Stones Across the River, or Mindfulness as Practice

In my practice, I teach a personal mindfulness strategy, that I have previously written about, and named “Stones Across the River”. Think of a wide river that you must cross. I help patients to notice moments (stones), by learning a daily practice of paying mindful attention to the seemingly small activities in a day that, together, can help ford the rapids of life without falling in.

Meditation.
Take a few moments of your day to observe your breathing. Take a longer inhale than you usually do, and then take a longer exhale than you usually do. Do it again. This practice will help you to calm yourself down during stressful situations, while simultaneously observing your physical and emotional state.

Look at yourself in the mirror.
Looking yourself in the mirror or even taking a selfie helps you see YOU. You can see how you look when you smile or when you frown, even when you are feeling angry. This helps you connect with yourself.

Savor every bite while you eat.
Focus on chewing while eating. Put your devices aside, and turn off the television. Enjoy every bite of your meal. This will help you practice focusing on your current action and appreciating the food you are eating.

Listen to soothing music.
Turn on relaxing and soothing music and really listen to it. Lay down or sit in the most comfortable position, close your eyes and feel the music in your soul. You can even use it while you’re working on a long or tedious task. Classical music has been shown to create brain waves that are very similar to meditation. I personally also enjoy trip hop, which has a steady beat that can help with focus.

Read a book or poem everyday.
Reading helps you form a focused meditation. While you are going through every word, you are practicing mindfulness and attention skills at the same time.

Go for a walk.
Our legs are our unsung heroes that are there for us, day in and day out. Going for a walk gives you the opportunity to show gratitude to your legs as well as your entire body, while appreciating the things around you. Research shows that you also get a clearer mind after a good walk.

Organize something at work or home.
Having your home or workplace in disarray can contribute to anxiety and stress. Environment matters. Getting organized is a way to reduce your stress and improve the quality of your life. While you are picking up objects during the process, you are also practicing mindfulness as you consciously observe each placement of the object while organizing.

Write in a journal.
Research shows that people who practice writing in a journal reap physical and emotional benefits. Dr. James Pennebaker, clinical psychologist, found that writing stream of consciousness in a journal for just 10 minutes a day (without editing or filtering), helped reduce clinical depression, across several studies.

Cook a meal.
The aromatic scents of cooking have beneficial effects to your mood. The process of cooking, like chopping vegetables and the various steps involved can actually take the edge off a stressful day. Interestingly, because preparing a meal is a multi step process, it is also good for executive functioning. I assign cooking a meal for the family or for friends, including planning the menu, making a grocery list, preparing the meal, and serving it, as a regular assignment for my teenagers and young adults who have executive functioning problems.

Set small daily goals.
Breaking down your goals into smaller ones helps you be more specific to what you aim to achieve on a daily basis. It can be as simple as taking your dog for a walk or cleaning up a closet. Take the time to acknowledge each goal that has been accomplished. For several patients, I have had them make a list of things they have accomplished that day, rather than the ubiquitous “to do list”. People are often astonished at how much they actually do in a day, because we are always focused on the things that are not done.

Help someone.
Research indicates that individuals who regularly engage in community service and volunteering show lower rates of depression and stress. I believe this gives people a mindful awareness of a purposeful life beyond their immediate family or circle.

Laugh.
Laughing releases endorphins and brings more oxygen and energy into your body while also improving your immune system. Talk to a friend who is witty, watch a show that makes you smile or laugh, play with a pet.

Create.
Engaging in creative work helps you get into a flow state of heightened awareness and consciousness. Creative activities like drawing or doodling help you quiet down your mind and help you focus on the moment, improving your practice of mindfulness. For my clients with ADHD, I actually encourage them to doodle while they are listening to a lecture or seminar. It creates more focus than attempting to sit still.

Turn off your devices.
Every once in a while, turn off your devices and engage with the people around you.

Work out.
When you exercise, you focus your attention on your sensations, breathing, and the movements of your body.

Write sticky notes.
Jotting down your thoughts in a few words is an incredible way to train mindfulness. Simply write down things that you want to remind yourself to remember and stick them around your house or your desk at work. You can jot down “smile” or “breath” to remind yourself to do the simple gesture you normally get distracted from.

Take a bath or hot shower.
A soothing hot bath relaxes your tired muscles and provides you with a relaxing atmosphere. It helps your breathing become slower and deeper, allowing you to stay in the present moment. I work with many patients who have sleep disorders. Taking a hot bath and then going to bed as your body cools off actually parallels REM sleep, during which your body temperature also drops.

Give a compliment.
Give someone you know a genuine compliment at least once a day, and be specific with it. For example, you could tell them something like, “I appreciate the way you smiled generously in the waiting room earlier today,” or “you are so generous to pick up all these supplies for the office.” One of my friends said to me, I love the way you become so excited when you learn something new. This practice of noticing what people around you do well and giving genuine compliments adds warmth, intimacy, and responsiveness to your connection with them.

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