Mindfulness–Not just for Hermits!

steps to a goalOver the past few months I have noticed the practice of “mindfulness” showing up unexpectedly in professions that tend to the linear, analytical, and logical.  The Washington State Bar Association, for example, recently published an article entitled, Paying Attention: Integrating Mindfulness into Your Practice.

“Increased scientific research gives evidence of the positive effects of mindfulness on the brain, the nervous system, and the body as a whole—demonstrating that the mind and body are not separate,” report authors Sevilla Rhoads and Sherry Williams in the Washington State Bar News.

Meanwhile at Emory University in Atlanta, Professors of the Sciences are partnering with Tibetan Monks to bridge Western Science and contemplative traditions practiced by the monks.  Monks can be seen studying science and developing new vocabulary to add to the Tibetan language that would explain scientific concepts to their colleagues back home.  And Professors of Sciences at Emory “have been contemplating the science of the heart and the mind in new ways,” writes Kim Severson in her Seattle Times article on this topic.

So what do we mean by mindfulness?  Jon Kabat-Zinn (founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School—wow, wasn’t that a mouthful!) says “mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment.”

How can we begin or deepen practices of mindfulness in our daily lives so that we can experience benefits of greater awareness, better listening, and more healthful abilities to manage stress?

Here are three practices to integrate into your day: 

1)  Take pauses of intentional silences in between meetings—begin with two minutes and aim for five as a goal.  During these silences, discipline your mind to focus on the present moment: your breath, the sounds around you, the feel of the air on your skin.  Two minutes!
2)  Eat an almond without biting into it first.  Let it soften in your mouth. Notice the tastes and sensations in your mouth.  Savor this almond.  Explore how you can make that almond last for two minutes. Eventually bite into it but not right away.  This practice also helps us to develop consciousness and appreciation of our food.    In a world where lunches are skipped or hurriedly inhaled at our desk while responding to email, this practice offers a moment to remember how to nourish ourselves with the food we eat. ·        
3)  Walk at half speed.  For a short distance and for about ten minutes, consciously slow down your walking pace to half speed.  Notice the ground under your feet.  Be aware of the articulation of your ankles, toes, and knees.  Pay attention to your spine, your legs, your hips, your shoulders, your head.  How are you breathing? Pay attention to the expression on your face: is there a frown, a smile, tension? Just notice. No judgment.

To make this fun and successful here are a few tips:

  • Adopt a mood of experimentation!  This sounds like:  “What if I just tried one of these for a week and see what happens?” 
  •  Set realistic and achievable goals. 
  •  Attach the practice to a routine in your day that you already do.  For example if you take a dog for a walk, you can try walking at half speed for part of that walk.  If you like to have almonds for a protein snack, try savoring one for two minutes.