Guest post by Dr. Lauren Kennedy
What do you think about when you hear the term “mindfulness”? Do you think of practicing yoga? Maybe spending hours sitting on a pillow, on the floor, in the corner, meditating with your fingers clasped, chanting “OMMMMM”? Okay, so mindfulness has a reputation – but what does mindfulness mean?
The general definition of mindfulness is the nonjudgmental (this is a key word) awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness encourages us to experience life as it is happening, without fear, worrying, or anxiety about what will happen or what has already happened. It does not have to include long periods of meditation – it can be done in just a few minutes each day.
Pretty simple, right? Well, it can be, but sometimes practicing being present is difficult when we have a lot of complex emotions or environmental triggers happening around us. Mindfulness teaches us to be kind to ourselves in moments when we are overwhelmed with public toddler meltdowns, endless to-do lists, and forgotten appointments. It allows us to remember that we are good parents, doing our best, even when we make a mistake. It helps us to tap into the true meaning of what is happening in your life in this very moment, be it mundane work (i.e. sweeping the floor, reading “Goodnight Moon” for the 38729th time) or be it something more exciting (i.e. watching your child read “Goodnight Moon” to himself for the first time). Mindfulness teaches us to be compassionate – to ourselves, our children, and other people we come across throughout our day. These feelings help us cope better with stress and feel happier and calmer.
You might be thinking this is all great and hunky-dory and maybe next time I read “Goodnight Moon” I will try to be present in the moment, but mindfulness is too hard or weird. Here are a few ways to try out mindfulness that could get you started:
- In the first five minutes of your day, before you get out of bed, take a few really deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth, making sure the breath is deep enough that you feel your belly move too. This can also be done at night, before you fall asleep.
- At work or during your child’s naptime, try sitting comfortably in a chair, eyes closed, for about 5 minutes. Imagine you are in your favorite place. Think about how it feels, the temperature there, the smells, the sounds. What would you be doing if you were there? Visualize this favorite place to relax when you need it during the day. Pro tip: set a timer so that you don’t fall asleep and stay on your schedule for the day!
- The next time you notice yourself multi-tasking or having racing thoughts about the zillion things you have to do the next day, stop. Just stop. Take a few deep breaths (feel your belly expand!) and look around. Notice what is going on around you. Enjoy that moment. You can always go back to planning and thinking ahead – but the present moment will still be there, waiting on you to notice it and cherish it.
- The last strategy here is a ‘doozy’ – because it can be HARD. Here it is: be nicer to yourself. Mindfulness is all about being kind and compassionate to yourself and whatever your experience is. Notice when your internal critic is being harsh to you and silence them by reminding yourself that you are doing your best and are worthy of love, value, and compassion. This one is hard to do sometimes because it feels a little corny to say that to yourself or sometimes we so rarely give ourselves permission to be self-compassionate that it feels alien. Try it a few times a week and see how it feels – it can be a game changer!
- Dr. Kennedy is the founder and CEO of Melomental and the creator of the Fork in Mind Program. She also provides consulting services through Melomental. Lauren received a PhD in nutrition from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA) in 2016. Her research focuses on the determinants of health and wellness, with a particular emphasis on mothers and families. She is interested in advocating for holistic approaches to public health nutrition that include policy, systems, and environmental changes to healthy eating and healthy food access for everyone. Lauren loves being active, traveling, and spending time in kitchens - whether it be her own or someone else's. That's where everything happens, right?!