What the Heck is Mindfulness Anyway?

I have a client who always makes me laugh. We were in session once talking about mindfulness and they said “Mindfulness sounds great! Does it come in a pill or a liquid!?”

I immediately wrote the quote down and asked for permission to share it.

It’s funny because it isn’t far from how people perceive mindfulness. This client in particular is a pretty fast paced, high achieving person- so the idea of slowing down and noticing is super foreign, maybe even a bit uncomfortable. Many people aren’t even certain what mindfulness means.

Mindfulness is a practice of noticing. It doesn’t have to be some great 400 hour long meditative session. It can be as simple as me smelling my sons head and feeling joy at the sweet smell of baby shampoo after he gets out of the bath. Noticing.

The truth is, we are all a little like my client.¬†In my practice as an eating disorder specialist in Tyler, Texas I see a lot of people who live fast paced lives and are looking for a quick fix. My client is just a little more willing to admit this tendency and joke about it. Noticing doesn’t come natural to us. We don’t notice our surroundings. We don’t notice the present. We don’t notice our thoughts. And we certainly try not to notice our feelings, until they are beating us over the head and forcing us to pay attention.

Mindfulness is healing because it keeps us from getting carried away by the fears we have about the future or reliving our pain from the past. We are at our most miserable when we are doing those two things. Mindfulness forces us to notice the present and stay in it. To enjoy our surroundings. To participate actively. To be aware.

Mindfulness is a difficult practice in our fast paced and distracted world. We have cell phones, on demand television, and all kinds of things pulling us away from the current moment and increasing our misery.

I want to tell you a little bit about how mindfulness has helped me in a tough situation.

It might be a surprise to you but, I am not immune to my own issues and body junk. That’s right. Although I do a lot of blogging about Body Acceptance and Kindness I still experience my moments of struggle. I am after all, a woman who has to exist in a world that is constantly telling me that my body is not good enough.

Most of the time I practice the skills I teach clients and these thoughts are minimal. However, there is one situation that is always sure to bring body thoughts out. SWIM SUIT SEASON. Collective sigh of horror and frustration from all the women who know what I’m talking about.

Our neighborhood has a small community pool. My kids always love to swim in the evenings after dinner and this always bring up the most junk for me. For one, it seems like at that time of the evening their are like 900 dads hanging out around the pool grilling hot dogs. I start to worry and make up excuses for why I won’t swim. I get carried away by the thoughts and feelings about my body that I have decided years ago would no longer dictate my life. I stop being mindful and start being miserable.

Maybe, for you, it isn’t swimming. Maybe it is having dinner with your friends. Maybe it is going on a walk. Maybe it is sex. Maybe it is the thought that anyone might notice and judge your body. Whatever it is for you, difficult thoughts and feelings show up and suddenly you are transported away from the here and now and onto the struggle bus- destination misery.

I get it. I’ve been there. I want to share with you a quick way to be mindful and brought back from that space because lets be honest- a lot of life is passing you by when you are there.

Let’s go back to my neighborhood pool and the 900 dads:

Step One-

I take a deep breath and acknowledge what I am feeling. I say “here is a feeling of discomfort. It is a feeling of shame. You are feeling this because you have been taught to judge your body and you are concerned that other people are also judging your body.” Sometimes I wonder…did I say that out loud?? My husband has guaranteed me that I don’t or at least I never had in front of him. Whew. I use the “here is a feeling/thought of….” a lot. It is one of my most powerful personal tools for acknowledging difficult thoughts and feelings.

Step Two-

I breathe. In and out slowly. Inhale. Hold. Exhale Hold. Two-ish seconds for each step. Sometimes I visualize running my finger along the edge of a square post it note because I have discovered in working with kids a rhythm that makes this perfect for “box breathing.” Plus I have a minor obsession with post it notes.

Step Three-

I look for something I can see. Usually three things if I am really struggling. I see the sun setting. I see the beautiful color of the water. I see my 8 year old swimming confidently-she has come so far from that little girl that wouldn’t get her face wet without yelling “I need a towel! I need a towel!”

Step Four-

What can I smell? I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I smell food grilling. I smell the chlorine of the pool. I smell my sons baby head (i’m obsessed with baby smell people! If you have a baby I am 100% gonna smell that baby. Sorry not sorry) and it smells like sunscreen and outside. He loves to play outside. He loves the water.

Step Five-

What do I hear? I hear splashing and playing. I hear my kids saying “Hey mom!? Watch me!!! Are you gonna swim?”

Step Six-

What can you taste? Sometimes a hint of what we had for dinner or gum. I love chewing gum. Green 5 is the only kind of gum, don’t try to give me anything else.

Step Seven-

What can you feel? The water, it’s usually just the right amount of cool on a July evening. Not the cold water of early summer or the hot water of August. I feel my son in my arms. A light breeze on my skin.

I am suddenly snapped out of my own worries and into noticing the here and now. Suddenly all of those worries don’t have the power to determine my actions. I value and cherish these memories with my kids. Swimming after summer dinners.

All the dads are packing up their grill stuff and headed home and I am usually left with my family in a pool, splashing and laughing. Teaching my son the “Baby wave, sissy wave, mommy wave, daddy wave game.” Having some kind of competition with my oldest and husband about who can swim the length of the pool fastest. Being here for right now. Living life fully, that is what being mindful is truly about.

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