Updated: May 10, 2021
If you've ever been told that you may benefit from practicing mindfulness and immediately thought, "I could never do that," then this is for you. Often times the people that tell me that they would never be able to practice mindfulness because they can't sit still, they can't focus, etc. are the ones that need it most.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgement. Unlike a meditation practice, mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime. You can drive mindfully, you can eat mindfully, etc. So long as you are paying attention to "what is" in the present, you are being mindful.
Every time you lose your focus and you become aware of the lost focus, you are also practicing mindfulness. Think of it like lifting weights. In the beginning you may need to do a lot of repetitions until you can hold that weight for longer.
There is no right or wrong. Focus on the present and bring the focus back to the present whenever it is lost, no matter how many times.
However, some people may find it nearly impossible to sit mindfully, as often suggested by mindfulness apps and mindfulness teachers. If we give ourselves a task that we perceive as impossible, hard, or dreadful, we may never do it at all! When starting a new habit, such as mindfulness, I suggest making it so easy you can't fail. This may mean that you do a very short seated meditation with guidance from an app or it may mean that you incorporate mindfulness into something you already do.
Below are a few examples of how to practice mindfulness when you feel you can't sit still:
1. Heart Rate Run
OK, now here's something that most runner's can get on board with because running is what we do. There's a small caveat here, though. Try running while keeping your heart rate lower than normal. For some of you, this is a normal part of your heart rate training. For others, this may be a completely new way of training.
When training with a low heart rate target, you'll notice that you have to run with focus. To run slow, you have to focus on your pace. Because you're running slower, you have to focus on your form. To keep your heart rate low, you have to focus on your breathing. During a run like this, there is not much room to allow your mind to wander or you'll find yourself over your target low heart rate. You can even use an alarm on your Garmin or Apple watch to alert you when your heart rate gets too high and remind you to bring your focus back to your run.
2. The Waiting Game
This mindfulness activity does involve sitting but it also involves a little internal competition. Next time you are in a waiting room, where you are sitting anyway, see if you can avoid passing the time WITHOUT distractions, especially your phone. Take the time to just sit.
If the temptation to grab the phone becomes too great, challenge yourself to count the number of other people who are completely oblivious to their surroundings while engulfed in their social media and emails. Observe the things that these people miss, like the person who needed help getting the door open or the grouchy assistant who looks like they just need a warm "HELLO."
Not only are you working on being present but you're also working on making the world around you a better place!
3. Mindful Walk
A mindful walk can take on many forms. In some mindfulness practices, a mindful walk is encouraged to be slow and deliberate with a focus on the feeling of the foot hitting the ground and the body moving through space.
A walk can also become mindful if you focus on something else specific like your surroundings. Notice the input to all 5 senses. This can be done on a busy city street or a quiet spot in nature. If you haven't heard, some doctors are actually prescribing nature to their patients for conditions such as anxiety and stress. This is also known as a forest bath.
4. Yoga or Stretching
A final mindfulness practice worth sharing is yoga or stretching. Often times a well-trained yoga instructor will lead you into a place of presence and non-judgment on the mat. Be cautious, however, not to only go to the practices that are more of a workout than a deliberate practice. It is OK and necessary to take a break from rigorous exercise!
On your own, you can follow your own yoga routine or simply practice a stretching routine. The key is to stay focused on the practice, be it the breathing, the movement, or the feeling in your body. Avoid distractions like checking your phone in between each set (guilty as charged, over here!) or watching TV.
My hope is that these practices help you become more present and help you turn off the auto-pilot to become more aware of you, your body, your mind, and your surroundings. With this, you will slowly find you respond to things more carefully, rather than quickly and sometimes inappropriately reacting. You will find that you feel healthier and more energetic. You will find you are more aware of your emotions and where they came from. You will find yourself more aware of your body and able to listen to what it tells you. I could go on...the possibilities and benefits are endless.
- NAMASTE -