Mindfulness Techniques for Skeptics
Ya’ll, this mindfulness stuff. It’s everywhere. And it ranges from the “go to your happy place” imagery stuff to the yoga chakra stuff.
Both of which have always just felt super weird to me.
Look - I’m generally a skeptic. I’m in pretty much a constant state of eyebrows-raised.
I’m a therapist – my BS meter for snake oil sales is trained to be strong.
I also am a Christian, so I personally get super uncomfortable when something feels outside of my own personal spiritual comfort zone, relies on “the universe” or “the stars” or things like that.
My field also requires lots of continuing education, and encourages us to dig into new research pretty much constantly, so we can continue to have knowledge about the latest and greatest techniques to better serve our clients.
All of that being said – back to mindfulness.
What It Is
Mindfulness, simply put, is the practice of being actively present in the here and now. This means taking control of your thoughts so that they aren’t stuck in what has happened in the past, or what may or may not happen in the future.
What It Isn’t
Mindfulness is not a religious practice. Although it is derived from Buddhist traditions, it is actually a psychological practice. You are not worshiping anyone or anything when you practice mindfulness. You are merely working to control your awareness of what is around you currently.
What It’s For
The research on mindfulness shows pretty amazing stuff, including a reduction in age-related cognitive decline, as well as an increase in focus, general well-being, self-acceptance, and compassion. It can reduce anxiety, depression, as well as blood pressure and chronic pain.
So here is the challenge for you, my skeptical friend. I’m going to give you two super basic mindfulness techniques, and I challenge you to spend 5 minutes every day for the next 14 days on them.
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
Commit to five minutes.
For 14 days.
That's just a little over an hour, total.
Here’s the thing – it’s going to be hard at first. It’ll be annoying, and you’ll think that it’s dumb. I get that, because I am that person, too. But just like anything else, this is a skill that with practice can be extremely beneficial over time.
No one on this earth was born good at mindfulness. It came with practice and persistence. We are essentially training our brains to stop thinking about all of the things that we normally think about, and focus on Right. Now.
It can be the five minutes that you lay there because you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, or five of the minutes in your traffic commute to work, or five minutes while your lunch is heating up in the break room.
It’s literally five minutes, and the techniques I’m going to give you do not require you to be in a quiet room, by yourself, with your whole life perfectly in order around you.
What do you have to lose here?
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Method
For this one, you start with some deep breaths just to slow yourself down. Don’t rush through this exercise – really take the time to focus your mind on each sense.
Here we go.
Find 5 things around you that you can see, and say them out loud. “I see the cup, I see the table, I see –“ etc.
Pay attention to 4 sensations in or on your body that you can feel, and say them out loud. “I feel that my sweatshirt is scratching my neck. I feel that my toes are cold in my socks. I feel –“ etc,
Listen for 3 sounds around you, and say them out loud. “I hear children playing outside, I hear a car driving by. I hear –“
Say two things that you can currently smell. This one can be hard, and if you aren’t currently in a place that you can notice smells, that’s fine. In that case, just think of two of your favorite smells and say them out loud.
Say one thing that you can taste. It may be your toothpaste from brushing your teeth earlier, remnants of the coffee you drank, or anything else.
Take another deep breath.
How was that? How does your mind currently feel? Notice that during the time that you were focused on these senses, you were not focused on your stress, anxiety, past or future.
Breathing doesn’t have to be complicated. We do it every single day.
The difference between breathing to live and breathing mindfully is that with mindful breathing, you turn your attention to your breaths, rather than ignore them.
You can count your breaths, count the time that you are breathing (breathe in, 2, 3, out 3, 2, etc.), or just focus on the in and out motion. Just pick one, set a timer, and stick with it.
In using breathing over a grounding technique, it’s important to notice when your mind inevitably wanders, and bring it back to focus on your breath. This will happen. And it will happen more at first, and will lessen as you practice.
Over time, with practice, you should be able to utilize breathing and grounding in every day situations to help you react more calmly to your daily stressors.
Want to do more?
If you completed this challenge and it completely changed your perspective on mindfulness (I can hope, right?), there are a few apps that I’d suggest to continue learning and practicing.
The Calm app has some really great free meditations (and also has a subscription version with more available), including sleep stories that can help with soothing your mind before going to bed.
I also like to throw out the MindYeti app for kids – there is a premium version with lots of meditations, but they have a free version with short exercises that kids love, and families can explore together as a part of introducing this practice to their kids.
If you’ve taken my challenge, I’d love to hear about it – both your skepticism up front, as well as how the challenge is going during and after. Send me an email and let me know if you’ve noticed any benefits to this practice! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attention Lowcountry Moms!! Want to learn more about mindfulness and other self-care techniques? I have a 2 hour workshop coming up soon that will provide you with practical solutions for how to put together a self-care plan specifically for you - allowing you to start practicing self-care without guilt, shame, or tons of extra time (because who even has that??) Come join me, Leslie of Leslie Hall Coaching, and Lauren of Sculpted Lotus Yoga in Summerville on April 21st for an amazing workshop built with busy moms like you in mind! Click here for more details!
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Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.