As I said in my last post, taking care of yourself is hard. I think the hardest thing about wellness–whether that means exercise, mental health, clean eating, or anything else–is the way we as people second guess ourselves. My brain is my own worst enemy and I am definitely my worst critic. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
So, WTF is mindfulness? Don’t look at me, I’m still figuring it out. But between conversations with my therapist, my own research, and reading other helpful blogs, I’ve put together my own rough definition: Mindfulness is living in the moment that you are living right now and not allowing disruptive thoughts to barge in and ruin the experience.
For example: You have some past beef with a friend, but are trying to reconnect and mend the friendship. You’re out for coffee and having a good time, but thoughts from What That Bitch Did To You In High School keep creeping in. Instead of being present in what you’re currently experiencing, you’re just re-experiencing the past.
Or maybe you are worried about your parents getting old. When you spend time with them, you’re plagued with thoughts like, “How will I take care of them when they need it.? Can we afford a nursing home?” You are not present–you’re spiraling into future scenarios instead. (This second example is a huge one for me, and one I am definitely still working on)
If you want more information from a real source and not just me, Mindful.org is a good place to start. But to me, that’s mindfulness in a nutshell. Be present and experience things as they’re happening. Acknowledge the things that have happened before, or the things that could happen, but don’t dwell. Recognize that things outside of this moment exist, but then let them go.
In my own life, I’ve found the following three things to be helpful in trying to become more mindful. These aren’t guaranteed, but they work for me.
1. Yoga: I find yoga to be very challenging, both physically and mentally. If I am doing other types of exercise, like walking on the tread mill or lifting weights, my mind wanders. Hell, when I am on the treadmill, I watch a TV show on my iPad specifically so I don’t focus on how awful it is to walk up a hill for 45 minutes. But yoga? I’m in it. It’s a great way to 100% focus on your muscles, the way your body moves, and how far you can push it. I really have to pay attention to my positioning and breath, so it’s a perfect way to stay in the present moment.
2. Meditation apps: I will be honest with you: I kind of suck at meditating. My brain just will. Not. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. But using an app to help me stay consistent and work on my technique has been really helpful. There are a lot of apps out there–a lot of people like Calm or Headspace–but I use Simple Habit. This describes itself as “the best meditation app for busy people” and it’s got a ton of great, short sessions to help ease your way into a meditation practice. My favorite is the “On the Go” section, where you can choose between any sort of scenario that you’d like some help with. And yes, I have locked myself in a private room and used the S.O.S. section after a bad meeting at work.
3. Intuitive eating…ish: I say “ish” because I don’t really, fully practice intuitive eating. But I do pull elements of it into my life. Specifically, no food is off limits. I try to eat healthy every day. I try to work vegetables into every meal. I avoid bad carbs, sugar, and fried foods. But sometimes, I just really want a burger and fries, or a bowl of macaroni and cheese. So, I have it. I accept that my body wanted it, I do my best not to over-eat, and then I don’t immediately shame myself for “cheating.” This last one is tough, but I find that it’s way easier to stay successful if you allow yourself to enjoy food in moderation, rather than making things “forbidden.”
Have you tried any of these mindfulness techniques? What works for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences!