When you eat your lunch, are you also on your phone scrolling through the news or social media? Do
you even remember what you eat each day? The simple practice of slowing down, savoring every bite and being aware of the taste, smell, and texture of our food, is a small and easy step toward becoming more mindful.
But what is the point of being mindful? Well, first, let’s look at the definition:
Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something while accepting, without judgment, whatever thoughts, sensations, and emotions arise
Examples of mindfulness techniques
To begin with, we can look at the example above. When you sit down to eat any meal or snack, put your phone away, turn off the TV, or take the meal outside of your office and away from your desk to somewhere quieter. Before you eat anything, take note of why you are eating. Are you really hungry or are you eating because you’re bored or trying to take your mind off of something else? Maybe you have to eat now as it’s your only chance, time-wise, to do so. As you begin to eat, notice the food’s color, smell, taste, and texture. Chew each bite fully before taking the next. Think about where the food came from and how it was made. Think about whether or not it is good for you. If you begin to think about the grocery shopping you need to do tomorrow, acknowledge the thought and then bring your focus back to the food and the present moment. As you get more practiced, you will not need to always move somewhere quiet and you will even be able to eat mindfully while at social gatherings.
So why should we bother?
The benefits of mindfulness are many and include improvements in mental and physical health and in overall well being. Also, as you practice mindfulness, you will begin to truly acknowledge the present and, in doing so, develop a sense of calm and control over your life. The best part is, it is not complicated and it doesn’t require a lot of time. It just requires a commitment to practice it daily to see the benefits.
How does this fit with addiction?
One of our clients graduated today and said at our community group meeting that part of his recovery was learning to not only appreciate, but also be ok with, the present moment. He spoke of how, before treatment, he tried to avoid and deny negative and uncomfortable feelings. Now, he says he is able to accept and face the not-so-positive feelings and sensations when they arise. Recovery requires honesty and doesn’t allow for running away from anything. It requires the ability to respond in a less reactive way to things that you don’t like. In this aspect, mindfulness is a wonderful tool and one that can be used for life.
Being completely conscious of what we are feeling in the present moment might not be calming at all at first and can be incredibly uncomfortable and disconcerting for some. With practice, however, mindfulness can bring us a sense of control over our emotions, our thoughts, and the sensations within our body. Bringing our focus to only the present means we are not avoiding anything but are, instead, fully able to address things. Mindfulness is honest and real.
As you become more practiced at being not only aware of but also comfortable in your present moment, you can find yourself more able to deal with cravings and the uncomfortable thoughts that accompany them. Instead of automatically reaching for your drug of choice, you can feel more armed and ready to address the sensations and thoughts that lead you to the drug use. Skillful and intentional responses can replace automatic and previously learned reactions.
To explore this further, you may want to look at Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). MBRP is a relatively new treatment modeled on the already well-established Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. The difference is that MBRP focuses on negative emotions and cravings and on a person’s reactions and impulsive behavior. Mindfulness, remember, is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. MBRP helps the person have more confidence and strength when facing feelings of self-judgment and negativity. If you would like to read further, Carolyn Gregoire has written a very interesting and informative article on MBRP.
Dealing with negative thoughts
By practicing mindfulness regularly with something simple like eating your lunch or taking a shower, you can hone your concentration skills. As you get better at being calm and focused while performing these everyday tasks, you will be ready to practice mindfulness at other times, such as when things around you are more chaotic or negative. As you tune in to your inner thoughts, negative feelings, such as shame or guilt around your addiction, may arise. You don’t need to fight off unwanted thoughts or sensations but, instead, acknowledge them honestly in the here and now. Ask yourself if the content of the negative thought is really true. Question where it is coming from and try to replace it with something more positive. A good therapist can really help you in this area if you are having difficulty.
Anyone can do it!
Life is busy. Of course, we cannot spend our whole day in a state of intense concentration and acknowledgment. But that is precisely why we benefit so much from the minutes that we do spend being mindful. Mindfulness is a relaxed state where you will focus on current, inner thoughts and physical sensations completely free of self-judgment. You do not have to be wearing yoga pants and sitting cross-legged to practice mindfulness! Although, if you can spend 30 minutes each day being mindful in peace and quiet on a yoga mat, even better! Mindful minutes can be taken on a five-minute walk outside of the office. A few minutes spent practicing mindfulness in your car before you head home from work can provide a healthy transition between work and home. Even taking a few minutes before bed to sit and focus only on how you feel in the present, not your day at work, not tomorrow, but how you feel right now, can do wonders for your mental, emotional, and physical health.