When I was younger, sometimes I used to think about “being more zen.” To me, that meant being in touch with my surroundings, calm, and feeling a sense of peace. I later learned that a lot of people strove for this feeling and that it had a name, mindfulness. Over the past few years, mindfulness has become a buzzword. I’m thankful for that because it allowed me to learn more about it. I am not a psychologist, yoga teacher, or professor mindfulness practitioner, just another Millennial sharing part of my own personal journey.
Yoga was something that interested me starting in my pre-teens, so I was very excited when I went to college and discovered that there were free yoga classes at the student fitness center. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off since I was 18, and though I’ve spent more time off the mat than on it, I’m thankful for the contributions it has made to my life. The first time I sat in child’s pose in a Hatha yoga class, I felt a sense of calm wash over me like I had never felt before. For years, I didn’t know about the connection between yoga and mindfulness, but I knew there was something about the practice that I liked.
I’ve had better luck with some yoga classes than others. I prefer to take classes that focus more on relaxation than stretching one’s physical limits. There are so many different ways to do yoga and different types will resonate with different people. It may take trying out several different teachers or studios to find a good fit.
Like many Millennials, meditation was this background thing in my life that I was aware of, but didn’t often focus on. I remember my parents buying meditation tapes when I was a child and just not understanding why they would want to listen to some guy say “om” over and over again.
Still not really my thing.
Once again, during my first year of college, I was introduced to a new form of meditation – guided meditation. That one didn’t really resonate with me either. A group of my friends and I would sit and take turns as one or two members of the group led us through our own personal guided meditation journeys. Most of my friends came away feeling like they learned something about themselves. I generally didn’t feel like I had made any discoveries or learned anything new – it just didn’t seem to work for me.
Frequently, I would hear about meditations where you were supposed to “clear your mind.” I really struggled with this. I am usually thinking about something, often multiple things, and my mind likes to think about them. I couldn’t figure out how to clear it! You know how sometimes you’ll click on one YouTube video or Wikipedia article and then click on a related one and then another related one and then suddenly you’ve spent hours just reading stuff on Wikipedia or watching YouTube tutorials? Yeah, that is my mind all of the time – it’s constantly thinking, noticing, making connections. How in the world was I supposed to stop making it do that? I’ll tell you a secret – I never figured that out. My mind is just as busy now as it was back then and I’m 100% okay with that because it’s something that has defined my experience throughout my life, as well as something I’ve come to love about myself (thanks, mindfulness!).
I tried other forms of meditation and those didn’t seem to work either. They didn’t leave me calm or peaceful, and sometimes they even left me feeling stressed out. Due to these experiences, I thought meditation just wasn’t for me. Until I moved to Houston and had a different experience. Shortly after moving here, I joined a free meditation group on Meetup, mainly because I was new to the area and wanted to meet people. During the first group meeting that I attended, I actually felt successful during the meditation! We were outside in a park and we were told to lay down and just listen to the things around us. It was wonderful! I wasn’t expected to have a clear mind. I wasn’t expected to follow someone’s instructions on a journey through an imaginary house. I was just expected to notice and let my focus drift from item to item without judging. I could do that. It was peaceful. It was calming. I thought about sounds in a way that I didn’t usually think about them. It was awesome!
I am writing about my experience with meditation because I think it’s so important to realize that everyone is different and may experience the process and benefits of meditation differently. What works for me may not work for another person and vice versa. Five years ago, I would never have imagined that I would ever find a meditation practice that worked for me, but I learned otherwise.
Other Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness is way more than yoga and meditation. According to The Greater Good Magazine published by UC Berkeley,
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
There are so many different ways to practice mindfulness. For me, trying to stay mindful means being grounded in the present and not giving in to my tendency to overthink things, focusing on progress instead of perfection, and loving and accepting myself. I’m not always perfect at this – sometimes I’ll still ruminate too much on things or feel bad about myself – but accepting that I make mistakes is a part of practicing mindfulness too. No one is perfect and everyone slips up from time to time.
Others may practice mindfulness in other ways. For example, some people may focus on mindful eating. Stacy is trying to have her own version of a mindful birth experience (a process which is different for each individual). Others focus on mindful parenting skills. There are countless ways to practice mindfulness.
Do you practice mindfulness in your day-to-day life? How did you discover mindfulness?