If you haven’t heard of mindfulness practice, you might be either a master of it (so focused on your priorities that you are oblivious to popular culture) or in great need of it (so unfocused that you’ve missed the message entirely). Truly, the word “mindful” has popped up in many places throughout our culture over the past few years. And with good reason: mindfulness practice is good for your mental, emotional and physical health, and it’s a good way to counteract the stress of living in our fast-paced world.
In short, mindfulness is a way to regain power over your thoughts and emotions, so you can move through the world with purpose.
What does that mean, exactly? Over the past two years or so, I’ve been learning more about mindfulness, and even teaching it in my afterschool program. It’s fascinating to see the effects of a mindfulness practice, even on teenaged kids.
Mindfulness in one minute
The mindfulness practice I teach in the classroom is the same one I practice myself, the same as I recommend to clients. It is quite simple: just sit quietly for one full minute, focusing on your breath. That’s it. Over time, you should begin sitting for longer, ideally three minutes, three times a day, or up to a half hour if you can spare the time. But just one minute, twice a day, is enough to begin creating significant changes in your mind and body.
I started teaching this in the classroom after learning about the Mindful Schools program. Kids have a hard time regulating their emotions and their reactions. It’s fascinating to see how uncomfortable they are with being quiet, at first – and how, over time, they’re much more willing to sink into a state of mindfulness. They can sit quietly for three minutes now; it completely changes the tenor of the room.
Teaching teenagers how to respond to stimuli, instead of reacting – how to be aware of their breath, calm in their thoughts, at home in their bodies – provides them with a self-regulation practice that they can use throughout their lives. It helps me too, as their teacher. Kids can be so reactionary, and it is incredibly easy to get sucked into that pattern. Through sitting together, we all learn to step back and change how we interact.
Mindfulness for cops
Speaking of reactionary – I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how mindfulness could help people cope with tense situations, such as confrontations between police and citizens. More to the point: imagine if the police being sent into the field, protests and riots had been trained in mindfulness, so they had the tools to change the tenor of the interaction, literally bringing peace.
One department in Oregon is testing out a mindfulness practice, as reported in Police Chief magazine. Its goal is to reduce officers’ stress levels and create more positive outcomes. As its author, a chief of police, wrote:
“Cultivating resilient police officers and a culture of resilience is possible using mindfulness as a foundation. Shifting from a reactive model to a preventative one is not simple, yet it is an integral part of leadership evolution. The opportunity before us is to lead our culture forward, toward a proactive and preventative paradigm of occupational stress.”
Building mindfulness into your life
The best way to begin practicing mindfulness is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Set up a regular time in your day – be it right before you leave the house, or as soon as you wake up, or when you get home from work. Find a quiet spot, set a timer and breathe.
The goal is not to clear your mind of thoughts (a common misunderstanding about meditation). Think of it as if you’re standing on a train platform, and your train of thought is zooming by. You don’t need to stop it, nor do you need to get out of its way; you also don’t need to catch it. Instead, you’ll simply watch it as it passes, being aware of your thoughts without reacting to them or judging them.
It may help to count your breaths, with each rise/fall counting as one. Or you may enjoy doing a body scan. As you cease to be distracted by your train of thought, you will become more aware of your body, and this awareness will follow you throughout your daily interactions.
This practice is accumulative: the more you try, the more you will gain. As the weeks, months and years pass, you will increase in your ability to move through the world calmly and with a self-possession that can only come from true mindfulness. Enjoy the process!