Mindfulness for Health: Tips for deepening your mindfulness practice (Part-3)

Mindfulness in this blog is discussed in three (3) parts:

Mindfulness for Health: Real-Life application (Part 1) posted September 17, 2012

Mindfulness for Health: “Who? “Why?” and “What” of Mindfulness (Part-2) posted October 14, 2012

Current post (Part-3) on mindfulness provides tips for refining and deepening your mindfulness practice

For mindfulness practice I need a concentrated mind. The “scattered mind” which in the ancient texts is referred to as the Vikshipta Chitta does not want to meditate! When thoughts are running in different directions the mind has to be concentrated and sufficiently quieted before one can practice mindfulness in a meaningful way.

I have an easily distracted mind and perhaps a mild attention deficit disorder.  I also have which for lack of a better word I call a “sticky” mind.  Like the glue or the magnet my mind can get stuck to a thought or a word-sometimes, a line from a song or even a commercial I had watched on Television.

So with my distracted and sticky mind along with frequently discomforting symptoms mindfulness meditation poses significant challenge for me.  But, as they say “Necessity is the mother of invention,” so over the years I have discovered ways to tackle these challenges.

If you are like me and still struggling to develop a meaningful mindfulness meditation practice you may find here a tip or two that may be of interest to you.

 My first tip is that “timing is everything.”  Early morning, right after getting out of bed, is the best time for me for practicing mindfulness because I am rested (except the times when I am not), everything around me is quiet, and my mind is relatively calm.

How long should you practice? If you are a beginner it’s best to practice mindfulness for brief periods of time.   When I first began practicing mindfulness I would attempt it for 1-2 minutes.  I would sit down facing the wall clock and resolve to be fully mindful of the seconds’ hand moving on the clock face.  Other times I would use the wrist watch for observing the seconds digital readout.

Even now, after years of mindfulness practice, when my mind is really turbulent I try to focus and calm my mind by observing the seconds digital readout on my watch.   I often track my breath moving up and down (or in and out) in my upper body. When I am a little more settled down, I can transition into mindfulness meditation.

 So, for me the concentration on a moving target such as the seconds’ hand on the watch, and/or on the moving breath helps me to initiate mindfulness meditation.

No wonder that in the “Eight limbs of Yoga,” Dharana (concentration practice) is listed before Dhyana (meditation practice).  Dharana is like the “doorway” that allows me to enter into the halls of mindfulness meditation.

I have found the following concentration practices helpful for transitioning into mindfulness:

Concentrating on a body part such as the middle of the eyebrow, nostrils or bridge of the nose

Gazing on an object

Hearing a sound in the mind’s ear

Visualizing an image such as the light, shape or color in the mind’s eye especially in the center of the eyebrows

Moving on to the next tip, the “whole body awareness” can be very helpful for mindfulness practice.   By whole body awareness I mean that one becomes aware of the whole body from toes to head and fingers to head, all together in the same moment.  Whole body awareness can anchor the mind like the boat fastened to the anchor on the shore.  The boat moves to and fro with the waves and the winds but can’t drift away too far from the anchor.  So wrap your mind around the whole body for a good mindfulness practice.

There is another advantage of practicing whole body awareness.   I believe when the “master,” that is, the mind watches the body, the latter “tries” to work more efficiently just as the workers would under the supervision of their supervisor.

Let’s go a step further!  Let the whole body awareness extend to the awareness of the whole experience of the moment.  so let’s be open to the uncomfortable and the comfortable, the sad and the joyful and the and the bad.  According to the Yogic philosophy what often appear to be the opposites are actually the two ends of the same phenomenon.  So let’s be mindful of both ends of the phenomenon.  I believe it makes the mind more receptive to the experience of the moment.

Moving on to the next tip, when my mind is extremely restless and attention constantly shifts from one thought to anothermindfulness meditationseems an impossible taskBut mantra japa (recitation of a mantra or a catch phrase) works like magic at such time.  I start my mantra japa by telling the mala beads or counting the mantra on my fingers for 10-15 minutes.  Mantra japa almost always quiets my mind.  Then I can transition into mindfulness meditation for the next 10-15 minutes.  Thoughts still keep breaking up the mindfulness meditation but I am more mentally alert to notice them and let them pass without getting too involved.

In our usual mode of consciousness, we are the doers, actors, experiencers and consumers of our thoughts, memories and fantasies.  Make a habit to frequently turn to the Sakshi residing in you! Remember Sakshi which literally means “the one with the eyes?” (See the previous blog post “Mindfulness Part 2”)  Sakshi is that “witness” which simply observes and does not participate or get involved with whatever occurs on the inside or outside.  Do not regard Sakshi as merely a concept or a theory.  Sakshi is who you really are at the core of the core of your being.  When you connect with the Sakshi with conviction and resolve to stay in that mode at least for a few minutes you may experience fewer interruptions in your mindfulness practice.

So, invite often the Sakshi within you and be ready to receive it! Every now and then resolve to step outside the usual mode of consciousness for howsoever brief periods in order to practice mindfulness.  It’s very liberating when we access the Sakshi, step aside and simply observe.

Usually the instructions we receive for mindfulness practice is that when thoughts emerge let them pass like “floating clouds” in the sky.  But even after years of practice when I experience strong negative emotions, it’s extremely hard for me to stay mentally alert and let the thoughts simply pass by.

How easily I forget I’m supposed to watch my thoughts like the clouds passing by in the sky!  But, negative thoughts have strong intrusive power and can very quickly draw me in.  I have come to believe that deeper levels of mindfulness meditation will only be possible for me when I continue doing the serious emotional work with myself.

In ancient Indian texts, the emotional work for meditation was an absolute requirement.  It was often referred to as bhava shuddhi(purification of emotions) or Atma shuddhi  (self-purification).

Bhava shuddhi asks of us that the emotions such as the resentment, anger, jealousy, envy, selfishness, nagging worries, anxiety, stress etc. be decreased.  Let’s call the sum of these negative emotions as the “small mind.”

Bhava shuddhi also asks us that the positive emotions such as love, gratitude, compassion, mutual tolerance, empathy and understanding, hope, faith, optimism and the like be increased.  Let’s call the sum of these positive emotions as the “Big Mind.”

We need to shrink the small mind and expand the “Big Mind!” Therefore, whenever you notice negative thoughts and feelings emerging whether during mindfulness or any other times, interrupt them right away and invite your “Big Mind” to step in by silently saying “Big Mind.”

The emotional work has to go on for all waking hours of our life.  This can help not only with mindfulness meditation but also heal our body, heart and soul!

About sharma

Vijai Sharma, PhD, certified Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist from the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI) and retired clinical psychologist with special interest in mind-body medicine. Thanks primarily to Yoga, I have enjoyed great quality of life learning and living with three major illnesses, Emphysema/ Chronic Bronchitis (also called "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease- COPD) since 1994, Quad Bypass Cardiac surgery 2007, Prostate cancer and radical prostate surgery in 2010. My experiences and insights into the illnesses, Yoga, psychology and mind-body medicine provide me a unique opportunity to put them into practice and learn further more. Through this blog I share with you how exactly I manage to have a satisfying and fulfilling life. I do so in the hopes that you will do the same with the challenges you may have. I invite you to join me!
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