, computers booting up – the list is endless. There are easy ways to be more mindful during the day.
Here’s how you do it
Practice with Your Breath
The easiest way to get started with practicing mindfulness is to use something you carry with you everywhere – your breath. When we are calm, unstressed and relaxed it is not unusual for our breath to slow down to six breaths per minute. That is a great rate that tells our brain that everything is OK.
You’ll notice that when you start getting stressed that your breathing will speed up and become shallower. By bringing mindfulness and attention to your breath you can slow it down to those optimal six breaths per minute. This won’t happen without you focusing on your breath. Voila, mindfulness.
Every time your mind starts to wander, just bring your attention back to that six breaths per minute. You can expand your awareness to sensation of the air going in and out of your nose. From there, notice how your abdomen moves up and down as you breathe. Your mind will be wandering by now, so go back to the beginning and to the six breaths per minute.
Mix Hobbies and Mindfulness
A great place to start practicing mindfulness is with something you already enjoy doing, like hobbies and sports. I’ve been teaching people how to combine golf and mindfulness and it’s been quite a success. Clients have found they have taken strokes off their score and started enjoying their game a lot more. This idea can be extended to other sports like hockey, soccer and tennis.
When you’re not actively playing, bring your attention back to your six breaths per minute. Your mind will wander to what you should have done and what you will do, but treat this time like a mental rest as well as a physical rest. You will be surprised at how much more mental attention you can bring to your game when you don’t burn it all up in the downtime.
Mix Fun and Mindfulness
Mixing fun and mindfulness is a great way to get kids onboard. Making snow globes are a great family project. With a mason jar, some beautiful glitter, water and glycerin each family member can create their own visual reminder of taking time to breathe. When things get busy and emotions start to run high, you can pull out your snow globe, shake it up and do some slow breathing until the glitter settles to the bottom. Christopher Willard has some great instructions for the snow globe project here.
Another great way to introduce mindfulness is during your family park walks. The birds are chirping their little hearts out right now. I often suggest to students to take advantage of the beauty that nature gives us everyday and just walk slowly and listen to the birds.
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