Between coming out of an 18 month pandemic, a newscycle that seems to remain heavy and constant, finding the right work/life balance, and just wanting to be able to truly enjoy this summer with loved ones, there is no shortage of things to think or worry about each day.
At Willow Oak, we talk a lot about practicing mindfulness, and find that we truly feel the difference in our lives when we take the time to do so. So we wanted to talk about it today – what is it? Why should we do it? And how do we start?
Photo: Lesly Juarez
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the idea of learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment”
I like to split Mindfulness into two parts: awareness & acceptance. I’ll break these down for you using examples in the following sections.
Part 1: Awareness
Awareness means you’re able to pay attention to the world around you as it is, and removes you from worrying about the past or the future.
Have you ever been working on a project that you’ve been worried about being to successfully execute? No matter how hard you try, your brain is playing out all of these potential outcomes of a disappointed or frustrated client or colleague or friend.
Have you ever fallen short on a project or made a mistake, and spent days, months, or even years, harbouring the guilt that went along with it?
For most people, we are hardwired to focus on basically every moment EXCEPT the one that we’re in – we try to solve problems in the future that haven’t even occurred, or mull over events of the past. Neither of these thought patterns are productive, and they rob you of the current moment that you’re living in.
Mindfulness brings us to the present moment, as it exists. It allows to focus on the problem right in front of us – not the frustrated client at the end. Or it simply allows us to truly enjoy that warm cup of coffee in our hand.
Photo: Alexsandr Ledogorov
Part 2: Acceptance
But there’s a second part to this. And that’s Acceptance & Non Judgement.
Let’s pretend you’re driving to work – you left a little early, had time to stop for a latte,and you have your favourite song on. Suddenly, a car cuts you off.
Reaction? Throw out a few cuss words, maybe give them a big ol’ thumbs down (LOL). This passes the first test of mindfulness – you’re certainly in the present moment! But now not only has this person cut you off, they’ve robbed you of your enjoyment of your latte and favourite song!
This brings me to one of my favourite quotes:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
Put another way, we don’t have control over our first thought – but we do have control over our second! Do we really want to let this person ruin the good morning we were having?
This is the practice of letting things happen with acceptance and without judgement. Bring yourself back to that good tune and enjoy that damn latte you treated yourself to!
But why should I practice mindfulness?
Besides the fact that without it you’re probably missing out on a whole bunch of fun things as they happen right in front of you, there are real health benefits to practicing mindfulness!
According to studies from Harvard, there are 3 main benefits of mindfulness
1) Improves Well-Being
+ More room to truly enjoy your day-to-day, from the big to the small
+ By not clouding your mind with stress during adverse events, you have a greater capacity to manage them
+ Increasing your presence with loved ones, forming deeper connections
2) Improves Physical Health
+ It helps a number of ailments such as heart disease and blood pressure, can reduce chronic pain and improve sleep, among many other benefits.
3) Improves Mental Health
+ Mindfulness can help improve mental health on its own through reducing stress. Beyond that, it is often practiced alongside actual treatment programs for mental health issuesGeorgia de Lotz
But how do I practice mindfulness?
It’s not as complicated as it sounds! Here are a couple of my favourite ways to introduct mindfulness to your day:
Pay Attention to the Small Things
You’re getting out of your car to walk to the office. Feel the ground underneath your feet. The cool air fill your nose. See if you can feel a breeze or hear your shoes hitting the ground.
You’re about to sip your first cup of coffee. How does the warm mug feel in your hand? How are you feeling? Excited? Feel the warm coffee go down your throat. Pay attention to the details of all of it.
By simply tuning into where you are at any moment, you are practicing mindfulness.
This is an exercise I like to talk through with my toddler! It’s a grounding exercise and goes as follows:
- Acknowledge 5 Things you Can See
- Acknowledge 4 Things you Can Feel
- Acknowledge 3 Things you can Hear
- Acknowledge 2 Things you can smell
- Acknowledge 1 Thing you are grateful for
I find as soon as I do this practice, I am taken away from whatever i was worried about, actually giving myself the opportunity to enjoy the moment that I am in. Here’s some more information on this exercise here.
There are a ton on YouTube! This one is my favourite as a quick re-set and it’s only 5 minutes – easy to squeeze in every day
What about you?
Do you already practice mindfulness? Do you have a favourite mindfulness practice? Share below!