Mindfulness might be a hot topic right now, but that doesn't mean its not a legitimately beneficial practice. The mindset largely stems from the Buddhist goal of maintaining awareness in the present, rather than focusing always on the past or future. In our busy modern world, the rise in society's desire to disconnect from stress and find stillness isn't terribly surprising. But what can you do to start living more mindfully?
As is the case for almost everything these days, there's an app for mindfulness. With the rise in people seeking out guidance on the practice, guided meditation apps such as Headspace, Whil, and Calm are rising in popularity. Having a meditation app at your fingertips -- complete with pop-up reminders and guided meditations -- can help you practice mindful living and remove the excuses of expensive soundtracks and forgetfulness.
Various cultures around the world have been practicing meditation for millennia. Although historians are unable to pin down exactly when or where the practice began, people in India and China appear to have been the first. Since then, the practice has ebbed and flowed in its popularity in the western world, from the advent of transcendental meditation in the 50s to the hippies of the 1960s' Haight-Ashbury to today’s mindful living surge. There is quite a bit of research out there that highlights the benefits of meditation, which include stress and anxiety reduction and stemming memory loss.
Music tastes differ vastly, and choosing "calming" music is a very individual practice. Some people find stillness in the sound of rain against a backdrop of classical strings, while others cannot relax unless thrasher rock is blasting from the speakers. Ultimately, the mindfulness recommendation to listen to calming music is as individual as a fingerprint, but if you need help and your tastes run to the most common options, streaming music sites offer tailormade playlists to increase serenity.
Getting up and walking around the office every once in a while isn't just good for your physical wellbeing and to work that kink out of your low back. This productivity-booster -- underpracticed in today's busy culture -- can also help bring things into focus when they start to feel out of control. Going for a walk, a run, or merely reusming proper posture and filling your lungs with fresh air can give you a wider perspective. Add-ons like leaving your phone behind or taking your dog along can increase these benefits exponentially.
Breathing exercises are a cornerstone of mindful living. You can find guided sessions on YouTube and tune in on podcasts, and some mindfulness apps mentioned above have these offerings as well. Breathing is a vital part of all meditative and mindfulness practices -- a dearth of oxygen can wreak havoc on the brain. Here's a simple breathing exercise you can try right now: Take a deep breath in through your nose. Count to four as you’re inhaling. Hold the breath for a count of seven. Exhale slowly, counting to eight. The 4-7-8 breathing method is a proven method for quickly and easily relaxing the body and mind.
Remember when you were a teenager and wrote down all of your thoughts in a journal? A gratitude journal operates on this same notion: Write down your thoughts. However, in a gratitude journal, the thoughts you are to note are the things for which you’re grateful. No matter how big or how small, the written acknowledgement of good things in your life has been shown to drastically alter perceptions and turn noticing good things in your daily life into a habit.
The act of people watching is, in itself, mindfulness. By noticing the people passing by, you are quite literally living in the moment. There is no way better to break free of the spirals down which our minds so often lead us than by opening our eyes to the world around us -- and people watching is always engaging. Give it a try next time you're sipping your morning coffee.
Sometimes, it’s all right to just stop. It’s also all right to say “no” or “I can’t.” Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to say yes and pile too much on our plates in the name of success. We have also been conditioned to stay busy, to think that lying in bed for an extra half hour or staring off into space is bad or lazy. This frame of thought can be damaging to our psyche. Doing “nothing” can be healthy; relaxing slows down the heart rate and keeps us healthy even as it keeps us in the moment.
Exercise is a great way to become more mindful of both your mind and your body. Working out can improve diet, solidify a routine, and help you develop a sense of purpose. There’s also a science to it. Once the endorphins start rushing, you’re truly in the moment. Anybody who works out knows that your head has to be in it to really feel the results. That means actively putting all of your worries to one side to focus on your body, and this is mindfulness to a T.
Possibly the most important and most neglected thing we need to do to accomplish mindful living is forgive ourselves. Guilt, outsider influences, and life, in general, have a tendency to bog us down. When we’re weighed down in our minds, this affects our bodies, too. Accepting that things happen and sometimes we can't do anything about them -- or we don't have to right now -- is an essential part of becoming truly mindful.
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