Have you ever wanted to bring more mindful awareness into your life, but struggled to understand what it truly is?
Or do you set the intention to go about your day more mindfully, only to fall into the trap of slipping back into default patterns on autopilot?
It’s not easy in the beginning, and there will be bumps along the path toward a committed mindful awareness practice.
This article will guide you to help introduce mindful awareness in your life so that you are well prepared to start your journey. We will cover:
- What Is Mindful Awareness
- The Benefits Of Practicing Mindful Awareness
- 5 Ways To Practice Mindful Awareness
What is Mindful Awareness
Jon Kabat Zinn, who enjoys significant global renown for his work on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), defines mindful awareness as:
“The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
This is a widely accepted definition and perhaps more descriptive for those who want to start practicing.
Mindful awareness is a state that can be brought on through practice. It’s not static, nor are some people ‘born more mindful’ than others. It involves awareness, and impartiality about what we gain from this awareness.
In an age of social media, where opinions, likes, and commentary are stealing our awareness, it’s easy to see how non-judgmental reflection can be a welcome change. In general, there are three key characteristics of mindful awareness:
1. Intention to cultivate awareness (and return to it again and again)
2. Attention to what is occurring in the present moment (simply observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise)
3. An attitude that is non-judgmental, curious, and kind.
The truth is we can’t change anything unless we do it. So mindful awareness is to become aware of who we are being—to shine a light on our unconscious automatic thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.
Benefits of Practicing Mindful Awareness
We have all experienced emotions such as anger, dejection, frustration, jealousy, and laziness, to name a few. These are unpleasant emotions that evoke negative reactions from us. Mindful awareness helps us to disconnect from identifying or attaching to negative emotions.
We are then better able to:
- regulate our emotions,
- maintain an optimistic outlook,
- and cope with any stressful situations in a more balanced manner.
When we are anchored to the present moment, we become more capable of being able to engage ourselves completely in whatever we are doing at that moment. Mindful awareness practices make it possible for us to be patient and stay calm with ourselves and within our relationships.
When we develop stable awareness over time, we are not so easily caught up in, or thrown by, thoughts and emotions. This has a powerful impact on the general state of our minds.
With this, we are more able to achieve efficiency and productivity and remain goal-oriented.
5 Ways to practice mindful awareness
There are countless ways to apply mindfulness in your everyday life.
#1: Start with a daily routine
The first step is to introduce a daily routine. Like any exercise, mindful awareness benefits from regular practice. Researchers often use a mindful awareness intervention plan that takes place across many weeks.
#2: Morning Meditation
All mindful awareness techniques are a form of meditation. Mediation means “to be aware of.”
Decide on an uninterrupted time of day that you can set aside to practice mindful awareness meditation, and keep that time in your schedule.
Just after you wake is a perfect time, you are still in a sleepy state and you haven’t been distracted by your “to-do” list yet. So a crucial part of this is to not check your phone, emails, or anything else that will add distraction until after you’ve practiced.
In my life my wife and I wake at 5:15 am so we can get our meditation and yoga in before our daughter wakes up. You may be thinking that’s too early! I can tell you that I never used to be a morning person, and the transition was uncomfortable. But I can honestly say that it’s been one of the most powerful changes I have ever done for myself.
Each time I do this for myself and sit down to practice I never regret it. And when my daughter wakes, my wife and I greet her with such love and joy. It’s a beautiful way to start each day, after which I then choose to engage with emails and the outside world at 9 am.
Start by sitting comfortably, and taking a few deep breaths in through the nose, and out through the mouth. After a few breaths, gently close your eyes and allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm.
Once you’re settled in, scan down the body from head to toe, getting a sense of how the body feels, the underlying mood. Be clear about your intention for doing this exercise, and how by doing it you can potentially improve the lives of those around you. Rest the mind on wherever you feel the rise and fall of the breath most strongly.
In this video I guide you through a 20-minute guided body scan to help you develop your practice:
#3: In the shower
A daily shower is a perfect time to practice mindful awareness. The length of your shower is unimportant. Just make sure to leave your phone in another room, so it won’t disturb you.
As you step into the shower, be aware of how the water feels as it hits your head, your back, and your arms. Is it hot enough? Too hot? Notice which part of the body you wash first, then switch it up.
Habits like showering usually put us on autopilot, we go through the motions while the mind skips off. If your thoughts have wandered, gently bring your attention back to the present.
You can apply this mindful awareness technique to just about any daily habit, from pouring yourself a glass of water, brushing your teeth, or taking a walk in nature.
#4: Before a meal
Whether you’re sharing a meal or eating alone, you’re probably looking forward to the first bite of whatever is on your plate. Before digging in, take a minute for this one-minute mindful eating exercise.
Pause to bring your attention to the food. Think about where your food has come from, where it was grown, and how it was prepared. In our fast-paced lives, we often miss that farm-to-table connection.
Engage the physical senses — the sight, the texture, the aroma of the food. Does it take you to a particular place in your mind? As you begin to eat, don’t wolf down your meal! Chew it slowly, savoring the complexity of flavors, and each moment.
#5: During your day
Once we’ve developed a basic mindful awareness practice, it’s important to bring it into our day-to-day. We might be skilful at practising mindful awareness with our eyes closed, but the moments when we really need to exercise our skills and become fully aware happen during the rest of our day, as we venture out into the world—with our eyes open.
Keep in mind though, that you are learning a skill, which requires a lot of time and practice. Elite athletes spend more than 10,000 hours developing their skills. In this case, you’re mastering yourself. You’re learning to practice with your eyes open in the game of life, and it takes diligence to be conscious of all the thoughts and actions that often go unnoticed, but are driven by aroused emotional states.
Consciousness is awareness, awareness is paying attention, and paying attention is noticing. The tricky part is whether we can pay attention without judging. Can you become skilled at observing without attaching charged emotions to what you see, and can you notice that you’ve gone unconscious without judging yourself?
To practice while wide awake, we have to train the mind to catch itself in the act of forgetting, and we’ve got to understand how to bring ourselves back. If you are noticing when you’ve lost your awareness, you’re already taking the first step.
The next step requires you to be aware of the thoughts and sensations you are experiencing, which takes courage. An example could be worrying about what someone might think of you or about something that might or might not happen, which you feel is out of your control. This of course increases your anxiety.
To notice therefore is to be aware, in the present moment, that you have anxiety over what someone may think or something that might happen. Just simply watch the response within you without judgment.
At the start of this process, I found this challenging because I was so used to distracting and numbing my very familiar uncomfortable feelings. The most important part of this is being non-judgmental, curious, and kind to yourself.
When esoteric concepts are held at the same time, you get to understand that you are not your thoughts. An analogy I like to use is a stage performance. The stage, actors, orchestra, and set are made up of your thoughts. When you aren’t aware, you are on the stage living out the drama in your life. You are the lead actor in a tragedy full of twists and turns that would rival any episode of your favorite Netflix show.
When you notice and become aware, you step off the stage and take a seat in the audience to watch the show. The show still continues, you are now just observing the characters, stories, stage, set, and plot. Noticing is just the act of stepping off the stage and taking a seat as high up as possible. The higher you go in the theatre, the wider your perspective.
Hopefully, by now you’re convinced of the numerous benefits of practicing mindful awareness and have a few ideas on how to implement it in your everyday life.
Most importantly, remember that mindful awareness is a way of thinking that you are capable of practicing throughout your day. It is not limited to only one exercise, it is not limited to only three minutes, and it is not a switch that you can turn on and off.
With time and regular practice, you will start to practice mindful awareness more easily in all activities, and you will see the transformation benefits within your life.
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