Mindfulness, which simply means 'a state of being aware,' is a trending concept these days, and for good reason. I don't believe humanity ever needed to focus more on being mindful than today. Not because we are all less conscious than in past eras - I believe that humans are evolving and consciousness is on the rise - it is more due to our way of life, making the practice of mindfulness a shared responsibility.
Our immediate environment provides more distraction than ever, making it harder to stay mindful and present, to observe the world around us consciously, feel our feelings, our sensations, and register our thoughts. Because, let's face it, it can become addictive to browse social media networks looking for inspiration from a favourite Yoga teacher, photographer or activist, to get that warm fuzzy feeling when a cute dog, cat, goat, panda, or human baby does its thing, a good laugh when that same dog, baby or panda does something funny, or a a pinch of compassion when we see something sad.
Ten minutes of IG or FB and you've seen it all, been places, experienced stuff, laughed, cried, gotten angry, made resolutions. When you turn your phone off, magically the warm, fuzzy feelings from that video you just saw dissolve and the decision to go vegan you made a minute ago after seeing a horrid video on animal abuse is soon forgotten.
I've only touched the social media issue here. Everything moves so fast these days that we all struggle to keep up. Evolution takes time, and we haven't yet evolved to be able to process all of the information constantly thrown at us - mostly by our own selves. We have created a world of excesses, and to keep up we need to spend so much time in our heads, in past and future, processing, analysing, planning. We rarely make the time to spend in our bodies and in the present moment. All of this is a recipe for detachment from ourselves, anxiety and ultimately, a detachment from the anchor of the here and now. No wonder mindfulness is a practice on the rise - we are entereing a new era which calls for present, focused, mindful, gentle, and compassionate humans. In order to fully experience the richness of this complex world in which we live, we have to learn to stay HERE. To take in all of it - the sweet and the bitter.
How to practice mindfulness (or how to be more mindful)
The practice of mindfulness comes out of a Buddhist tradition, from the concept of being here and now, observing, being mindful of your feelings, thoughts, words and actions in order to achieve higher consciousness and dwell in your higher self. Mindfulness has, as a practice, been around for millennia. However, today mindfulness meditation is available to all and the techniques have evolved and changed to fit this day and age. Mindfulness has not only left temple doors to become available to all, it has opened a whole new field of scientific research.
In the past decades, scientific research in the field of neuroplasticity has shown that our brains can, in response to learning and practice, form and reorganise synaptic connections as well as grow new grey matter. Some studies have even shown that meditation techniques like mindfulness can increase activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain in charge of awareness, planning, thinking, attention, memory, goals, regulating emotion etc.
The benefits of the practice are clear. The question is - how to begin? The practice itself is simple - it's best to start slow, adding more mindful minutes to your day, until it becomes your new paradigm.
If you don't have experience with meditation, start with small, everyday things to switch off your autopilot. For example, while taking a shower: try clearing your head and being in the moment; tune into the sound of water falling on your body, the scent of your shower gel, feel your hands on your wet skin, and how your skin feels being washed. See if you can, for those five minutes, be focused only on the simple yet beautiful ritual of cleaning your body and clearing your mind. Or when you cook. See if you can switch off any background noise and focus on the veg you are cutting, notice the texture, the smell. Notice yourself and how you feel when you are prepping a meal to nourish yourself and loved ones. Don't look at your phone when you eat but rather smell the food, taste the food, take time to enjoy it. When you take a walk in the park, stop for a moment, observe the nature around you, feel the ground under your feet, look up and notice the sky, tune into the sounds. As you continue to walk feel every step touching the earth, your toes, your heels. Sit on a bench and observe your breath; feel the air in your nose and throat, expanding your chest...
Mindfulness can be practiced anytime, anywhere. Even while browsing social media. Observe yourself when you scroll down, see what moves you, take a moment to contemplate before you move on. Or don't move on, stay with it, allow yourself to be submerged in whatever feeling something triggered. You may learn something new about yourself. If we are open, everything can be a teacher.
"Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more."
― Mother Teresa
Photos: Sanjin Kastelan
Learn more about mindfulness techniques at:
Nina Vukas' upcoming Yoga and Meditation Retreat in Croatia, June 16-23