It’s safe to say that over the past year-plus, we’ve learned a thing or two about what’s really important, from learning how to cook to creating a good work-life balance (especially for those of us working from home). In more ways than one, the pandemic-induced isolation provided the perfect backdrop for self-centering. Maybe you’ve picked up new habits that prioritize well-being: learned how to be present and intentional with your choices; started to take better care of your body, whatever that looks like for you; or made an effort to put mental health first through mindful practices like meditation.
This year has brought some reprieve and a glimmer of what our “new normal” looks like. But as we head back into the world in 2021, how do we maintain the mindful practices that carried us through such a trying time? With many jobs forming hybrid in-office schedules, and schools starting back, finding the time for daily meditations will no doubt be difficult; still, the importance of the practice has not changed. Though meditation is a time of self-reflection, it helps to have a little guidance from trusted instructors. For thoughts on how to keep the mindful mindset strong, I spoke with some experts: author, writing-to-heal facilitator, and self-care advocate Alex Elle and mindful meditation artist and registered psychiatric nurse Dora Kamau.
Why Practice Mindfulness & Meditation?
The word “mindful” gets thrown around a lot, but understanding what it really means can be groundbreaking for your daily mental health. By definition, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. The state or quality of being mindful, or aware of something, is a technique in which one focuses one's full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations—but not judging them. Each moment we are able to step away, create intentions, and become more aware can positively increase our mental—and physical—health.
That said, it’s easy to see why meditation alone plays such a big role in mindful behavior. Though the practice of meditation has been around for centuries, its purpose has not changed. It is a time of self-reflection. Through the act of conscious breathing and mental concentration, one can find mental, emotional, and physical balance and clarity.
Feel Free to Move Around
In times past, the ancient practice of meditation also meant a silent and sedentary moment that required a quiet space and absolute stillness. But if this year of change has taught us anything, it’s how to adapt. For Elle, meditation is personal and comes in many forms. “A moving mediation can be a better option if you suffer from anxiety, which can be triggered by a traditional seated practice,” she explains. Though less traditional, writing, walking, cooking, or even making tea can all be a moment for meditation. “Oftentimes, mainstream meditations can feel too rigid,” so she encourages a practice that “best fits your individual needs.”
Think of Meditation as a Ritual, Not a Chore
Similarly, Kamau views meditation as more of a ritual than a chore. It’s less about getting through it and more about showing up. “By being fully present in each and every moment, you’ll start to see and relate to things differently, especially when you take the time to pause and check in with yourself,” she notes. From internal thoughts to conversations with friends, “you shift from being on auto-pilot to being more intentional.”
Pencil Yourself In
All too often, many put the emphasis on creating the perfect meditation space, thinking that a specially designed corner will better our practice. But with our schedules slowly filling up, the reality is that a special area with the perfect pillows, candles, and lighting might not be as accessible. So how do you keep up your daily routine? “Put it on the calendar; literally pencil yourself in,” Elle exclaims. “We schedule everything, from meetings to calls to lunches and social activities. So why not this?” For those heading back into the office, scheduling out time for a short meditation break in between meetings can make all the difference in completing the practice: A quick walk outside or a quiet conference room are good places to start.
Planning also sets the groundwork for another important element of mindfulness: intention. Unlike goals, intentions are guiding principles for purpose—such as choosing to be compassionate with oneself or courageous in one’s endeavors. “It’s important to identify your intention for wanting to practice mindfulness through meditation.” Kamau says. “Get clear on your motivation and purpose for wanting to start meditating and allow that to guide you.” Sure, a full 30 minutes of uninterrupted peace sounds like bliss, but if it’s not your reality, plan for a shorter duration. For those who are new to mediation, Kamau likes to advise starting small, say 3 to 5 minutes, in order to stay consistent.
How Apps Can Help
Utilizing mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Ritual, and Insight Timer can aid in the process by providing check-ins and positive feedback. To avoid any guilty feelings from missed days, Elle suggests seeing app notifications optimistically, thinking of them as a gentle nudge or friendly reminder. Apps should facilitate accountability and serve as a guide for new methods of mindfulness when life throws you a curveball—but never control your life. Yes, they’re a great tool, but they’re just one part in practicing mediations. “I think it’s important to remember that apps are a small part of your meditation journey. The real practice and benefit comes when you put your meditation into action and take it into your everyday life,” says Kamau.
For mindful practices of any kind, self-awareness is key. “We have to be clear about what our boundaries are and how intentional we want to be,” Elle states. So nourishing our body and our mind is essential. After all, “practice will create a ritual if we let it.” Elle encourages intentionally resting with a holistic wellness approach. Perhaps your new normal mindful behavior includes more water or screen breaks, or time spent outside instead of daily meditations. However you choose to stay mindful, it’s important to remember that staying present is about living in the moment. Whether that means adapting old routines to new schedules—or even letting them go. When the time is right, you may want to reintroduce a practice, but living mindfully means proudly showing up as the person you want to be. And who could argue with that?