How do you start practicing mindfulness

It seems that nowadays, everyone is talking about mindfulness and how they do it. For those of you who haven’t a clue, this post is for you. So, what exactly is mindfulness and how do I get started? Marsha Linehand went to Tibet years ago where she studied mindfulness  with the monks, came back home and incorporated it into her groundbreaking DBT protocol. Why? Because it allows a person to be introspective and then be able to link their physical “feelings” to their “emotions. This helps foster insight. I have a saying which is this: “Introspection brings insiht and insight enables change.”

Tibetan monks place a very high value on the connection a person establishes between their  mind and behavior.

They believe that by practicing mindfulness, you can achieve inner peace. One of  DBT’s fundamental tenets is the practice of mindfulness and it is important to learn how to practice this skill because it will be used in every single DBT skill you learn during your DBT classes. So, what exactly IS mindfulness? It is the simple act of being present. Being present, you say?

Most of us basically sleepwalk through our lives

We get up every morning, go to the bathroom, take a shower, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, go to work, come home, feed the kids and then go to bed and get up the next day and do it all over again. If you’ve ever been in your car and driven somewhere only to arrive and not remember how you got there, that is a good example. Most of us function on a glorified sense of autopilot. But when you practice mindfulness, it means you take time to BE where you, FEEL what you are experiencing, SMELL what you are smelling, HEAR what is around you. It means paying attention to yourself, your surroundings. your inner landscape. Being present.

Much easier said than done, right?

So, how do you do it? Jon Kabat-Zinn is the MIT professor who popularized mindfulness in North America. Think of him as the Carl Sagan of the spiritual nature of being inside oneself. He began teaching mindfulness in Massachusetts in workshops as a way to help people reduce their stress — from work, from family demands, from relationships. His famous raisin mindfulness video is one of the finest examples which illustrates so brilliantly the way people hurry through their lives. The subject is asked to put a raisin in their mouth and eat it. Most people do this and the raisin has been consumed in less than 10 seconds. Then the subject is asked to put a second raisin in  their mouth but without chewing it. The exercise takes you through several different steps of enjoying the texture and eventual taste of the raisin. Most people, when they do it for the first time, are astounded at the difference when they have experienced eating a raisin mindfully.

Pay close attention to your breathing

It is sometimes described by people about “thinking about thinking,” but I like to describe it as “thinking about nothing.” That’s hard.

I ask people to set a time aside each day where they can go into a dimly lit room, close the door and know they won’t be disturbed for 10-15 minutes. The room should be cool. Lie down on a bed, or sit in a chair (whichever makes you most comfortably) and concentrate on your breathing. Pay attention to your breath. The goal is not to fall asleep but to relax as much as possible and be “inside yourself,” paying attention to your breathing. This is really hard for a lot of people to do but with practice, it will become easier.

Tara Brach has hundreds of mindfulness meditations on her website which are all free to access. If you like, you can purchase a CD of guided meditations. I like to listen to an app called Rain, Rain which is available on the App Store free of charge and does not require an internet connection to use. Muse also has a list of unlimited free mindfulness resources.Kate Mooney published an excellent article in the Huff Post about how mindfulness can help people deal with racial trauma. Personally, I have been using mindfulness to help me get through the lockdown of Covid-19.

Mindfulness is one of the easiest things to do

The beauty of mindfulness is that it is one of the easiest things to practice in the world.  Some people practice mindfulness in the morning when they are brushing their teeth. Some people, like me, practice mindfulness when walking the dog. Some people do it when they are washing the dishesChildren especially benefit from learning how to practice mindfulness. They learn how to observe their feelings, and validate them without getting sucked into the vortex of being them. The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine or NICABM has an excellent article that outlines how mindfulness helps regulate our emotions in our brains. Since this is what DBT is all about, you can easily see the connection.