Balancing Brain and Body: The Basics of Mindfulness

image courtesy of: Desirae Lynch

by: Desirae Lynch

Staring intently at prickly fuzz on a peach while taking mental note of how squishy its bruises are seems nothing short of stupid. Why would anyone in their right mind think that focusing on a piece of fruit could lessen anxiety and quell depression?

These were my thoughts the first time I practiced mindfulness. I had just come out of a low point with my episodic depression that was caused by relentless, all-consuming anxiety. My therapist recommended giving mindfulness a shot, so I purchased a workbook and was determined to start right away. I was excited. I had read good things on a few mental health blogs and, to be truthful, was running out of options.

I’m sure you can imagine my irritation and disappointment, then, when the first exercise the book had listed was the one I just described. The last thing I wanted to do was sit and stare at fruit. How would a peach help me? Would I at least get to eat the peach afterwards? Alas, I had spent $15 and had nothing better to do, so I figured I would complete the exercise.

Except, I couldn’t. My mind was unable to slow down long enough for me to even formulate a sentence about the stupid peach.  This, my friends, is where I became hooked on mindfulness.

If we as individuals are so far down the rabbit hole of daily responsibilities that the only mode our mind functions on is overdrive, how do we enjoy something as simple as, say, a peach? Or a sunset? Or a baby’s first steps? What happens when life becomes so mechanical and nothing is enjoyable anymore?

Mindfulness teaches you to be present for your own life again. It is an awareness of self and of the “now” in a way that allows your thoughts to be fully connected with your physicality. It takes the mind’s focus off of past mistakes or future problems; all that’s left is the current moment.  So, how do you become mindful?

Starting small is key.

Start by observing things that were previously overlooked. Notice the five different shades of green your centerpiece flowers have. Take heed to the contrasting grain patterns in your wood floor. Count the freckles on your arm. You’ll be amazed how much you overlook.

Acknowledge your emotions nonjudgmentally.

We are our biggest critics. It’s easy to be upset or angry with yourself when you don’t think your emotions are justified. Jealousy, for example, is easy to be ashamed of. Don’t be. Practice acknowledging those emotions, like everything else, pass. Practice replacing “I shouldn’t feel this way” with “this is what I’m feeling,” then practice letting it go.

Fight familiar feelings.

Reverting back to old ways is easy – there’s a certain level of comfort in familiar thought patterns. When you feel your mind swaying towards old habits of zoning out or ruminating, purposefully come back to the present moment. You can focus on your breath, for example, count your steps, or maybe grab a peach and notice its prickly fuzz and squishy bruises.