You hear about mindfulness all the time these days almost as if it is fashionable. Perhaps that is because many people have reached an all time low in mindfulness, especially because of over-preoccupation with cell phones. But it is not a fashion, nor something that can be dabbled in, it is an important practice for mental health and happiness that dates back thousands of years.
Recently I found myself in the position of not being able to do as much physical activity as I would have liked, which led me to wonder what other healthy habits I could focus on instead. Mindfulness was at the top of the list. I’ve tried to practice it for more than 20 years, as I’ve discussed previously, but I thought about how I might do better at it. The obvious first area was mindful eating, especially breakfast. I often eat breakfast at my computer while checking email. Instead, for the past few weeks I’ve paid 100% to my eating, which I’ve noticed naturally slows me down and helps me to notice the food more. And it’s a better start to my day. In all my meals, I’ve tried to do better at eating what I call “West Point” style. I don’t know if I’ve previously mentioned here that I attended the US military academy (West Point) for plebe year in 1970. Plebes were required to put down our utensils before starting to chew, then completely finish and swallow that bite before picking them up. I considered it a major pain in the ass at the time, but it does slow down eating and help you to be more mindful of your food. So I was amused decades later that it was also recommended as a formal mindfulness technique. It’s great if you want to really notice your food instead of inhaling it mindlessly. It also slows you down enough that your brain can process the full signal from your stomach before you’ve overeaten.
I’ve also worked harder on mindfulness during exercise like biking and walking. Paying closer attention to how the movement (like your footsteps or pedal strokes) syncs with the breath makes it more of a “meditation in motion” experience.
Another area I’ve cranked up is balance training. For somebody who’s gotten injured twice this year, in a bike crash and a hiking fall, that’s probably well advised. I notice the better I can concentrate the better my balance is, so this is a good mindfulness activity.
The effects of doing all of this more diligently for a few weeks are noticeable to me, and I hope to those around me. I am more patient, less grumpy, and happier because I don’t “sweat the small stuff” as much.
If you’re interested in giving mindfulness a serious try, I recommend Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World , by Drs Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Dr Williams is one of the developers of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT ), a highly effective combination of two therapies. Mindfulness is not only therapeutic for people with mental health challenges like anxiety or depression, it helps people who are classified as mentally normal become happier. This book has much practical information as well as links to guided mindfulness meditations.