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  • 5 Ways to Increase Mindfulness and Decrease Stress

    mindfulness meditation

    What Can Mindfulness do for You?

    If you’re like most Americans, you spend most of your day multi-tasking. You likely multi-task so much that some of your multi-tasking doesn’t even register as such. You may even feel antsy or uncomfortable if you’re not doing multiple things at once. All of the following are examples of multi-tasking that most people don’t consider multi-tasking:

    • Having multiple browser tabs open (and using them all)
    • Eating while watching TV
    • Checking your phone when you’re supposed to be working, during a meal, while driving, in a meeting, etc.
    • Having email open while doing other things on your computer (especially if you click over to it every time it dings the new message bell at you)
    • Thinking about your reply while someone is still talking

    Mindfulness helps you focus and become aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that previously went unnoticed as you sped through your day doing as many things as possible. Those thoughts, feelings, and sensations are often the first signs of stress, and you miss them because you’re not paying attention. Multi-tasking also causes you to miss or overlook details, make mistakes, and generally not do as good or thorough a job as you would have otherwise.

    Wouldn’t it be great if you had instant feedback regarding your stressors, instead of getting to the end of the day and feeling stressed out but not being able to pinpoint your exact stressors? Mindfulness can help you do just that. It can help you notice the exact moment that your shoulders start rising toward your ears, your heartbeat quickens, your jaw begins to clench, or your muscles start to tense up. If you notice the very moment the signs of your body’s stress response manifest, you’ll be at a major advantage. Not only will you be able to pause and do a few things to counter the stress response, you become aware of patterns and can determine what your exact stressors are. Knowing your exact stressors will help you formulate an effective stress management plan. It will also give you vital information as to whether stress relief is enough, or if you need to take things a step further and reduce or eliminate some of stressors that can’t be counteracted with simple stress relief strategies.

    Much More Than Meditation

    Of course meditation can be a useful part of a mindfulness practice, but it doesn’t have to be. Just keep in mind, however, that the traditional sitting mediation that most people are familiar with is only one form of mindfulness meditation.

    Below are the 5 best ways, in my humble opinion, to increase your mindfulness:

    1. Engage in some form of daily mindfulness meditation – As I mentioned earlier, there are many types of mindfulness meditation so you should be able to find one that works for you. A few examples are breathing meditation (counting or following the breaths), focused attention meditation (listening, feeling, or visually observing an object), and walking meditation.
    2. Yoga – Enroll in a yoga class or get a yoga DVD for home practice. To increase mindfulness, you want a yoga class that moves at a slow, steady pace and encourages you to stay in each asana (pose) long enough to really notice how your body and mind feel in that pose. Yes, this means avoiding power or fitness yoga. If you’ve never taken a yoga class, I highly suggest enrolling in one to get professional guidance and to learn to do the poses properly. (Doing the poses incorrectly can hurt you.)
    3. Take an MBSR course – MBSR stands for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and is taught around the country. Lest you think it’s some New Agey thing, it was first implemented and taught in hospitals, medical centers, and clinics. From there it caught on with the general public. It’s a little pricey, but it’s the shiz and totally worth the cost.
    4. Engage in at least one mindful activity per day – A mindful activity is one in which you do that activity and ONLY that activity.  There’s a buddhist saying, “When you eat, just eat” and as I write this post it keeps popping into my head so I’m going to use eating as an example. With mindful eating you would do nothing but eat; no watching TV, no checking your phone, and no browsing the internet (even if it’s just to read my blog). You’d pay attention to every aspect of eating; food temperature, the speed with which you’re eating, the texture of the food, the taste of the food, how quickly or slowly you get full, etc. For what I hope are obvious reasons, I try to make each massage I give a mindful activity. I’m human so sometimes I fail, and so will you, but that shouldn’t keep either of us from trying again the next time. Besides, it’s not like you either do it perfectly or fail utterly, it’s a spectrum and as long as you’re trying you’ll manage to fall somewhere in between the two.
    5. Draw and/or color mandalas – It doesn’t matter whether you draw and color your own mandalas or buy one of the numerous mandala coloring books out there and color those, you’ll reap the benefits either way. The wonderful thing about mandalas is that they aren’t like “normal” pictures with recognizable images that we have preconceived notions about – leaves have to be green, the sun is yellow, etc. Instead, you have complete and utter freedom to color each section whatever color you feel like. Don’t worry about whether this color will look good next to that color, simply choose a mandala, then choose the first area that catches your eye and color it with the first colored pencil (or whatever you’re coloring with) you notice. By the time you finish coloring the whole mandala, you’ll be feeling totally centered and balanced as if you’d just meditated for the entire time you were coloring. Here’s the secret: you were meditating. Coloring mandalas is meditation for people who hate to meditate, and it’s fun to boot.

    So there you have it; 5 simple ways to decrease your stress and increase your mindfulness.

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