“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
Mindfulness allows us to be fully present, connected, and engaged with life in a meaningful way. When we are taken away from the present moment by ruminative thinking or maladaptive emotions, we typically feel disconnected and numb. It is easy to be distracted from the present moment by repetitive thoughts about the past and worries about the future. The truth is that these thoughts are taking us away from living our lives. Life is going on in this moment.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979. It is an evidenced-based treatment that has demonstrated significant success in strengthening mindfulness and reducing stress. This eight-week program brings together the practice of mindfulness with yoga to reduce emotional reactivity and strengthen the ability to be fully present to your life.
If you believe that you would benefit from increasing mindful awareness and reducing levels of stress, consider making the commitment to begin our own personal practice of MBSR. You can take the basic skills and teachings of MBSR and design your own program of cultivating mindfulness. You can take active steps towards changing your life over the course of the next eight weeks if you so choose.
As you begin your experience with MBSR, dedicate a special journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and experiences throughout the program. Be willing to suspend judgment about mindfulness and the MBSR program for the next eight weeks – check back in with yourself eight weeks from now and take note of any differences. You can integrate the basic MBSR practices into your regular routine in a way that works for your lifestyle.
MBSR Week One: Understanding Automatic Pilot
Many people operate from a place of mindless automatic pilot much of the time. This state of being can be effective in enabling you to take care of mundane tasks and move through your daily routine with less effort. Automatic pilot starts to get in the way of living a fully awake and present life when you begin to feel numb and disconnected from yourself and others. You may notice that you are operating from automatic pilot when you have the sense of yourself as “going through the motions.”
Mindfulness allows you to become aware of your habitual patterns so that you are capable of stepping back from your ingrained ways of behaving in the world. With this awareness comes a space between you as the “observer” and the behavior as the “observed.” Once you notice your actions with mindful awareness, you realize that you are capable of choosing whether to engage in your regular patterns of actions or not. It is up to you.
MBSR Week One: Practices
“Eating a Raisin” Meditation:
Engage in the simple activity of eating a single raisin with pure mindful awareness. Pick up the single raisin in your hand and notice it as if for the first time. In your mind, describe its color, shape, size, weight, smell, and texture. Allow yourself to reflect upon the many steps that this single raisin has taken to find itself resting in the palm of your hand.
Place the raisin in your mouth and allow your senses to fully experience what it is like to savor this single raisin. This is a simple mindfulness exercise that is intended to bring your conscious awareness into the present moment and become mindful of your full sensory experience.
Body Scan Meditation:
Lie down in a comfortable place where you will be undisturbed for approximately ten minutes. If you have more or less time available to you on any given day, adapt your practice as needed. Allow your arms and legs to be uncrossed and fully relaxed. Direct your conscious awareness to your breath and notice as the air fills your lungs and leaves your lungs.
Direct your attention to the toes of your feet. Notice each tiny sensation in your feet as you remain mindful of your breathing. Allow your focus to move toward the sensations of your ankles. Move them in whatever way feels comfortable and notice these sensations as well. Follow this same progression up your calves, knees, thighs, hips, and so on.
Pause on each area of your body for about a minute as you move from your toes all the way to the top of your head. As you reach the top of your head, bring your focus back to your breath and allow your breath to reach up and beyond you as you experience a sense of connection with the present moment.
Choose one task to deliberately practice mindfully each day of this first week. It could be something as simple and integrated into your regular routine as brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, or taking a shower. The point of the exercise is to disengage you from automatic pilot and bring your attention back to the present moment. Whatever activity you choose, allow your attention to rest fully in the present moment.
Notice the sensations of this activity that you practice so regularly. What do you notice about being fully present in the moment that you haven’t noticed before? If your thoughts begin to wander elsewhere, gently bring your focus back to the present moment and re-engage with your current activity with greater awareness.
During this first week of practicing the MBSR program on your own, choose not to be harsh with yourself if you “forget” to practice mindfulness or if you become bored or irritated with your practice. These are common experiences of people new to and familiar with mindfulness. As with most things worth doing, this takes practice and commitment to your goals.
Notice and write down your experiences with practicing these basic mindfulness exercises during the course of the week. Explore what it was like for you to bring your attention consciously to the present moment and become mindful of your bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. How is your daily life different when you make the choice to become connected to the constantly unfolding present moment?
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Next week, I will explore the practices involved with Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction: Week Two – “Dealing with Barriers.”
This article is not intended to be a substitute for therapy or MBSR as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This article is intended to introduce you to the basic concepts of MBSR that you can practice in your daily life. If you are interested in exploring MBSR in greater depth, you can explore an online course or a directory of MBSR classes worldwide.
Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Featured image: Dreamy lotus by tanakawho / CC BY-SA 2.0