Here is this month’s installment of “Ask Shelby” with Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley:
I’ve been hearing a lot about “mindfulness” lately. What does this mean exactly, and how does it help?
You ask a great question! Mindfulness can mean a lot of different things to different people. At its most simple, it means being present to your life and having moment-by-moment awareness. The easiest way for me to describe that kind of awareness is to ask you to remember the surprising moment when you notice your child, or your partner, or your parent, and how you are filled with such a deep love and awe that you get to share your life with them. You fully notice how amazing their presence in your life is.
Practicing and cultivating mindfulness has a lot of benefits. Not only does it allow you to be aware of more of those moments of joy and gratitude, it can improve concentration and creativity, significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and pain, enhance immune system function, and increase your overall sense of well-being and fulfillment. Practicing mindfulness can decrease emotional reactivity and make it easier to accept adversity, but with an enhanced ability to respond in a positive, assertive manner. It can also help you be more fully engaged in your relationships, and help you to be the kind of woman, mother, wife, friend, professional, etc. you’d like to be.
In a world filled with smart-phones, 600+ TV channels, and to-do lists a mile long, it can be a challenge to remain present and in the moment. We tend to live in our heads, churning over the past and worrying about the future. I often find myself scrolling through e-mail during after-school time with my son, even after I’ve missed him and longed for our time together. Practicing mindfulness gives you the ability to notice when you’re not present to the moment and quickly re-focus your attention on the moment at hand, allowing you to be more engaged and intentional in your relationships.
I recommend reading Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Every Day Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mindfulness by Ihnen and Flynn. Five Good Minutes by Brantley and Millstine has some simple mediation exercises you might find helpful.
Here are two mindfulness exercises I like to use:
Breathing Exercise: Sit in a comfortable position, allowing your body to relax. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose. Slowly pull the breath through your body, down into your abdomen, allowing your belly to expand to accommodate the air. Hold the air for a slow count of three and slowly exhale the air through your lips, as if blowing out a candle. Notice how the air feels as it enters and exits your body. Let any thoughts you have float away as if on a cloud. Focus on your breathing for a few minutes, before slowly opening your eyes, stretching, and returning to your day.
Mindful Walking: Walk outside at a slow, comfortable pace. Start by taking long, slow, deep breaths, like in the breathing exercise. Next, focus on the sights you see as you walk. Notice the grass, the rocks, the insects. Notice the colors around you. Now focus on the sounds you hear. Spend a few moments noticing the quiet rustle of leaves, the loud lawn mower, the bark of a dog. Now let your focus turn to your sense of touch. Notice the breeze on your skin. Notice the sun’s warmth. Bend down to feel the soft petals of a flower. Now turn your attention to any smells. Notice the way the dirt smells because of the rain. Notice the far away scent of someone grilling. Breath deep and slow, allowing yourself to remain present in the moment. Let any thoughts pass through your mind without judgment, allowing them to float away, as if on a cloud.
Wishing you lots of deep, calming, eye-opening breaths,