Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
I have been in the mental health counseling field for six years in a variety of different settings: rehab center, psychiatric unit, domestic violence, in-home, crisis clinician, department of child protection services and private practice.
Although my experience has exposed me to different individuals with various diagnoses, the most common tool I have taught a majority of these individuals is mindfulness.
I’m fairly used to receiving a blank stare when I say the word mindfulness; most people have either never heard the word or don’t understand exactly what it means.
Google Dictionary defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” I explain it to people as being aware of what you are doing and how it makes you feel. This skill sounds a lot easier said than done.
It is so easy to get lost in our thoughts and our “what ifs” and not to mention social media, that we lose track of what exactly is going on right in front of our eyes. Learning to be more mindful gives our body and brain a feeling of being more grounded and living in the here and now.
Here are the top tips I give to my clients who are looking to infuse their lives with mindfulness:
- Coloring/ Writing – Mindful coloring and writing are creative ways to express your thoughts and feelings without having to share these ideas with anyone else. Mindful coloring has become very popular with adult coloring books, but it can be accomplished with a blank paper as well. To begin…well, just begin! All you have to do is start coloring or writing, without a specific plan or “to-do” list. Keep doing it, even if you think (for even one second) that it isn’t a useful or worthwhile way to spend your time. It is! I promise. The only rule is you cannot lift the pen off of the paper. While coloring, try to be mindful of how the marker feels in your hand and the feeling of the way the color spills onto the paper. You may give yourself a time restraint as well or stop when you feel ready.
- Eating – Disclaimer: use this skill on an empty stomach! This skill requires you to pick a food you preferably enjoy and all yourself to experience the food. Instead of eating quickly, be mindful of every bite you are taking. How does the food feel on your tongue? What is the texture? Is your food sweet? Salty? Sour? Is your food chewy or smooth? When you feel your food is completely chewed then you can swallow.
- Phone Use – This is something that I struggle with (and I’m sure I’m not alone). Have you ever opened your phone and it’s as if your thumb has its own brain and goes directly to social media? Then mindful phone usage is a skill you need as well. There are various ways of being more mindful about your phones usage such as looking at your settings app and observing how many hours a day you are using certain apps or putting a phone restriction on certain apps. The most useful tip I use to be more mindful of what I am doing on my phone is I moved all of my apps to the second page of my phone. On the first page there are no apps, so I only see my background image. Now when I unlock my phone I automatically see a picture of my dog instead of all of my apps immediately. This has made me think before going directly to my Instagram or Facebook app unconsciously. I ask myself, what exactly am I doing on my phone? Is this productive and positive? If it’s not and I am just going to aimlessly scroll through my newsfeed then I stop myself from going to the app before that even happens.
- Bathing in nature – No I am not talking about taking a mud bath; unless that’s something you enjoy then go for it! Bathing in nature is immersing yourself in nature and breathing in all of its benefits. Go for a hike or a walk; while walking or sitting, close your eyes. Listen to all the sounds and smell all of the smells. Slowly open your eyes and take in all of the sights: the leaves on the ground, the flowers blooming, the birds flying etc. This is my favorite form of mindfulness. Being attentive to all that nature offers is an amazing way to boost your brain’s activity and feel more grounded.
I hope these skills encourage you to live more mindfully and be more grounded! Let me know what skills and techniques you use to live more mindfully. I’d love to grow this list together.
Angela Mancini is a 200 hour registered yoga teacher as well as a Licensed Associate Counselor with her Masters in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling. Angela works as a counselor in a private practice in Hazlet, NJ and also teaches special population yoga classes throughout Monmouth County. Angela’s goal in her career is to integrate yoga with counseling.