I’ve written several posts about mindfulness, but if you’re still confused about exactly what mindfulness is and how to do it, I have a simple exercise for you!
First, let’s talk about some of the mental benefits of mindfulness, which include improved attention/concentration, lowered anxiety, and better mood. These benefits are related to the focusing and being in the moment aspects of mindfulness.
One of the ways mindfulness works is by retraining your brain to screen out distractions. This allows you to focus, in a calm manner, on one thing at a time.
While multitasking sometimes has its advantages, most of us recognize the benefits of focusing our undivided attention. In fact, many people procrastinate because they struggle with giving a project their undivided attention until they’re up against a deadline. If you enjoy that “rush” and extra focus of being up against a deadline, I’m probably describing you!
You can consciously avoid multitasking, but how do you keep your mind from wandering? If you find it difficult to keep your mind focused on only one thing (the essence of mindfulness), today’s exercise will help!
First, a little background on a learning tool called biofeedback. Biofeedback “is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance” (according to the Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback). Biofeedback is usually performed with electronic instruments that measure blood pressure, heart rate, or skin temperature which give real-time feedback on physiological fluctuations.
People can learn to manipulate physiological responses by shifting their thoughts and focus.
As an example, we know that biofeedback can help people learn to lower blood pressure. The “feedback” the electronic instruments provide during biofeedback helps a person understand precisely what it is that he/she is doing or thinking that can bring blood pressure down. (And it’s slightly different for everyone!) As an example, a person may realize that taking deep breaths and thinking about a beach vacation lowers blood pressure while taking deep breaths and thinking about a work project raises blood pressure. Once this connection is made, a person can use that information to selectively lower blood pressure at will.
So how can you apply the utility of biofeedback to mindfulness (without electronic instruments!) and figure out whether you’re “being mindful” and “staying in the moment?” Easy–balance.
If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you’re familiar with both focusing and clearing your mind at the same time to stay in a balance pose. That’s mindfulness! And falling out of the pose vs staying balanced? That’s the biofeedback! If you stay balanced, you’ve got it–you were able to clear and calm your mind. If you fall, keep trying–you’ll get it!
If you’re not familiar with yoga, a balance pose can be as simple as standing on one leg.
Try it–you’ll quickly learn to calm your mind to stay “balanced.” If your mind starts to wander, you’ll loose your balance no matter how skilled a yogi you are! If you want a few ideas for yoga poses, look here. If you’re a beginner, you may want to start with simply standing on one foot, or try Tree Pose, Dancer Pose, or Warrior III.
Your Daily Shoring assignment for today is to pick a balance pose and try to hold it for 60 seconds! If you’re good at this, you’re probably already good at mindfulness. If you feel challenged, pay attention to what you’re thinking or focusing on when you’re able to hold your balance, as well as when you lose your balance. What works is your recipe for mindfulness!
It’s interesting that we so often hear about the importance of balance in our lives, when balance can be as literal as standing on one leg, which requires mindfulness!
If you want to review, here are the other Daily Shoring posts on mindfulness: Improve Your Focus, Practice Mindfulness with a “Grounding Exercise,” Practice Mindfulness, Practice Mindfulness with Music, and Use Mindfulness to Avoid the Kindling Effect.