Guest Post by Laura Warf, Founder of the School of Happiness, Holistic health and happiness coach, meditation and yoga teacher, inspirational speaker
What does mindfulness mean for you?
Mindfulness is a daily practice. It teaches us to cultivate a deep sense of awareness of what is happening now in this very moment. It guides us to be the observer or the silentwitness without reacting or trying to change anything. That way we are conserving our vital energy rather than consuming it. If we are sitting still we could practice following the flow of our breath and learn to notice the sensations in our body from the more obvious ones such as feeling warm or cold, the feeling of the air on our skin, the clothing touching our skin, the weight of our body sitting in a chair to the more subtle feelings such as the beating of our heart, any present emotions and where they reside in the body, the movement of prana (our life force energy) through the energy channels in our body like pulsing, heat or tingling.
Mindfulness teaches us about moment to moment awareness and tunes us into our senses. When we are more aware of our surroundings and how we feel in the moment it makes it easier to make more informed decisions because we are more alert, clear-minded, centered and calm.
How do you practice mindfulness?
It becomes just a state of being. It is no longer something I “do”. As a practice, I sit comfortably and quietly and begin to tune in to what I notice in the present moment; what I hear, what I smell, what I am thinking, how I am feeling physically, emotionally or and energetically then those observations begin to fade and internally I become more relaxed and quieter until I sense that I am in a space of deep peace and expansion like I am floating in another dimension. The experience is not always the same. If I am more mentally agitated, it takes a little longer to get still. I have learned not to have any expectations of a meditation practice. Some days it just means sitting still to relax my body and clear my mind, other days I drift into a deeper spiritual experience. There is no right or wrong, good or bad.
There is a principle in the yoga teachings called vinyasakrama which may be translated to “a conscious evolution from this moment to the next moment.” When we live in this state we are present and more aware in all our conversations, activities and events. It allows for deeper attentiveness and more joyful experiences. When our inner state is calm, we are in a space where we can take appropriate action rather than being reactive such as when we are under stress. When we are stressed and out of our center, the words we speak may be harsher and land on others in a more abrasive way rather than if we were more centered and calm we have a greater ability to choose words and actions to match a harmonious inner state and create more flow in our life.
I know that when I am present I connect with a deep sense of peace within, I feel happier, I am more patient and compassionate with myself and others.
What are the benefits you have noticed in your life from practicing mindfulness?
It helps me be more centered. Being centered means encountering the silent witness within, it is a space where we are alert, calm, detached from outcome and tuned in.
A question my coach used to ask me was “what took you out of your center this week?”
It might have been a challenging work situation, a family conflict, or an idea/expectation that I created that did not turn out. Whenever we oscillate too much between past and future thought processes especially if those thoughts are tied to emotions we consume our vital energy. If we can learn to be detached from any outcome and remain non-reactive in heated conversations or even when we are stuck in traffic then we can learn to conserve our energy. Yes it is a constant practice!
When I am fully present I am more at peace, more in my heart, compassionate, understanding and non-reactive. If I am in my car in traffic, I will focus on the nice music playing (present) rather than stressing about the meeting I have to get to (future).
If I am feeling overwhelmed because I have over-scheduled myself, I now know to take a step back and re-organize my day so that I can stay well. When I feel good then I am in a better state (mind- body and heart) to be able to give to others without depleting myself.
Can you give me some examples of how mindfulness works and how you apply mindfulness in different situations? For example in a stressful or challenging situation.
My stress barometer is when feelings of impatience and irritability levels increase. Mindfulness helps me realise that I am not present and too much in my thoughts.
Thoughts attached to emotions consume our energy leaving us feeling depleted
We have to remember that it is not a situation that makes us unhappy it is the thoughts and inner narrative about the situation that creates feelings of unhappiness or dissatisfaction.
From a space of mindful awareness I can make a choice to be reactive and in victim thinking mode or create a story about a situation that is like untrue or rise above the unconscious behaviour and act from a space of a conscious creator. Label what is in the moment and what is my intention and how do I want to feel? Come back to the now.
I find it interesting that human unconsciousness behaviour makes it easier to dwell on a negative situation and what upsets us or even replaying a conversation in our mind about someone who offended us. Why not replay the more positive and uplifting situations to retrain our own brain and thus raise the levels of our own and collective consciousness?
Examples could be: working in a noisy office under tight deadlines, a relationship disagreement, a family member dealing with a health issue
Your kids/family/dog who are super excited to see you, witnessing a beautiful peaceful sunrise or sunset, sharing uplifting conversation with a friend, enjoying a romantic evening with a loved one, an open parking space close to where to need to go, an unexpected thank you note, a stimulating project etc… focus on things that uplift you rather thigs that deplete you.
What role does Mindfulness play in changing habits?
When we are more self-aware, we are more in tune with what our bodies need from moment to moment and can ask what would honour me in this moment. Maybe that just means taking a few deep breaths or shifting our perspective. I can speak for myself and the need for self-care – sometimes we cannot take a week vacation but we can block off a few hours of me-time to choose recharging activities like a walk in nature, book a massage, a weekend day with no alarm and no computer .
How can we use mindfulness to change our perception of a situation and how can that change our lives?
It is a gateway inward. Everyone is at a different point along their life journey. Perception is an interesting concept because human beings judge situations based on their own experience and understanding and reactions often do not come from a place of universal truths but from old wounds and activations of our pain body.
Being mindful just means becoming aware of our inner state – even in an intense or emotional moment – observing for example: “wow, interesting I felt offended or hurt when my friend raised her voice” mindfulness helps us act with a higher level of knowing rather than reacting from a space of victim thinking and getting into an unnecessary argument. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective and explore possibilities by asking questions – what did you intend when you said you were upset (it may have nothing to do with you!)
How does mindfulness help us cultivate our presence with our self?
Practice. Staying centered. Becoming still and learning to be the witness and observer of our surroundings (external and internal).
Practicing in a controlled setting like in meditation practice assists us in the real world where it counts the most.
Ask yourself: How do I want to feel? How do I want to leave others feeling? What kind of an impact do I want to make in the world?