Mindfulness is a way of being that can drastically change your mood and how you see the world.  But how do we become more mindful?

We are often told to set aside a time and place to practice mindfulness, which is of course fantastic – if it actually happens.  But more often than not, we are “too busy” to sit down and do what we perceive as “nothing”.  The old saying “If you have time, meditate for 30 minutes; if you don’t have time, meditate for one hour” rings particularly true today, but nonetheless, many people won’t manage to carve time out of their busy days.

However, we can practice mindfulness any time, anywhere, because it really boils down to one thing – paying attention.  Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention. It means cultivating awareness not only of your surroundings but your internal landscape.

Unfortunately this is not something that happens automatically.  Many of us go through a substantial part of our day on “autopilot” simply because we tend to repeat similar activities on most days.  In order to become more mindful we therefore need to remind ourselves to be mindful.  It is a constant, ongoing practice and needs to be cultivated.

These are 3 simple things we can pay attention to – be more mindful of – every day in order to cultivate mindfulness:

THE BREATH:  Our breath is our very first warning sign that something is amiss. Short of breath? Yawning? Holding your breath?  When resting, these changes in breathing pattern point to the fact that something else is going on. Whenever something happens to us, our regular, smooth breath is the first thing that goes out of the window.  By paying attention to our breathing pattern, we can therefore become aware of other, underlying conditions that we had not consciously taken note of before.

WHEN: Throughout the day, observe your breath when:  Someone cuts you off in traffic.  You are about to have a difficult conversation.  Someone does something that you perceive as hurtful.

HOW: Observe how your breath changes.  Does it become fast or very flat?  Are you holding your breath? Make a conscious effort to maintain a steady breathing pattern while facing a challenging situation.  Observe how this will change the way you feel about the situation.

FACIAL EXPRESSIONS:  Our faces reveal our emotions.  The following practice is not about hiding emotions, but about observing how your facial expressions change and what might be the underlying cause – which can then be addressed.

WHEN: Whenever you remember.

HOW: Mentally scan your face. Do you hold tension? Is the space between the eyebrows relaxed? Is your forehead relaxed? Your tongue? Your jaw? Jaw-clenching, cheek-biting and eyebrow-raising are very common and often go unnoticed, until you start being mindful of these patterns.  Use these facial signs as warning lights telling you that there is something else you should become mindful of.

THOUGHT PATTERNS:  (aka. the stories we tell ourselves): Our mind never stands still and many thoughts are actually loops.  We tend to tell ourselves the same stories about who we are in this world and how others see us.  Whenever something happens that aligns with our thought loops, we use this to confirm our existing view and therefore reinforce the pattern.  To break the cycle we have to become mindful of the fact that there even is a cycle.

WHEN: Whenever we can remember, but particularly in a situation that seems to reinforce our view of the world and ourselves.

HOW: The stories we tell ourselves are stories that we have made up.  One of my meditation teachers used to say: “We believe everything we think”. It made people laugh, because it is true. We need to try and accept that our view of ourselves is just one view, and not necessarily the most accurate one.  Breaking through these loops takes time, practice and ideally an experienced teacher who can provide guidance. However, one of the first steps is becoming mindful of the internal “programmes” we are running, and that we have the power to rewrite them.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

By: Andrea Leber

Andrea is a travel & wellness journalist and yoga guide publisher with 15+ years experience in the publishing industry.  Having lived in 6 countries on 3 continents, she currently enjoys life in Australia and soaks up inspiring ideas in India.  On her website andrealeber.com you’ll find stories that inspire and empower you to live, not just exist.  Follow Andrea on Google+, send her a Tweet @AndreaLeber or download your free 50+ page ‘Best of Yoga’ guide to Melbourne here: http://andrealeber.com/bestofyoga 

Andrea Leber