When I first started practicing yoga I thought it was all about trying to nail the perfect handstand, but 20 years later, my most favorite aspect of yoga is practicing mindfulness, because being present in real life is a complete game changer.
Whether you practice yoga or not, you’ll be amazed at how learning to be mindful can change the way you live. Mindfulness can simply be described as paying attention to the present moment without judgment of what is; it’s about learning to “mind the gap.” That instant between action and reaction where we choose a response.
My daily mindfulness practice has really taught me how to stop and take a moment before I react in most situations; Do I really need to yell at my sons for leaving their shoes right in front of the door- again? Instead I can choose to take a moment, breathe, and instead calmly remind them to put them where they belong.
Life isn’t always rainbows and salted caramel gelato; obstacles come up and sometimes people don’t treat you nicely; the good news is that you can decide not to allow outside circumstances to affect your peace and happiness. Here are three quick and effective ways to pull your thinking out of the past or the future to live in the present:
Connect to Your Breath
The act of breathing is the body’s most vital and basic function, and it’s the simplest tool we have to slow down, get present and focus on the now. One of my first yoga teachers taught me that “the breath is a mirror of the mind” and whatever is going on in your head can usually be seen in your breathing. Anxiety and fear create short, shallow breathing; peace and calm present as a smooth, slow inhale and exhale.
Try it: Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes; this can be in a quiet room in your house or a crowded subway. Take a deep full breath in all the way to your upper chest and then exhale it all the way out until your navel contracts. On the next inhale, silently count to four as your ribcage expands fully, and then on the exhale extend the count to eight as you release the breath all the way out. Doubling the breath on the exhale calms the nervous system and helps you focus on the present by dropping all thoughts while you consciously count
Repeat a Mantra
This is one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness; repeating a word or phrase over and over without interruption. Traditionally a mantra was handed down from your teacher, but if you don’t have one feel free to pick your own word or phrase.
Try it: Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Choose a word or phrase that has a special meaning to you, or represents something that you’d like to cultivate more of. I sometimes use the phrase, “Think before you speak and breathe before you act,” which reminds me to stay present and calm. As you inhale fully repeat the mantra to yourself, and then repeat it again on the exhale. The point is to stay focused on the mantra without letting your mind wander, but if it does just bring it back to the mantra without judgment.
Walk in Nature
I’m a city girl at heart, but getting out in nature not only refuels and recharges my soul, but specifically directs my attention on each step I’m taking in the present. I can hear every crunch of the leaves and surrounding sounds while I mindfully count my steps.
Try it: Next time you find yourself out in nature or even walking your dog, mindfully focus on each step you take with intent. Listen to the sound your foot makes when it connects with the earth and count each step you take. When you notice your mind start to wander away from the counting of your footsteps, start back at one; see how high you can count, and don’t feel defeated if it’s not past ten the first time you try.
I promise – cultivating a mindfulness practice will bring you peace, relaxation and a feeling of being completely present in each moment; a pretty big return for the few minutes invested each day.
Written by: Danielle Diamond