We all have heard the research about mindfulness, it’s been a coined catch phrase lately among teachers, mental health professionals and yoga practitioners. As a therapist and fellow yoga teacher I find that speaking from personal experience, mindfulness has been a huge part of my profession but also personal practice. It’s important to me to practice what I share with my clients often in both my social work profession and yoga profession.
So mindfulness? Sounds great right? The idea of being fully aware of what you are feeling or thinking and your surroundings but also without judgement noticing those thoughts or sensations and letting them go or pass. With acceptance and held in awareness, without doing anything or reacting to them. Without judgment? Just noticing? Yea OK?! I’m just going to let the idea of stressed out go, the sensation of my tense muscles go. Or the thought of all the bills that pile up just pass by. Or the relationship we all are hanging onto by a thread just float on in and out. All with an exhale...
Well to be honest yes and no. See mindfulness is not the practice of ignoring or avoiding. Mindfulness is the practice of awareness, observation without the need to change it or react to it. The idea of pausing and really identifying with what your thoughts are, what your feelings are and how that brings up some sensations in your body. Mindfulness is non-doing and instead of dwelling on the thought itself; It’s not about it being positive or negative or the content of the thought at all. It’s the gift of being able to dwell in the stillness, the quiet, with the breath in and out. You are only an observer of the thought, an observer of the emotion or sensation coming up from the thought or feelings.
Observation can become a task though right? Think about it to observe can also mean to survey, to study, review. That all sounds like judgment to me. For me I like to interpret observation as experiential. Experiential literally means involving or based on experience and observation. In one evidenced based practice called Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT, observation is described as noticing the direct sensory experience; see, taste, touch, hear, smell without labeling it, reacting or judging it. It is neither good, bad, positive, negative, rational or irritational. It is only an experience that is happening and that will come and go.
The observation skill is practiced to help us be in the moment, not lost in the past or anticipating the future. The here and the now. The experience of reality, what each present moment has to offer without rushing to the next moment or dwelling on the last moment. Noticing thoughts and emotions without elaborating or ruminating over them. Allow yourself to experience thoughts and emotions as temporary events.
So how can we be observers? Get in tune with your senses. Ask yourself what you hear, describe the sound without labeling it annoying or loud or soft etc. Describe how it feels, the sensations it provides. Observe things you see meaning actually looking up from the cell phone (guilty as charged myself at times) and begin to notice your surroundings. Take notice of the colors or bright lights. Notice what you feel...is it cold out, warm out, breezy etc. Notice your bodies connection to things, the ground, chair, bed. Don’t just go through the day on auto-pilot moving from one thing to the next not even remembering the journey there. How many times has this happened driving from one place to another and thinking to yourself “Wait a minute I don’t even remember the drive”.
Give yourself the gift of observation, honoring your current experience. Begin with your breath; observing the inhale and the exhale only, observe the breath fill your lungs, your abdomen, observe the breath coming in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth. Observe the sensation the breath has in your body. Observe the pauses in between each breath. Observe life.