Mindfulness: Flexing Your Mind Muscles

Mindfulness is a buzzword that first took root with new age, hippie yogis, and is now becoming common language among CEOs, athletes and tech gurus worldwide. Big companies like Google, Apple and Nike have integrated mindfulness into their workspaces, cleverly referring to it as Neural Self-Hacking.

 In other words, mindfulness is now mainstream. And what started as a (Western) trend has now evolved into a way of life for many. It is important to note that mindfulness is an ancient Eastern practice, often with religious roots, that was established well before it took off as a self-help movement in the West.  However, through whichever door you choose to enter the practice of mindfulness, whether it be religious or secular, research shows that it enhances memory, boosts immunity, regulates sleep, supports emotional awareness and reduces distractions (among many other benefits).
The benefits of mindfulness are equally beneficial for both men and women. However, as I lead mindfulness workshops and retreats and also participate in mindfulness offerings as a student, it is evident that there are less men practicing in public groups. That said, I often notice that when I speak to these concepts and practices in my public yoga classes, I more frequently receive inquiries from men who want to learn more about the concept of mindfulness. Yoga is often the gateway into various mind and breath practices that support and encourage mindfulness. I encourage men to try yoga (yes, even if you proclaim you are not the bendy type) to learn first to move your physical body with a deeper level of awareness so that you can work toward better accessing mindfulness practice in everyday life.
Quite often the image projected of mindfulness is one of bliss and serenity; think yogis floating on meditation pillows and a quiet and peaceful state of mind. However, these images are misleading and often lead men to avoid the practice altogether, or to quit trying because they're not able to quiet their mind.
Here is my disclaimer to you: mindfulness practices are not to be confused with an ideal state or utopia. If you have spent any amount of time noticing the fluctuations of your thoughts and landscape of your mind you know that it is always changing and often times quite busy. I love the metaphor used by Jon Kabat Zinn (a renowned researcher and teacher of mindfulness) who compares mindfulness to strength training.  Just as you go to the gym to work out and strengthen your muscles, mindfulness is a workout for your mind. Specifically, he explains mindfulness practice in relation to a bicep curl. When the arm extends down and away from the body that is similar to your mind going off in thought during meditation practice (this is normal and part of strengthening the mind), and the curl of  your arm and bicep up towards your body is similar to the practice of bringing your mind back from thought to the present moment.
A consistent meditation practice will strengthen your mind.
You are not doing the practice wrong if your mind wanders. Part of the practice (especially when you first begin) is to notice the fluctuations of your thoughts and sensations. And be prepared, this is often an eye opening experience! The aim as you start to meditate is not to empty the mind of thought, as this is an impossible task, but to become more familiar with the inner patterns and chatter of your mind.
Just as training and strengthening your body takes time and consistency to see results, taming the mind, too, is a gradual and conscious effort. As you start to integrate meditation into your life, try doing it for smaller amounts of time and focus on consistency. If you go to the gym once a week for three hours, you are unlikely to see noticeable benefits, however if you go every day for 30 minutes, you are more likely to have sustainable results and form a positive habit. I suggest downloading an app like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm and start a 10-minute guided meditation practice daily.

Stay tuned for more tips on mindful living and meditation!

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