Mindful Awareness: Practice and Benefits
My mindfulness journey
I have been practicing mindfulness in my daily life for the past three years. I started off being merely curious about it—then I did an online course and gradually developed my interest and practice from there. I pursued further learning about the subject, and I began implementing formal and informal practices on an everyday basis.
I find that living well mindfully improves my quality of life experience on a number of levels. It gives me more focused, practical ways of problem-solving and managing stress. My practice and experience of living in the moment have greatly improved my quality of life in general. Some of the ways I have achieved this are the basis for this article.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learned so far is that mindfulness is the journey itself, not the destination.
A Working definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice that improves the quality of life for many people including those with different health conditions. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of modern day mindfulness defined it as "the art of conscious living." Those who propose the practice of mindfulness suggest that we "lose our mind to come to our senses." This makes some sense when we acknowledge that we do not consider our bodies except when they are ill. Mindfulness redresses this balance in favor of body awareness in the context of present-moment living.
Another perspective on defining mindfulness is to contrast it with autopilot. In autopilot our minds wander between rumination about the past and planning the future whereas mindfulness is the art of living in the moment.
In this article we will consider formal and informal mindfulness practice, along with some practical suggestions for same. There will also be useful links to apps and other links to facilitate your practice. I hope you enjoy what you read here and find it useful in starting your mindfulness journey or continuing it.
Formal mindfulness practice: App reviews
Many people use formal meditation in their mindfulness practice. This involves taking time out from your daily schedule to meditate. A lot of formal meditation focuses on the breath and/or the body. The reason for this is that our breath and our bodies are always with us; hence they provide a good focus for mindfulness.
Formal meditations include the body scan and sitting meditation. The following are some links to mostly free mindfulness apps that I have come across. I use some of them on a daily basis and find them invaluable for my daily mindfulness practice, as they are a good way of getting started with formal meditation.
App # 1 - Insight Timer
This is the most popular free app available on the app store and google play. It has more than 4,000 guided meditations as well as a timer which enables the user to produce individual meditations. Insight timer also has other features.I use it on a daily basis, and it is an integral part of my mindfulness practice. You can download Insight Timer here.
App # 2 - Aware
This is another free app that I use on a daily basis, and I find it very worthwhile. It is currently in beta mode and offers a lifetime membership for $4.99, which I have availed of. It has guided meditation courses for many conditions; for example, sleep, stress, and anxiety, and it is well worth considering for the beginner to develop a mindfulness practice. This app is available on Google play and the app store here.
App # 3 - Buddhify
I sometimes use Buddhify offline. It is not free, but it has an interesting layout for integrating mindfulness practise with daily activities mainly in an urban setting. It is inexpensive and can be downloaded here at the Buddhify site in iOS or on Google play.
App # 4 - Let's Meditate
Let's Meditate is free and is also available on Google play and the app store. It is basically a list of meditations that can be downloaded for use offline. I have the app but haven't used it yet. I thought it would be worth a mention here.
These apps are useful for developing formal meditation practice. In the next section of this article we will look at informal mindfulness practice and how it can be incorporated into the activities of daily living.
Everyday Mindfulness Practice
As with formal mindfulness meditation, the breath and the body are key features of focus in informal mindfulness practice in one's daily life. The breath and the body are often described as anchors which we return to as a means of facilitating our moment to moment awareness. Some useful practices that you can do in the course of your daily business are outlined as follows:
Our breath is always with us. During everyday activities we can keep our awareness on the breath and if our mind wanders we can keep returning our attention to it. Some people use counting to maintain their focus in this activity. Examples of this are: counting to 7 on the inbreath and counting to eleven on the outbreath. An alternative is to count up to ten and then begin again starting at one on the inbreath,two on the outbreath,three on the next inbreath, four on the outbreath and so on up to ten and back again to one.
In using mindfulness to manage stress, it is said that focussing on the outbreath is particularly useful to induce calmness.
Some people do not like mindful breathing either in formal or informal practice. Instead, they keep the focus of their attention on their feet; i.e,. the sensation of their feet in their shoes. In mindful walking outdoors,awareness can be focussed on the feeling of movement of the feet and arms for example or the feeling of the breeze on your skin. Walking meditation is a very old and well established mindfulness practice.
Mindful eating with awareness can be beneficial in many ways. It helps us enjoy food more and makes us more discerning about what to put in our bodies. Eating while watching television is definitely not mindful eating. Some tips for mindful eating which you might find useful are at this link.
Mindful eating of a raisin was used as a technique by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training in the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to introduce the concept of mindfulness and the video below demonstrates the practice well.
Short video on mindful eating of a raisin
Do you practice mindfulness?
I hope you have found the information and suggested links in this article useful. If you are new to mindfulness I hope you have become curious to learn more—and if you are already familiar with the practice, perhaps you will find what I've shared to be motivating.
Finally, it is worth saying again: We can be on a journey of mindfulness rather than seeing mindfulness as a destination
Feel free to comment on this article. All feedback will be appreciated.
© 2017 Kate McBride