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Mindfulness Practices

What to expect:

Each mindfulness class or session can be different, but here are a few things that you can expect.  Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgment. In order to create space of focus, mindfulness sessions typically take place in a space that is quiet and distraction free. Sessions often begin with a sitting practice, in which you will sit quietly, either on a chair or the floor, closing your eyes or allowing your gaze to rest softly on the space in front of you, focusing on either your breath or other body sensations. Many times, there is an opportunity to talk about your experience between practices. It is very normal for your mind to be easily distracted during practice; the overall goal is to notice that distraction each time it happens and to bring your attention back to the area of focus. Being distracted is not a sign that you are doing it wrong!  Instead, noticing that distraction is a sign that you are doing exactly what you should be. It can be useful to wear comfortable clothing, to facilitate sitting easily; you may want to wear shoes that are easy to slip off. None of that is required, though. It’s also worth noting that if sitting is for any reason uncomfortable or difficult, mindfulness practices can be done standing up or lying down; some practices may involve moving, which can always be modified to meet your body’s needs. 

 

Want to try mindfulness on your own?

Maybe you can’t make it to a mindfulness group session during the week, or maybe you want to expand your practice to create some consistency for yourself. You can incorporate mindfulness into your everyday routine in many ways – research has shown that regular practice, even short 5-10 minute practices, can be even more effective than one or two long practices each week. The point here is to do what you can and not to judge yourself!

Here is a list of some types of mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your own daily practice (you may encounter some of these in classes, as well):

  • Breath meditation: To begin meditating, find a comfortable and quiet place. Sit on a cushion or chair, with an erect yet relaxed posture. Close your eyes gently and begin by bringing your full and present attention to whatever you feel within and around you. You may want to take a number of deep, cleansing breaths to center and calm yourself before letting your breath return to normal. Allow yourself to become more and more still. Do your best to remain focused on the experience of your breath, knowing that it is natural for thoughts to arise and distract you. As soon as you are aware that you have become distracted, observe that you have become distracted and return your attention, with kindness, to the breath. There’s no failure or shame in distraction; we are slowly training our minds to be focused and present. If you are new to meditation, start small.
  • Mindful eating: The goal of mindful eating is to bring your full and complete attention to the food that you are eating, and to the experience of eating that food. Take time to first look at the food, appreciating the colors and textures, the contrasts between the food and the plate it is on.  Think about where the food came from – who was involved in getting that food to your plate?  Savor the smells of the food before ever taking a bite, and notice how your body responds – does your mouth water?  Are you anticipating that first bite?  Take each bite slowly, noticing the changing tastes and smells, and paying attention to your body as you eat your meal.  Notice when you begin to feel full; notice if you are thirsty.  Even giving this kind of attention to the first three or four bites of a meal is a good regular practice.
  • Mindfulness of other daily practices: You can bring a similar type of mindful curiosity to other everyday practices, such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, walking the dog, or doing the dishes.  One way to incorporate mindfulness into your day might be to choose one of those activities and to engage with it as mindfully as possible each day, attending to each changing sensation that arises and falls away as you do that activity.
  • Body scan: Another practice that you may experience in a mindfulness class or session is the body scan. This is also a practice you can do at home. Find a comfortable place to lie down or to sit, if lying is uncomfortable, or you feel that you are likely to fall asleep.  Moving your awareness slowly from either your feet to your head or vice versa, pay curious and close attention to the sensations you feel in each part of your body; if you feel nothing, that’s OK.  There are many excellent guided body scans available online, if that helps you to know how and when to move from body part to body part. 
  • Walking Meditation: Sometimes it is hard to sit still and meditate. Walking meditation is a very common type of moving meditation during which you focus your attention on the experience of walking. In this practice, try to bring your awareness to each aspect of walking – lifting your foot, moving the foot forward, placing the foot on the ground, and shifting your weight onto the stepping foot. As you walk slowly and naturally, tune into sensations that you might normally take for granted, such as your breath moving through your body, the sensations of moving your feet and legs, or the ways your arms or hips move as you walk.
  • Lovingkindness Meditation: Lovingkindness meditation is generally a guided meditation which uses words or images to call forth feelings of kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. This practice is usually preceded by at least a short period of silent meditation of your choice to ground and calm yourself. Lovingkindness meditations use varying words and images, so find a version which feels right to you.