Three deep breaths before taking the first bite of my lunch. This was one of the strategies for slowing down and being present that my wellness and nutrition coach suggested for incorporating more mindful moments into my days. It shouldn’t have been that hard.
Except it was.
Over the 28 days that I stuck with the elimination protocol aimed at addressing the health issues I’d been experiencing, I remembered to take those breaths only three times. I was usually multiple bites into a meal (if not almost finished with it) by the time it occurred to me to breathe in, breathe out, and repeat.
This is how many of my attempts to adopt midday mindfulness have gone over the years. In the to-dos of daily life, I often skip over or forget to do them altogether.
Yet I know the benefits of cultivating a mindfulness practice: increased focus and productivity, a more positive outlook, reduced stress and anxiety, and better digestive function, to name a few. In nearly every issue of this magazine, we touch on the importance of being mindful; this month is no exception.
Mindfulness is about noticing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It’s being conscious of what is happening within and around us and the effects on our well-being right here, right now. It’s an awareness we begin to carry with us as we move through our days.
And yet so many of us dwell in the past as we simultaneously rush toward the future. Between all the rumination and rushing, I know I often miss out on what is good, right, and serving me well in this moment.
Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve had better success embracing mindfulness practices that require more time and commitment. Gratitude journaling (and writing, in general), yoga, and massage have all helped me tap into a deeper sense of awareness. In some instances, I might even describe it as meditative.
Lying in savasana after a vigorous yoga class, for instance, I’m tuned in to the beat of my heart and the flow of my breath. In my body, it’s as if I can feel the blood moving through my veins, delivering fresh oxygen to my exhausted muscles. In my mind, everything is extraordinarily clear and completely relaxed.
Any movement would disrupt this experience of deep calm. Any thought is just that: something that comes and goes, free of judgment, acknowledged and learned from. Ideas seem to make their way to the surface.
During a massage about a year ago, I finally found the words for a pet project that had been on my mind. Those words had been frustratingly out of reach, so as soon as I was off that table, I put pen to paper to consciously capture as many of them as I could.
In the aftermath of doing nothing — at least on my part — the words continued to flow. (For more on the benefits of idleness, read “The Living Experiment: Idleness.”)
Sadly, I can’t get a massage every day, as awesome as that would be. But there are other behaviors I can incorporate that meet me where I am in my mindfulness efforts: pausing on a morning walk to take in the scenery and just breathe. Writing down 10 things that make me smile in a day. Holding hands with my kiddos while we walk to the park. (Find some nontraditional mindfulness ideas in “Beyond Meditation.”)
And I’ll keep attempting those three deep breaths at lunch. Practice makes progress, right?!