After spending years reading every self-help book and trying every spiritual practice I could get my hands on, I realized that I wasn’t any happier and my wellness practice had started to feel like a full-time job. I decided that living a happier life just couldn’t be as complicated as I was making it, and so I let go of all of my practices and brought it back to the basics. I took down my altar, gave away my books, and began practising mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a serious buzz word in the yoga/wellness community, and it can be described as the act of being fully present in the moment. When we are mindful, we are aware of things as they really are, we let go of mental chatter and reconnect to our true selves. Pretty cool.
When we think of mindfulness, we normally picture ourselves sitting cross-legged in a meditation pose. This is an amazing way to practise mindfulness, but it will only take us so far. While meditation does come with it’s challenges, it is relatively easy to get calm and centred when you’re sitting in silence with no distractions or external triggers. The real magic happens when you can bring mindfulness and awareness into your everyday life — when you’re interacting with co-workers, stuck in rush hour traffic, etc. — and the good news is, it’s much simpler than you may think.
1. Tune in to Sensations.
Many spiritual practices eschew the outer world in favour of a focus on the internal. However, we are physical beings living in a physical world, and to deny that is to deny part of who we are. My favourite way to become present is to focus my attention on the sensations right in front of me. We spend so much time living in our heads, which generally means thinking about the past or the future, that we miss what is going on right in front of us. Physical sensations serve as a way to bring us back to the “now”.
There is so much beauty in the present moment, so much more depth than we realize. Sensuality is usually thought of as being synonymous with sex, but in truth, living a sensual life just means living with our senses fully engaged. This simple idea brings a huge amount of pleasure into our lives. It’s not something that can be explained — it needs to be experienced.
Take a moment to smell the food you are eating, feel the breeze on your skin, or listen to the sound of cars driving by. Appreciate the richness of the physical world around you and watch as these sensations bring you further into the present moment.
This practice is so simple that it’s easy to ignore, but it is extremely powerful. You’ll likely find, as I did, that the more you practise it, the more fine-tuned your senses become. Every sensation is a gateway to the present moment.
2. Focus on Your Breath
This is actually an extension of the first point — breath is just another sensation you can tune into. However, focusing on your breath has the added benefit of bringing you out of your head and into your body. Don’t try to force your breath or worry about how you’re breathing, just notice it rising and falling. When I focus on my breath in a relaxed way, it gives me a feeling similar to ocean waves coming in and out on the beach, which in itself is very relaxing.
3. Notice Your Triggers
Noticing your triggers is a “self-helpy” way of saying, “check yourself before you wreck yourself”. When we aren’t mindful, we live a very reactive life and often have a passive role. We respond to the world unconsciously and let past hurts and perspectives run the show. By becoming more mindful, we are able to see situations more clearly and take responsibility for ourselves.
Say your partner forgets to bring home the milk… again. If you’re not living mindfully, this simple and likely harmless event may bring up a whole lot of stuff for you — feelings of unworthiness, lack of trust, or being unheard and taken for granted, etc. When you catch yourself spiraling in situations like this, you have a choice: stay in your old unconscious patterns, or become mindful of how and why you are reacting.
This allows you to address the current situation in a saner and more appropriate way and to be aware of deeper hurts that may need healing. Note: This doesn’t mean being a doormat or denying your emotions — it means that you become aware of why you are reacting the way you are and take responsibility for the part of yourself that is reacting not to the missing milk, but to past hurts.
Mindfulness takes practice, and it’s not always easy, but it is simple. Focus on sensations, notice your breath, and bring awareness into your reactions to others. Just this, just noticing and being aware, can truly change your life.