Ah, mindfulness – that concept we hear so much about, but what is it really? Or rather, how do we practice it? Most of us fall into one of two categories: (1) we feel it’s sort of a vague term and aren’t really sure ‘how’ to do it, or, (2) it feels so intimidating and all-encompassing that we don’t even know where to start. I’ve wavered between both of these over the years. Looking back, the times when my mindfulness practice has felt most useful is when I’ve broken it down into small practices. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, and it’s important to pick what works for you.
Heather is a Yoga Instructor at Mighty Yoga
The mindfulness practice that has helped me the most during the past six months has been increasing my awareness of three things: (1) the information that’s coming in, (2) the thoughts that are swirling around, and (3) the words that are coming out. It is so important to have an awareness of what we’re watching and listening to, to have a filter on the information that comes in. This is the fuel that feeds our thoughts and actions. When we eat healthy foods, our bodies feel better and we have more energy. When we don’t eat so well (like at my son’s birthday party this weekend), we don’t feel so well. There is so much going on in the world right now, huge amounts of change, of pain and suffering, and also great spots of light and love. If we let all of that in unfiltered, then we feel the effects of that – good or bad. Our minds, hearts, and bodies can be such a powerful force for good in this world, but if the majority of the information we are taking in is negative, then it takes a huge amount of strength to have more positive thoughts and actions. Like running a 5K after two pieces of cake – luckily, I don’t have experience with this one!
But how do you figure out what’s necessary and what’s not? For me, I find it most helpful to ask myself, “Is it useful?” The trick is to use this practice to become aware of what’s useful and what isn’t – and to know when I’ve crossed that line. This practice of “Is it useful,” can be applied in three dimensions – the information that we take in, the thoughts running around in our head, and the words that we say. We each have a finite amount of energy. None of us wants to waste that energy on things that aren’t serving us, but we often do (unfortunately, it’s really easy!).
Heather enjoying a yoga class
The thing I like best about the “Is it useful?” approach is that it isn’t about denial; it’s about choosing where we spend our energy. If you’re having trouble with something or someone at work, it can be extremely helpful to share this with a friend or mentor. However, if the sharing turns into a 3-hour venting session, well, maybe we’ve gone past the useful stage in the conversation.
One example that comes to mind is the COVID-19 pandemic and our family. So far, we’ve been fortunate that the effects we’ve felt from the pandemic have been limited. That doesn’t stop me from wondering what if…. What if someone in our family gets sick – one of our kids, my husband, or me? How long will we all have to stay home? Will we be able to work? Pause. Is it useful? The answer is yes, to a point. Yes, we can make plans for what we’ll do, what modifications to our schedule we’ll have to make if that does happen so we’ll be more prepared. However, when all of the ‘what if’ thoughts run around in my head, spinning me into overwhelm and paralysis for hours, that is not useful. The more we practice this awareness, the better we get a noticing when we’ve crossed the line.
If you aren’t used to paying attention to these things, it can seem overwhelming at first, and impossible to sustain. Remember, mindfulness is a practice – it’s like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. I recommend starting with your awareness of the information that comes in. Once you start to have a handle on how shifting this can affect your mood, your day, your power, then shift to the thoughts that run around in your head, and finally to the words that you say. Be patient with yourself and what you find as you venture into this exploration. Taking notes or writing in a journal can also help reinforce what you learn. I encourage you to try this for 10 days, and take notes or write in a journal every day: what happened, what information came in, what swirled around, and what words came out. What was useful? What wasn’t? What shifts could you make?
I won’t lie – it’s not easy. However, each time I shift from a whirlwind of negativity and overwhelm into spaciousness and peace, it changes everything – my day, my relationships, my life.
— Heather Healey, Mighty Yoga Instructor
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