Tips for the Overwhelmed
Mindfulness and Meditation
Several years ago, the push for mindfulness in schools was the latest rage. In my personal experience, we weren’t given any formal training but we were encouraged to start using it in our classes. We were told that it was good for us and our students but we (educators) didn’t fully understand what it was or how to do it. I’m open to trying new things and was curious about these practices but my initial experiences were not that great. I quickly became less than enthusiastic. I tried again here and there and always felt like a failure because I could not stop my racing thoughts. It was discouraging. I felt that I must be weak because I couldn’t “empty” my mind and just focus. The more I tried, the more it seemed like my thoughts would race from one thing to the next. I got to the point where I could acknowledge that it’s good for some people, just not me.
I spent years talking about the value of practicing mindfulness while not fully buying into it myself. It wasn’t until I was attending my first week-long immersion in the Wholebeing Positive Psychology program at the Wholebeing Institute in Stockbridge, MA that I had a major shift in thinking. I was listening to Dr. Joan Borysenko’s presentation and it was as though I was hearing all these benefits for the first time. She shared benefits such as decreased stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, better self-regulation, emotional regulation, improved patience, increased curiosity, increased levels of attention, and improved cognitive functioning. The practice of meditation and mindfulness is also associated with neuroplasticity; the ability of the brain to adapt and change over time.
The Lightbulb Moment
We can change the brain for the better when we practice meditation. Can you believe that? It does take time and practice but we can improve our brain function! I find this fascinating. The lightbulb went on, finally. I realized that it is worth my time and effort to make this a habit just like brushing my teeth, taking a shower, and exercising. We brush our teeth and take a shower on a regular basis because it’s good hygiene. Most of us wouldn’t consider removing this from our daily routines. Regular meditation is beneficial enough that one could consider it to be another essential part of the daily routine. Here’s the other light bulb moment that came out of that visit to the Wholebeing Institute. You do not have to be “good at it” to enjoy the benefits. Nobody is really good at it. Many people who try meditation and mindfulness practices put enormous pressure on themselves to completely clear their minds and immediately transform into a state of perfect peace and focused attention. This is not necessary. The power is in the practice. This unrealistic expectation leads to discouragement and people don’t stick with it. In an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, even the Dalai Lama said that meditating was hard for him after 60 years of practice! Maybe if we showed ourselves a little self-compassion and just practiced without any expectations, we could enjoy the benefits of meditation.
There are similarities and overlap between Mindfulness and Meditation but there are also differences.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, describes Mindfulness as the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally. There are many ways to practice mindfulness such as mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful movement, or simple breath awareness. Meditation usually refers to a formal practice. There are many techniques but they all include a conscious attempt to focus the attention without analyzing and without dwelling on ruminating thoughts. Sometimes there is a focus on a word, a sound, an object, a sensation, or a mantra. There are MANY different forms of meditation to explore. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Mindfulness can be done anywhere, any time and it can be practiced formally or informally. Both are to be practiced without judgment.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
I invite you to adopt a Growth Mindset. Be open and curious. Ask yourself if it would be worth the effort if you could experience some or all of the benefits. So many people try mindfulness and quit because they feel like they are doing it wrong. As a reminder, there is not a wrong way to do it. Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself. Here is a guided Mindfulness Meditation. Take a few minutes for yourself and enjoy the experience. When your mind wanders and you notice it, just say “oh well” and return your focus to the practice. Celebrate the fact that you were aware of your drifting thoughts. That’s mindfulness.
You can add mindfulness into your day. Just stop and notice. Try to sneak noticing into your routine.
- What does the water feel like on your skin in the shower?
- How does the toothpaste taste and feel in your mouth?
- What do the fresh sheets feel like when you get into bed?
- How does that home-cooked meal smell?
- What are the sounds of your house or your family?
- What does the wind feel like on your skin or the sun on your face?
- Notice the sensations of giving and receiving a hug.
Just stop, breathe, and notice. Savor the moment of being fully alive and aware. When you do, you are practicing Mindfulness. If you’d like to join the inSPIREd Happier Center or are interested in Positive Psychology coaching for you or your teen, please reach out!