Mindfulness is definitely a buzz word these days. It’s also a multi-billion dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of the action. As a result, there’s been a proliferation of mindfulness products and teachers which can be confusing for the consumer.
It’s conceptually very simple. Anyone who complicates or mystifies it either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or is trying to sell you something. Mindfulness can be defined as nonjudgmental, undivided awareness of present experience. Present experience includes your breath, but also your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, behavior, what you see, taste, hear and touch.
The challenge of mindfulness is in the execution. That’s because the natural state of our minds is to wander. Each time the mind wanders and we bring it back to the breath or whatever aspect of present experience we’ve chosen to focus on, we strengthen our ability to focus our awareness where we want it to be. Each time the mind wanders from our chosen focus, there is an opportunity to begin again.
Meditation is definitely one way to cultivate the skill of mindfulness. When we meditate, we anchor our awareness in the breath for example—noticing its rise and fall, the length of the inhalation and exhalation. Breathing with the awareness that each breath is new and happening for the first time. When your focus drifts from the breath, simply bring it back. While you may have noticed meditation studios have sprung up around your city, meditation does not require going to a particular place. It can be done anywhere–on the subway, or, on bench by the river.
Similarly, you may have noticed the increasing number of meditation apps. These apps can be helpful in bringing a discipline or regularity to your practice, but meditation does not require an app any more than it requires a trip to a studio. There’s no question that a trip to the ashram can enhance your mindfulness practice and sense of wellbeing, but the challenge is maintaining the practice after you’ve left the ashram.
With a simple definition of mindfulness, there are infinite ways to practice. Meditation is not the only way. Let’s face it, not everyone’s likes to meditate. If you’re one of these people, there’s good news. By taking any aspect of your daily routine and doing it with undivided and nonjudgmental awareness, it becomes a mindfulness practice. Focusing on the feel of water in the shower, the sound of traffic outside your window, noticing the colors of office buildings outside your window. When we practice yoga with awareness of the breath and body, it’s a mindfulness practice. But running, surfing and golf can also be mindfulness practices to name a few. When you drink your morning coffee, focus exclusively on the experience of the coffee. Similar to a wine tasting, it’s about the process not the outcome. The focus is not on draining the cup, but experiencing the coffee.
Try incorporating a couple of these mini practices into your daily routine and you might end up feeling like you brought the ashram to you.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.