Want to be more mindful? Start your day like this
by Heather Thatcher
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Mindfulness is definitely a buzz word in the wellness space and is getting a lot of attention in the media recently. For good reason, though, as there is an increasing amount of evidence that shows it’s effectiveness at lowering your risk for depression, while also reducing stress, and in turn lowering your risk of developing illness or disease. But what exactly is mindfulness, and how can you put it to use in your day-to-day life?
I’m going to explain mindfulness in my most favorite way I’ve ever had it explained to me.
Imagine your mind as the ocean. When life is going well, the sun is shining, the waves are calm, rhythmic and gentle. Everything is peaceful and relaxing.
When we’re stressed it’s as if the perfect storm rolled in. The water is choppy, the waves are huge, and we’re getting tossed about, barely keeping our heads above water.
If you go 30 – 40 feet below the surface, everything is calm, quiet, and completely unaffected by that storm. It’s this serene space within you that you’re trying to access with mindfulness.
It doesn’t matter how wild and wonderful your life becomes, or what you’ve got going on, or how impossibly long your to-do list is. You always have access to this calm space in your heart center, and the more your practice mindfulness the easier it is to access it.
And boy, oh boy, was I ever happy that I knew about mindfulness when I was going to be late for my first day of work…
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You’re taking the train for the first time in a new city, and there’s a train line that has one name…but has two drastically different directions the train can take. Just to be clear, on the same train station platform, a train with the same name can leave the platform heading in the same direction, but then the train line forks and the train with the same name can either head one direction or the other.
Who was I to know that the “Expo” train line could end up in one of two cities?
I clearly missed the subtle memo that would show me that one “Expo” train was not like the other, and so I was on the train, patiently waiting for my stop when the announcement came on that this was the end of the line!
I started to panic a little (okay, maybe more than a little) and got off the train to find the map where – sure enough – I saw that the train line forked.
I learned my lesson about the Vancouver transit system and quickly got back on a train that would bring me closer to work. But it was clear that I was going to be late for my very first day at work.
Now the panic was really starting to settle in. I could feel my heart starting to race, I was going over in my mind what I would say to my supervisor when I arrived, and now I was really starting to panic.
I was right in the middle of that perfect storm in my mind, getting tossed about on the waves.
But, I took a moment and took one deep, slow breath. I reset my stress response with my breath, turned off the fight or flight response and sunk deep down into that mindful space 30 – 40 feet below the surface of the water, deep into my heart center.
I started to manifest that maybe I wouldn’t be as late as my catastrophizing mind had originally thought, and I showed myself some compassion. Sure, it was not great that I ended up on the wrong train in the wrong city, but I learned my lesson and will apologize to my supervisor. Everything would be okay.
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You can access this space of calm, even in the greatest of storms
It doesn’t matter how intense your day is, or how big your to-do list is, mindfulness will make a huge impact on your life. Not only will you be able to calm yourself and gain perspective, you’ll also avoid being caught off guard.
Ever notice how you can get startled so much easier when you’re distracted?
One of the biggest benefits of being mindful and noticing the present moment is that you’ll see more. And by see more, I mean that you won’t get caught off guard and potentially triggered to follow some unwanted thought pattern or habit.
When you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, what’s happening around you, and how you’re feeling – it’s tough for anything (physical or emotional) to sneak up on you. You’re paying attention so you’ll see it coming!
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Alright, that’s enough with the “why” you should be mindful. Let’s get into the “how” of what you can do to become more present and practice mindfulness more often so that you can access that calm space quickly, any time that you need it.
Start off your day with a mindful morning
Walk through your morning with me now: Your alarm goes off, or if you’re lucky you just wake up all on your own. After you’ve turned off your alarm, before you open your phone or do anything else, ask yourself:
“How am I feeling right now?”
And then listen to your answer!
Maybe you’re feeling tired, sad, groggy, sore, stiff, hungry, thirsty, nervous about your big presentation today, or wondering what the heck your dream meant.
Whatever it is, give yourself 30 – 60 seconds (yes, seconds. You don’t need a lot of time here) to really listen to how you are feeling. Don’t assign any judgement. Just listen as if you were listening to the radio, and notice what you hear.
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The next step, then, is to choose one aspect of your morning routine that you’re going to do mindfully. Especially if this is new for you, don’t put so much pressure on yourself to do everything mindfully. You’re human, and your mind is going to wander and you’re going to have to multi-task some things sometimes.
It’s just life.
But if you decide that this morning you’re going to brush your teeth mindfully, you will only be committing to two minutes. Two minutes isn’t that hard, right?
For those two minutes, pay attention to how the toothpaste tube looks before you pick it up, how it feels in your hands as you squeeze out the perfect amount onto your toothbrush. Pay attention to how the flavor of your toothpaste tastes in your mouth, the feel of the brush on your teeth and gums, and how you’re holding your toothbrush. Do you find yourself naturally spending more time on one side of your mouth than the other?
So many things to explore when you’re being mindful!
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Anytime another thought pops into your head, thank it for what it was telling you and then release it and come back to your mindful moment.
When you’re done brushing your teeth, go on about your morning and bring this moment of calm with you.
Mix it up
Choose something different about your morning routine to practice mindfulness with every day. Pay attention to every, juicy, beautiful moment and take it all in.
The more that you train your brain to do this, the easier it will become. Your mind will start to recognize this mindful state as being more beneficial than the typical stressed-out version of ourselves that so many of us are living in. When it notices all of these benefits, your mind will start to communicate this to your body and change your body composition on the chemical level. There will be different hormones and chemical balances, all working towards your greatest good.
And it can all start with a question and 2 minutes of paying attention while you brush your teeth.
Are you in?
This question is good any time throughout your day, not just the morning. It’s a good little reminder to check-in with your intuition to see what your body needs.
Your action step for this week to start at least three mornings by asking yourself this one little question – how am I feeling right now?