“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” Buddha
Have you ever found yourself in the company of family or friends, but your mind is actually a million miles away? Perhaps you’re on a lunch date with a friend or an afternoon visit with the grandkids, and instead of enjoying the moment, your mind is consumed with other things? If you answered yes to that question you’re not alone! Being mindful and staying in the moment can be difficult when the stress of everyday life is getting you down. A new year is the perfect opportunity to explore the many benefits of mindfulness meditation and learn how it can change your life for the better.
I’ve researched a few different definitions of mindfulness, but the one I like the best comes from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), “Mindfulness is simply an invitation to step out of the clutter and really focus on what we are doing, thinking, and feeling in this moment.” Mindfulness as a religious practice is rooted in the Buddhist tradition, but variations can be found in other religions as well, encouraging followers to live in the moment. The secular practice of mindfulness meditation is now well-established across the globe with an estimated 300 million practitioners worldwide.
Cultivating mindfulness may be more important than ever as Canadians report feeling more stressed than they did five years ago. With a 24-hour news cycle and a world that’s always plugged in, it’s hard to find a moment of quiet reflection in your day to day life. According to Statistics Canada, 73 percent of working adults from age 20-64 reported feeling some level of stress.
Older adults aren’t immune to stress either. In a Next Avenue article from 2018, Bob Linscott, a teacher from the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical school noted that, “when people get older, they tend to ruminate: Am I going to run out of money? What will happen to me when I can’t stay in my home? There’s worrying about how thy will cope if their spouse dies first or perhaps anxiety about burdening their kids with care.” Linscott said that mindfulness is much like a pause button that can break that cycle of negative thinking. If you find yourself fixated on the future or stuck in the past, maybe reliving old emotional wounds, Linscott explained that, “with mindfulness, you can catch yourself and think, ‘in this moment, am I okay?’. Meditation quiets the mind and is very calming.”
Clinical research studies have also affirmed the benefits of mindfulness meditation in key areas including lowered blood pressure, stress reduction and even a better night’s sleep. According to an overview in the Clinical Psychology Review Journal, research has shown a strong correlation between mindfulness and overall psychological health, “including self-compassion and a better overall sense of well-being.” The practice of being mindful focuses on accepting where we are in the moment without judgement and teaches us to be less critical of ourselves and others. There are also more formal mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programs that can help people who are experiencing mental health issues. If you are interested in learning more about these therapy programs, please consult your doctor or healthcare professional for more information.
So where should you start on your own path to mindfulness? Well there isn’t really a right or wrong place to start. According to Jon Kabat Zinn, an expert in mindfulness and the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, “the best way to capture a moment is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.” To share a personal anecdote from my own life, I started using mindfulness as a way of coping with the fear of my cancer diagnosis in 2006. Even after treatment was finished, I constantly worried about the cancer coming back. I remember one afternoon not long after my last chemotherapy treatment; I was sitting with my daughter on my lap reading her favourite book, and instead of enjoying the beautiful, peaceful moment, I couldn’t stop worrying about a recurrence and what might happen in the future. A social worker at CancerCare Manitoba suggested mindfulness meditation and it made an immediate impact on my life. It’s been 14 years and I haven’t looked back since!
Here are a few mindfulness meditation techniques that you can practice anywhere:
- Start by simply paying attention to the world around you and occasionally check in with yourself. An online Harvard Health article reminds readers that, “above all mindfulness practice involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself.”
- Live in the moment – intentionally seek joy in life’s simple pleasures.
- Try to sit quietly for a moment each day and focus on the natural rhythm of your breath. If your mind starts to wander (I usually start thinking about my to-do-list) acknowledge the thought, let it go and redirect your focus back to breathing. I usually repeat a few words to keep me focused, and whisper, “In this moment, everything is all right.”
- Remember, sitting still and being mindful doesn’t work for everyone and that’s okay! Some people get very restless and if that’s the case, try taking a walk, focus on your breath and notice the world around you using all five senses. It’s amazing the things you will hear, smell, and see when you are 100 percent in the moment!
If you’d like to try some techniques but need some motivation to get started, there are several Apps you can download onto your smartphone or tablet. I use Headspace, whose tagline is ‘Meditation made simple’. Calm is another popular app for guided meditation that’s been downloaded over 45 million times.
So, as you celebrate the new year, take a moment to appreciate everything around you. And in the words of our favourite character from the Hundred Acre Wood…
“What day is it today?” asked Pooh
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh.
Krystal Stokes is the Communications Manager at Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Victoria General Hospital Foundation.