How to be more mindful in 2020
'The best way it's been put to me is paying attention on purpose'
The word mindfulness is everywhere lately — people are being urged to become more mindful as a way to calm themselves and find insight in this busy, tech-driven world.
CBC News asked registered professional counsellor Mary Clements of Heartwork Wellness, and Jessica Strong, a UPEI psychology professor, to explain mindfulness and how people can try it for themselves.
Strong said the two key parts of mindfulness are being non-judgmental and being in the present moment.
"The best way it's been put to me is paying attention on purpose," said Clements, who has been a counsellor for 10 years specializing in personal development and growth, and emotional health and wellness.
"So, the more we learn about ourselves and pay attention to our emotions, our thoughts, our behaviours, then the more opportunity we have to respond to a place from our choosing, a place that is more aligned with our values and who we wish to be, versus our conditioning."
Although new businesses and apps are springing up around mindfulness, it is a concept that has been around for thousands of years, with roots in Buddhism.
Use the time you have
Clements said there are some misconceptions about what mindfulness is and how to achieve it — people don't need to spend an hour a day cross-legged sitting in a quiet place.
"What research has shown and continues to show is that what really matters is consistent and regular practise, and even short bits of practise," she said.
Clements uses times in her day where she is stuck waiting — in the grocery line or at a traffic light. Other good times are when she is in the shower, falling asleep, waking up or transitioning between parts of her day — for instance, the end of the work day on the way home.
"Taking those opportunities to take a breath and cross the transition with a little more awareness."
Strong agrees formal meditation can be "a huge time-suck." She said right now, she has been trying to incorporate mindfulness into everyday tasks like washing dishes.
"Paying attention to how nice the warm water feels on my hands," or while applying hand lotion — "actually stopping to notice, and maybe slow down for a minute, and really experience that sensation."
Clements starts with simple breath work.
"Luckily we all know how to breathe! There's no special or right or wrong way," she said. Use breathing to "anchor," or ground, your awareness, paying attention to your inhale and exhale. The goal is to slow yourself down and be present.
Notice your thoughts and emotions, and be aware of body sensations.
Compassion and non-judgment
"It's actually really difficult to be mindful, because we live in this world where everything is just so busy all of the time," Strong said. "We might try to be in the moment, and then we're distracted."
If that happens, just note that you are having difficulty and remind yourself to refocus.
Compassion and non-judgment are key to mindfulness, the women say.
Both Clements and Strong remind themselves to be mindful!
Clements advises setting an alarm on your phone that will remind you a few times daily to take a couple of breaths, or that links to a short guided talk on mindfulness.
Strong leads a mindfulness meditation group with grad students at UPEI each morning, in which she plays a 10-15 minute guided audio meditation.
This is only one of many ways to practise mindfulness, she said. She also employs a simple blank sticky note at her desk to remind her to stop and take a deep breath.
'Learn how to do better'
Once you are able to slow down, ground yourself and pay attention, you can practise self-awareness and self-management, Clements said.
"You learn how to do better in terms of managing your thoughts, feelings, behaviours," she said.
Ultimately I think it's about connection to ourselves and to those around us.— Mary Clement, Heartwork Wellness
"Then, you can grow that awareness to how you might have impact on others around you."
She sees clients seeking control and freedom around relationships, and said mindfulness can help cultivate more compassion and empathy for themselves and others.
Apps and more
There are lots of resources available on mindfulness.
Strong is currently using an app called Headspace, which has many exercises in various lengths. She also recommends the apps Breethe or Chill, which can introduce you to mindfulness and even send reminders, as well as the website mindful.org.
Clements has taken courses online from Mindfulness Without Borders, an organization that does international work around mindfulness. It has short audio recordings available online.
She recommends mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn's books and audiobooks, which include Mindfulness for Beginners and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.
She also listens daily to Louise Hay, a well-known positive psychologist.
A book or an app can't do the work for you though, Clements reminds — you have to practise regularly, even in small bits. Then you will notice the payoff, she said.
"Certain situations where you might have gotten irritable or impatient — you start to notice these times where you had a little bit more empathy or patience or compassion for yourself or for the other person, so that's a pretty cool thing," she said.
"It's wonderful when you can feel and see those effects."
'No perfect way'
"There's no perfect way to be mindful," Clements said. "That's up to every individual to figure out what works for them. And I don't think it's about changing who you are.
"Ultimately I think it's about connection to ourselves and to those around us."
Mindfulness takes time and commitment and is an ongoing process, Clements said.
Being more mindful can lead to a more positive outlook and a happier life, said Strong.
"Noticing the sunrise, as the sun's coming up — these little moments that just pause the craziness ... can really improve quality of life and mood and stress management," she said.