“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Emotions are a heavy thing to manage when life gets overwhelming. We let our emotions get the best of us, and this is almost considered normal. We like to make rash decisions, act on impulse, speak without thinking first, or just throw in the towel. Being caught up in the moment can leave you with regret and worries. Just imagine how much more enjoyable your day could be if you stopped thinking about what was or what could be, what people may think of you or what they may say… Not only does this cause extra stress both mentally and physically, it also hinders your performance.
We can all agree that “Let it go!” is one of the most annoying songs of this decade, however, strip away the cheesy music and the peppy Disney lyrics and you are left with a powerful message. Letting it go is the best way to effectively manage your emotions, keep it together and most importantly, be present. There is a time and place for everything. Deal with what you need to when the time is right and don’t waste your energy worrying about something that you can’t solve or fix immediately.
The concept of being mindful means to be in the moment, with a non-judgmental attitude. It means being aware and not trying to attempt or confirm anything. Mindfulness is a skill that you will continually develop but will never really master, and that’s okay. The purpose is to practice, practice, practice!
Six ways to help you practice Mindfulness
1. Develop your self-awareness. The first step to any behavior change is awareness. What kind of emotions do you have the most difficulty dealing with? For most of us it is negative emotions such as anger, sadness and stress.
At the end of your day, jot down moments when you found that your emotions got in the way of your peace of mind. Answer these questions: How did you deal with it? How would you prefer to deal with it next time? Start a journal, or if you hate using a pen and paper and have chicken scratch writing, type or record notes on your phone or computer.
2. Start meditating. All the cool kids are doing it. Meditation is actually a great way to cultivate mindfulness. It’s like going to the gym, but for your brain. When you meditate, you are training your brain to be in the moment, to focus and to refocus. Learning this skill can prove to be useful in all aspects of your life. If you tend to get distracted at work, you can learn how to stay focused and bring yourself back to the present.
When dealing with colleagues, friends or partners, we sometimes can get caught up in the moment and overreact. With meditation you can train yourself to take a step back and observe instead of react. Now if you’ve never meditated before, don’t expect to start off by meditating 30 minutes every day, that’s just not realistic. Start small, maybe five minutes a day, or a week. There are many tools to guide your practice. Check out free guided meditation tracks, apps, meditation groups in your neighborhood, or give it a try it on your own.
3. Be a tourist in your own town. When you are traveling, try to be more aware of your surroundings. The sights, sounds and smells make up a complete sensory experience. Practice mindfulness in your everyday life through mindful walking. Next time you find yourself going to see a friend, or getting to a restaurant, soak in your surroundings the same way you would if you were visiting an exotic destination. Whatever your mode of transport, try and practice being in the moment by letting go of any thoughts or worries you may have, and really experiencing your route to get to your destination.
I guarantee that if you do this on the way to work or school, you will find something new each day that you haven’t seen before. Now, don’t forget that it is normal for your mind to wander. The point of this exercise is to notice your mind wandering off, and then to bring it back to the present. This practice will help you strengthen your concentration, awareness, and ability to connect in the present moment. Like I suggested when starting meditation practice, begin small. Start of with five minutes a day and then eventually go for longer when you’re comfortable.
4. Throw your taste buds a party. Just like mindful walking, you can try mindful eating. Many of us eat lunch in a hurry at our desks instead of taking time to enjoy our meal. Some people even skip meals because they are too busy! Crazy, I know. Not only is this detrimental to your mental wellbeing, but it affects you physically as well. No matter what you’re eating – a snack, a whole meal, or just an ice cream cone, try and sit down and enjoy the different flavors. Be aware of how your body is reacting to the experience. In the morning, wake up a few minutes earlier so you can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee with a bagel instead of rushing to work and eating while you travel, or skipping the meal altogether. And no, a cup of coffee from Starbucks is not considered breakfast.
5. So fresh and so clean. Taking mindful showers is another way to make sure you practice mindfulness on a daily basis, assuming that you shower everyday. Next time you’re scrubbing away, try and focus on different sensations such as how the soap feels on your skin and how the water feels dripping on your head. If you find yourself rushing or having distracting thoughts, take a deep breath and refocus on your practice. If you’re lucky enough to have a big shower, try sitting down and just experience the water falling on you.
6. Take it to the mat. Yoga seems to be an activity that can serve many different purposes. Some athletes use it to make sure they get a good stretch in, while others use it as a relaxation tool at the end of their busy and stressful day. Yoga is a great opportunity for you to practice mindfulness as you change and hold postures. Imagine it’s your first time doing yoga, you’re in Warrior Pose 1, and as you hold the position for a few seconds, your shoulders start to burn and your legs begin to shake. Now, most people might get caught up with those sensations and begin to feel angry and impatient. Instead of reacting, respond by bringing your awareness back to your breath and trying to observe your thoughts. I guarantee that this will make you feel a lot better than freaking out and giving up because of a few tingling sensations in your arms. After the session, keep the presence and awareness as you step off the mat, and try to bring it with you for the rest of the day.
These are all ways to train your brain how to refocus and be in the moment. It is a way to practice fully experiencing what you are living. Now, I am not saying to do this all the time. Pick the moments when you want to train your brain. When you cultivate mindfulness through, yoga, meditation, and other practices, you will see that it will begin to seep in other activities. Again, the purpose is to help you “let it go” and enjoy the present moment. There are so many things you can do mindfully. It is up to you to choose the right moments, and use those skills to help you manage your emotions more effectively.