After weeks of temperatures in the 80s and 90s in my home state of Colorado, we recently had a day where the temp dropped into the 70s. I swear you could hear the collective ‘ahhh’ from all of my neighbors.
In the dog days of summer, we rotate between a blasting furnace outside and frigid AC indoors. Then, Mother Nature offers us a respite, like this beautiful 70-degree day. A day to throw open the windows and let the cool breeze in.
This day reminded me of how I feel after a meditation session. Whenever I arrive upon the cushion, I may find myself carrying all of the intensity of the preceding hours—the chaos and clutter in my own mind. I may jump from reactions to what has already unfolded, to a waiting to-do list, to questioning choices made or uncertainty about decisions I need to make.
All of these thoughts can range from uncomfortable to deeply distressing, so most of us become quite skilled at avoiding immersing ourselves in the clutter and chaos. Namely, we tend to distract with other things (hello, reality TV) or tune out entirely. Avoiding what’s going on in your mind often results in:
1) No progress, because everything you’ve skillfully avoided is still waiting in the wings, or
2) Missing out on what’s good in life because we’ve shut down and tuned out all we encounter, pleasant and unpleasant
Mindfulness offers us a third way. Just like a cool day offers a break from a heat wave, a period of mindfulness meditation creates a respite without avoidance. Meditation invites us to sit in the center of storm. As we sit, we shift our relationship with the clutter and chaos. We discover that no matter how much turmoil, we have the capacity to simply observe from a distance.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is our basic, innately human ability to be fully present, aware of our surroundings and ourselves, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by the storms that may be swirling around or within us. From this objective seat, we discover a me bigger than the clutter and chaos. A me that remains unperturbed no matter how distressing the day. A me that can access calm and creativity.
“What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?” you ask—great question! Mindfulness is the innate capacity within all of us that we can apply anytime, anywhere during our day. It’s an awareness that lessens harsh self-talk and feeds our curiosity, kindness, and acceptance. Meditations are formal exercises we do to access and apply this innate ability we all have.
OK, I can hear you saying, “Oh, that mindfulness stuff – great for you, but sounds too difficult for me!” The good news: mindfulness is a capacity we ALL have…but diving in, just like exercise, can sometimes feel a bit daunting. The key, like exercise, is getting started and consistency to move through that initial “too hard, can’t do” experience that we all get when we start something new.
How do I do a mindfulness meditation?
To do a formal mindfulness meditation, begin by sitting or standing with a comfortable posture (laying down is also an option!). Nothing fancy, just moving out of the slump and into being tall like a mountain with head over shoulders over hips. A few shoulder rolls can invite a further settling in. Eyes can be either open or closed, whichever you prefer.
From this quiet posture, we notice the simple sensations of the body. Breathing is a common choice for our focus—the gentle rocking from within of the in and out breath. Or perhaps you find another sensation more accessible, like the pressure of the floor upon your feet or the cool air upon your skin.
At some point, for all of us, our focus will drift back into the chaos and clutter of the mind. That’s OK: It’s what our mind does. When we notice that occuring, we simply, gently bring our focus back to breath and body, suspending judgment or striving, and being kind, patient, and curious in the moment. There…you’ve just practiced mindfulness meditation!
Try it out
As you practice mindfulness, you may find that it becomes increasingly easier to go to this respite whenever you need it, and react less strongly to things that used to greatly agitate you. Researchers have demonstrated that the amygdala—the part of the brain that controls how we react to stimuli and experience emotions, especially fear—is less activated after meditation training, even during everyday tasks.
As the dog days of summer continue, realize we do not have to depend upon the meteorologist to the next cool breeze of relief. We can summon a moment of relief anytime, anywhere—simply be settling into stillness, shifting focus to breath and body and arriving in the here-now.
New to mindfulness? We can help you get started. Explore the Sanvello app, available on the App Store and Googly Play, to access a library of free mindful meditations.
By Paul Deger, MA, LPC, PT
Mindfulness Facilitator and Product Manager, Moment Health
Paul Deger has over 30 years experience in healthcare. He earned his undergraduate degree in physical therapy at Marquette University. As a physical therapist, Paul has practiced in both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation settings, specializing in neurological disorders. He furthered his studies in motor learning and control in the graduate physical therapy program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Paul then shifted focus from physical to psychological health and completed his graduate studies at Naropa University, Boulder, earning a Master’s in Mindfulness-Based Counseling Psychology. On retreat, he has also trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School and studied in sangha with Lloyd Burton, Dharma teacher from Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Recognizing the impact of spirituality on health, Paul more recently studied pastoral care at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.