Using mindfulness to combat stress – a six-part series

Part Four: Mindfulness – Formal Practice

As I mentioned last week ( you can practice mindfulness through both formal and informal methods. Let us look at some of the formal ways to practice this art.

Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that helps build our ability to stay present to our inner and outer experience with patience, self-compassion and acceptance. We sit with our eyes closed, focusing on the breath and using the breath as an anchor to ground ourselves. When we are visited by thoughts we simply become aware of them. We notice the thoughts but do not get caught up in them or react to them. After observing our thoughts, without any judgments, we return our focus to the breath. We do this over and over again, until the ripples on the lake that is our mind settle down.

Body Scan: The body scan is a way to become aware of different parts of our body through progressive and gentle focus on each area, experiencing how each part feels without trying to change anything. It is a way of calming and slowing down the mind; being aware of and connecting with our body; and noticing how stress manifests in different areas of the body. When we observe our body in this way, we are not ignoring or rejecting any discomfort we may be experiencing. Instead, we are simply noticing it with a gentle curiosity without getting carried away in the emotion that accompanies the discomfort. Body scan is a great way to improve attention and get the meditation practice started.

We would start by lying down on the back, arms resting comfortably on the sides (palms facing up and feet falling apart at the ankles) in a quiet, comfortable space, where we will not be disturbed by anyone or by anything. Starting off by noticing the parts of the body that are in contact with the floor, we would gradually shift our attention to the breath. Taking a few deep breaths, noticing the belly raising as we breath in and falling as we breath out, we shift our attention to the right toes. We would notice the sensations in our right toes – maybe the warmth or coolness, or perhaps feeling no sensations at all. That’s just our experience of our toes in that moment. There is no need to wiggle them or move them. Let us just be present to the sensations on our right toes. We can even imagine breathing into and out of the toes. Once we have spent a minute or so focusing on the right toes, we move our attention to the right foot, progressing in a similar way till we reach the top of our head.

Mindful Yoga: Mindful Yoga involves a series of basic yoga poses that are done in a slow, gentle and mindful manner. The entire sequence is considered a meditation. Instead of focusing on what our body cannot do or comparing ourselves to the person next to us, we learn to accept the limitations of our body and stay present to each movement. We start with having the intention to ground our awareness in our body and breath as we flow from one posture to the next, including the in-between time. We do not to push or strain our body while doing these poses. Applying gentle, sustained effort allows the joints and muscles to safely release into the stretch. We let our awareness of our body determine how far to take a stretch and how long to hold it. We use the breath, sending it into the areas of the body where we are working. When we become aware that our mind is thinking, rather than engaging with the thought, we simply notice the thought and return our attention to the body again and again.

These are some of the formal methods to practice mindfulness. Next week we will look at some of the informal ways to be mindful in our everyday life!


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