Life isn’t always easy. Some times, life throws us curved balls, puts us in difficult situations, frustrates our best laid plans. In times like those, we usually get upset. But being upset does nothing to help the situation. Instead, perhaps learning to be mindful, learning to be best friends with our minds will help.
There are many studies to show that practising mindfulness is useful in many ways. Mindfulness practices can be a good foundation for us to communicate better, build better relationships, be healthier and, of course, be happier. There is nothing mystical, miraculous or difficult about mindfulness practices. Mindfulness practices help us be good friends with our minds and allow us to guide it gently toward positivity. Anyone can do it. Because it is as simple as… breathing.
Start by sitting comfortably. You can choose to sit on straight back chair or cross legged on the floor. Sit on a cushion. Keep your back straight (this prevents backaches) but not stiff. Support your back with a cushion if it helps. Drop your shoulders. In general, adopt a relaxed (but also good!) posture. Whether you want to close your eyes or keep them open, it is really up to you. If you want to keep your eyes open, it would help to keep your gaze turned slightly downwards and fixed softly on a blank spot.
Observing your breath
Next do what you have been doing your whole life. Breathe. Only that you are going to observe your breath. Gently. As you breathe in, be conscious of sensation of the air going in through your nostrils. Follow the breath as it moves into your lungs. Feel how the air fills lungs. Notice your abdomen inflating gradually. Hold the breath for a moment.
Then do the next thing that is natural. Breathe out. Follow your breath as it flows out of your body. Feel your abdomen deflate gradually. Notice the air moving out of your lungs. Be conscious of the sensation as the breath leaves through your nostrils. Pause for a moment.
Repeat. Gently. You do not need to force all of your attention on your breath. It is natural for your mind to also be noticing other things – your environment, other sensations of your body. Just be conscious of that and… keep observing your breath. Gently.
Be kind to your mind
The key of the whole practice is to be gentle. But what if your mind starts to wander as you sit there, breathing – what shall I do later? Where shall I go? What’s happening in my life? Oh man, why did I do that yesterday? Does that mean that you are not doing it right?
Actually it is normal for our minds to wander as we engage in mindfulness practice. Just be conscious that other thoughts have come into our minds. If the thoughts bring about any emotions, be conscious of those emotions, acknowledge them. But do not dwell on them. Do not judge. Let them pass. Let them go. Like a passing cloud in the sky, let the thought drift past.
Then bring your mind gently back to your breath. In… Out… In… In this way become a passive observer, gently watch how thoughts and emotions rise and fall, flow and ebb in your mind. In this way, get in touch with your mind. In this way, learn to be kind to your mind and practise guiding your mind with a light touch.
What if I get sleepy doing it? Then rest. You would notice that the word “gently” has appeared a number of times. That is the crux of this practice. Be gentle. If you feel sleepy, do not force yourself. Be kind to your mind. Rest.
How long should I do this for? It depends. One breath. Two minutes. Half an hour. Again, what matters most is that you are gentle and kind to your mind. And you are able to build a stronger, gentler, kinder and more intimate friendship with your mind.
What would be useful is that you are consistent with the practice. Doing it daily would help. With the consistency, it is likely that you will naturally be able to joyfully engage in this mindfulness practice for a longer period of time at each sitting.
What if I really don’t have time today to do it? As alluded to above, you do not have to sit there observing your breath for hours at a go. Two minutes, sixty seconds or even just a single breath before you sleep. That will do. What is more important is to be consistent.
So… what now…
Get comfortable. Breathe.
See also: Happiness – It’s all in the mind