We‘re coming up on one of the busiest times of the year, if not THE busiest. We’ve been enthusiastically sharing our 2019 Holiday Gift Guide, and we’ll continue highlights throughout the season. But in the midst of all the “holiday magic” we are going to try our best attempt at practicing “mindfulness.” We invite you to try this as well. In order to dig deeper, we sat down with our favorite clinical psychologist, Kristin Day-Hardwig. Amongst other practices, she’s a Mindfulness Enthusiast. We hope that you are inspired to give this a try and that it might bring you a little extra holiday magic…and calm amongst the chaos.
Q: What is Mindfulness?
A: There are many definitions for mindfulness, but the one I like best is by Jon Kabat Zinn, professor and creator of the Mindfulness Center of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He defines Mindfulness as paying attention, on purpose and without judgement, as if your life depended on it. Mindfulness is about enhancing your ability to observe your mind and its musings (e.g. thoughts) while they are happening. When we learn how to notice and observe thoughts, without becoming attached or reactive to them, we often feel a sense of liberation. It’s really an ancient concept derived from Buddhism that suggests it is the mind’s chatter that creates the suffering in our lives. When we practice mindfulness, we can learn to decrease the amount of this “chatter” by simply identifying it as such. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about avoiding pain; pain is unavoidable in life. It’s about having the ability to reduce the unnecessary suffering (e.g. anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, burnout, etc.). More broadly, Mindfulness is about seeking ethical and wise minded paths. It’s about goals that include but supersede stress reduction and enhanced concentration.
Q: Why is Mindfulness important?
A: Mindfulness is important for many reasons. Essentially, it’s about living in the present moment, without being distracted by our mind’s insistence that we focus on our preoccupations with the past or worries about the future. When we learn how to ground down into the very moment in which we are living, we begin to experience ourselves, relationships, and our environment through a different, more accurate lens; hence, the phrase “as if our life depends on it.” When we go beyond the intellectual understanding that the only moment that we are ever actually living in is now, and actually practice experiencing it, subtle shifts occur. The culmination of the practice is the experience of more presence, connection, and peace. Research has found mindfulness-based therapies to be effective in treating a wide range of issues such as trauma healing, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Q: How can we be mindful with our families, especially our children?
A: The answer to this is simple…but hard. Start by making it a priority to practice mindfulness when you’re not with your children and family. I stole this analogy from a beloved colleague, Melyssa Roderick, LCSW: “Mindfulness practice is like free throw shooting. If you only practice during a game, you probably won’t have much success with your free throws when it matters.” Mindfulness is about emotion regulation. We will be able to practice mindful presence during emotional, activating or stressful situations (e.g. managing kids) if we have spent a good amount of time practicing during totally neutral, de-activating, and mundane situations (e.g. teeth brushing).
Q: What are common myths about mindfulness?
A: I would say the most common myth about mindfulness is that it is a relaxation technique or that we should be like a calm Buddha at all times if we are “really good” at mindfulness. Loud negative buzzer please! When practicing mindfulness, if we are worrying, we observe worry. If we are sad, we observe sad, and so on. Perhaps, after we practice or adopt the “observer mind,” we may feel less sad, less stressed, or less anxious…but that is a byproduct. When that – elimination of emotion – becomes the goal, we are back in mindlessness – imposing an impossibility onto our human selves. And then become stressed. See the cycle? Another myth is that mindfulness equals meditation. I describe mindfulness and meditation as a duplex. They are the same building but have a different address. Both are considered a form of meaningful mind training, especially when implemented over time. As discussed, Mindfulness is about paying attention to “one thing,” whereas Meditation is about paying attention to “no thing.” Also, mindfulness can be practiced anywhere at any time and meditation is generally practiced in a structured amount of time in a specific place.
Q: What books or resources would you recommend to read about Mindfulness:
A: There is so much information about mindfulness and most of it is easy to access and free. If you prefer a good old fashioned book, I recommend the following: A Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield; Living your Yoga by Judith Lassiter; Wherever You Go There You Are or Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat Zinn; How to Meditate by Pema Chodron, and specific to parenting: Parenting from Within by Dan Siegel. There are also some great websites. Most of these have mindfulness and meditation practices freely available for you to use whenever. They are also on YouTube, offering practices and informative lectures about the topic. My personal favorite mindfulness muses are: Jon Kabat Zinn// Jack Kornfield // Tara Brach// and Dan Siegel.
“Four Easy Ways to be Mindful:
The best way to begin a mindfulness practice is to understand that this is not a technique or something you use from time to time. It’s a way of being that requires intention and some level of commitment to maintain. The good news is that every moment is an opportunity to practice. The more challenging news is that the word “practice” is the key; Ideally everyday, multiple times a day. To implement a mindfulness practice, consider the 5 senses as your anchor points for accessing the moment. Turns out, you can practice mindfulness anywhere. Here are four simple suggestions.
1. Breath: Breathing is a great way to tune into your body in order to become more present in the moment of whatever you are doing, or it can also be a simple mindful exercise in itself. Try these two things to start: For a 5 to 20 minute period, simply count your breath or focus on the sensation of breathing. A more specific example is this 4-7-8 breath exercise by Andrew Weil, MD. Try this method to reset your state and quiet the mind in any stressful situation .
2. Movement: Movement (or exercise) can be a wonderful sensory experience. However, it is, again, an activity that is often compromised in favor of our urge to use it as an opportunity to “zone out,” or think about the mind’s menu of priorities for our day. Whatever movement you are engaging in: yoga, running, biking, hiking, walking, etc,. All experiences have offerings for us to connect with the senses (or one) and be in that moment.
3. Teeth brushing: When you brush your teeth, focus only on the sensation of teeth brushing. How the brush feels in your mouth, against your teeth and gums, the taste of the toothpaste. Every time a thought enters your mind, distracting you from the sensation of brushing your teeth, note it as a distraction and return to teeth brushing. Do that for 2 minutes.
4. Washing dishes: Something us moms do too many times a day and often dread. To help the mind from veering away from the moment, tune into your senses. Notice the sensation and temperature of the water, the feeling of the plate, and observing what it looks like. Do that for the duration of dish washing.
In Sum: With mindfulness the point is not so much what we are attending to, but rather the attending. It’s the cultivation of attention by our own direction, not the mind’s. When we become well practiced at this, we can begin to nudge out that which is extra, unnecessary, and often harmful to the quality of our present moment.
Kristin Day-Hardwig, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of forensics and eating disorders, while also working with general mental health and wellness issues. She works in variety of capacities, including private practice, where she runs a mindfulness group for men. She considers herself a mindfulness enthusiast as opposed to expert and is perpetually looking for ways she can be inspired and learn from others and enhance her own imperfect practice. For more information, contact her at Khardwig@gmail.com.