Want to improve the condition of your overall health and well-being? Perhaps bring more gratitude and happiness in to your life? Reduce your stress and the way you react to people and situations? Then you might want to start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a form of mind training that involves intentionally focusing our awareness on our present moment-to-moment experience by attending directly to our thoughts, emotions, sensations and environment with certain attitudes, such as non-judgment and curiosity. While mindfulness starts in the mind, it can affect our physical, emotional and spiritual health along with our social connectedness at the same time.
How to Begin a Mindfulness Practice
To beginning a mindfulness practice, it’s best to ask yourself what you want from it. Think about what issue(s) you wish to address; what areas of your life are challenging, or could use some strengthening, clarifying, or general attention. Mindfulness is about slowing down, paying attention in a certain way, and observing what we notice.
Various mindfulness-based practices are available today that address specific issues. Some are meditation-based, while others are informal exercises done at the time that you need them. Additionally, there are mindfulness-based programs or applications taught by facilitators that combine formal meditations and informal exercises, focused around specific topics. These programs can be experienced in small groups or one-on-one. The following is not exhaustive list of such programs, but a good place to start:
- Meditation = Calm Your Mind, Warm Your Heart
If you find you need more “calm” moments in your life, and the ability to relax, you might begin with formal mindfulness meditations. Start with guided sitting meditations, found either online, or via a mobile phone app, or as lead by a facilitator in person. Move into silent meditation when you feel comfortable with the mode of “just being.” The goal of meditation is not to clear your mind of thoughts or push them away, after all, it’s our mind’s job to think. The intention of meditation is to focus on an object; physical sensation, word, phrase or image, and return your mind to that object when it strays. This shift in attention is the actual practice: where we recognize we have a choice to bring our attention back from being hijacked. Many people new to meditation start by focusing on the breath, as it is always available and can be experienced only in the present moment (keeps our minds from traveling into the future or dwelling on the past). Start meditating for five-minutes a day, and then increase that amount by five-minute increments over time. However, keep in mind what is important is not the length of time we meditate, but the consistency and frequency of the meditation practice. Try meditating by yourself or in community and notice what arises for you? Joining a group of meditators can help you establish your practice.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction = Reduce Stress and Gain a Lot More
If you are easily or constantly stressed, or your reactivity is off the hook– you might want to consider Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The official 8-week MBSR program that is taught internationally, focuses on how our reaction to life challenges affects our health and well-being. The program offers exploration into the nature of the thinking mind, as well as conditioned habits, and offers ways to break the cycle of reactions on automatic-pilot. Mindfulness meditations and gentle yoga are interwoven into this program to allow participants to experience the mind-body connection, and see how fleeting thoughts, emotions and sensations are. Additionally, mindfulness attitudes cultivated in this practice encourage non-judgment, curiosity, patience, trust, non-striving, accepting, and letting go or being with to name a few. This is the program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn back in 1979, based on his book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” that secularized mindfulness and brought it to the masses minus the tie to a specific religion.
- Mindful Self-Compassion = Changing Your Relationship with Yourself
If you beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned, or are your own worst critic when faced with challenges, Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) is for you. This program focuses on changing your relationship with yourself, from one based on criticism to one based on compassion. This program uses mindfulness to help us understand our how our thoughts, emotions, and sensations can lead to conditioned responses that undermine our well-being. Through mediations and exercises, we learn how to work through difficult emotions, relationships and adopt healthier ways of being. This program is based on the work of Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, and their respective books on Mindful Self-Compassion.
- Mindful Eating = Changing Your Relationship with Food and Nourishing Yourself
If you find your appetite increases when you are under stress, or in certain situations, and you begin to eat mindlessly, this program is for you. These days we find ourselves eating for a variety of reasons that don’t necessarily have to do with hunger. With this mindset, we may overeat, developing bad habits that can lead to eating disorders. The Mindful Eating program focuses on supporting your relationship in nourishing your body, mind and spirit with exactly what it needs. By applying mindfulness to the process of eating, participants recognize hunger centers from where appetites stem, and how to satisfy them in healthier ways. Awareness of how thoughts, emotions and sensations affect our appetite and behaviors is highlighted through meditations and exercises. This program is based on the work of Jan Chozen Bays and her book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.
If you are inspired to increase your well-being and strengthen your resilience, and want to learn more about mindfulness, check out the following resources located around San Diego. This list is not exhaustive, but a good place to start to change your life for the better, by embracing mindfulness:
The Balanced Mind Meditation Center housed in the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Jacobs Family Campus in La Jolla opened its doors in late September of 2016. Numerous mindfulness-based courses are offered such as MBSR, Mindful Self-Compassion for Teens and Adults, Mindful Movement, and Mindful Meditation drop-in classes throughout the day, throughout the week. I will be offering an Eating Mindfully class here in February 2017. Learn more at lfjcc.org/qualcomm/bmmc.aspx
BeingMerry is my well-being company, based in Rancho Bernardo, Sorrento Valley, and Mission Valley. I provide one-on-one coaching and small group instruction incorporating mindfulness and wellness into life coaching. I also facilitate Mindfulness Meditation, MBSR, Mindful Self-Compassion and Eating Mindfully courses. I work with individuals and groups in person, over the phone, and using video conferencing as well. Learn more at beingmerry.com
The UCSD Center for Mindfulness, located in University City, downtown San Diego, and on the UCSD Campus, offers a full range of mindfulness-based classes, and compassion and workplace programs. Learn more at health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness.
Mindful Methods for Life is a mindfulness company based in La Jolla that offers mindfulness-based classes that combine Mindful Self-Compassion and MBSR, 6-weeks and 2-day format. Learn more at mindfulmethodsforlife.com.
Merry Woodruff is a certified wellness and mindfulness life coach, who works with individuals to increase well-being of mind, body and spirit. She coaches and teaches on nourishment, eating mindfully, reducing stress, establishing a meditation practice, living by one’s values, self-care, and self-compassion. She also offers guidance around meditations throughout her community. Merry is a Trained Teacher of Mindful Self-Compassion, and has been trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindful eating-conscious living.