Be Mindful, Be Aware, Be Happy

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MindfulnessWhen was the last time you took a moment to do nothing?

No texting. No creeping randoms on Facebook. No situps. No watching TV. No reading.

I mean absolutely nothing.

That was how Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk started (video below). And the entire concept of mindfullness really set in.

We live in a world today where we are constantly distracted. Overtly stressed. Our minds are constantly stimulated. Our eyes are always glued to devices, our fingers to keyboards, and our butts to chairs.

Studies show that, on average, our minds are lost in thought 47% of the time.

This means that we spend half of our lives completely unaware of our surroundings, our thoughts, and our emotions.

This, my friends, is no way to live life.

We are slowly, but surely becoming less mindful and more stressed and this is taking a toll on our health.

But here’s what we can do about it…

First, I think it’s important to understand what exactly mindfulness is and how it can effect us.

Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

Mindfulness – an essential component of Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions – is simply the state of being aware.

Aware of our surroundings. Aware of our food. Aware of our blessings and misfortunes. Aware of our body and our mind.

Aware of the present moment.

Unfortunately, we are constantly held up by the past or worried about the future that we rarely take a moment to appreciate the present.

To appreciate the subtle little details that are intricately etched into our ever-changing surroundings. To appreciate the emotions that overcome us at times we least expect it. To appreciate the little things in life many often overlook.

It appears as though we’re finding less and less time to be mindful. Our world is moving at speeds once unimaginable. Technology is booming and our patience is dwindling. Everything today is about speed and convenience.

It seems that we just don’t mind rushing through life.

But here’s the question we need to ask ourselves:

How does being less mindful affect us? How does it affect our health?

The first obvious point of interest is stress.

We are more stressed today then we ever were. In fact, stress levels in the workplace are rising with 60% of workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress. On top of that, 75% of adults say they’ve experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year [source].

The truth is, stress can have major implications on our health. It compromises our ability to think, to make (good) decisions, to solve problems, to be creative, to sleep, and to concentrate. Companies around the world are losing big bucks due to stress-related employee absenteesim.

Apart from stress, constant mind wandering (or being lost in thought) is apparently a direct cause of unhappiness as we are slowly losing appreciation for the little things that make life so beautiful.

Practicing mindfulness is essential.

Practicing mindfulness provides a number of health benefits: improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function [source].

It can also help us minimize stress, be more focused, think more clearly and creatively, sleep more peacefully, and (hopefully) even keep our jobs.

Here is a more detailed list of benefits.

No matter what the case may be in your life, I think it’s important that we all find ways of becoming more mindful of who we are, of our surroundings, of our food, of our interactions with people, and of life itself.

Here are some exercises we can do…

Do nothing for 10 minutes

Note: this exercise was inspired by Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert

Every single day, find 10 minutes to do nothing.

Find a quiet place. Turn off and put away your electronic devices. Eliminate anything from your immediate environment that can be a potential distraction.

Now sit on the ground and do nothing.

Take deep breaths.

Focus on your thoughts. Focus on your emotions.

At first, your mind may be racing, but eventually you will learn how to control your thoughts and emotions. You’ll begin to realize what they mean.

This a very simple and powerful form of meditation.

If you’re struggling to find 10 minutes to do this each day (shame on you!), use this little website throughout the day (safe for work) and take two short minutes to do nothing.

Taste the tangerine

Note: This exercise was delivered in a workshop to a group of inspiring to-be teachers. The exercise is meant to be done orally, but I’ll do my best to explain it with my keyboard.

Here’s what I want you to do.

When you have a moment, I want you to close your eyes.

(Keep them open until you finish reading this!)

With your eyes closed, I want you to stretch out your hand in front of you and open up your palm. I’m going to place something in your hand.

It’s a little gift.

Something I want you to have. Think about what it could be for a second.

It’s something you can eat. Something delicious.

I’m going to give you a piece of my tangerine.

There, it’s in your hand.

But don’t eat it yet. I want you to feel it. Feel its texture. Feel the little bumps and bruises around it. Feel its moon-like shape.

Now open your eyes. Look at the piece of tangerine that’s in your hand. Observe its colour. Observe the patterns the veins make around it. Look at it closely.

Now put it in your mouth.

Slowly bite into it and feel the tangerine juice splashing around in your mouth. Notice how your taste buds react. How your tongue feels. Chew on it slowly.

As you swallow that tangerine piece, notice the cooling sensation in your throat. Notice the taste slowly fading. The after taste dwelling.

If you followed the steps, you probably noticed how much detail your senses picked up in this process. The smell. The texture. The look and feel of the tangerine.

These are all details we lose appreciation for when we rush through life.

Next time you have a meal, I want you to really take your time with it. Look at the food before you put it in your mouth and then savor it. Feel the texture. Take in the taste and the aromas. Enjoy it like it’s meant to be enjoyed.

Practice active listening

When was the last time you truly listened to what someone was saying?

When we listen, often what we’re really doing subcontiously is waiting to hear for something we can relate to. We’re just picking up on the big pieces of the story, not the little details. We’re waiting for a moment where we can throw our  two cents in and essentially take over the conversation.

It’s not that we’re trying to be rude on purpose. It just happens.

But when we do this, we miss out on the essence of what the person is saying. We miss the little details. We miss the emotion and subtle changes in tone that are associated with each word.

We miss on the important stuff.

We listen, but we don’t hear.

Active listening is actually hearing what the person is saying. It is the idea of fully immersing yourself in the conversation. Paying attention to every single detail that the person is telling you. Paying attention to the tone and emotion behind the words.

So next time you’re talking to someone, put away your phone, stop looking for queues to jump in, and really hear what the person is trying to tell you.

Watch this video

I recently watched a TED talk done by mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe.

In the video, Andy describes the transformative power of refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment.

It’s definitely worth the…well, 10 minutes.

Note: if the video doesn’t appear, just refresh the page and it will show up.


My favorite part of the video is Andy’s explanation of how the 10 minutes of nothing changed his life:

“It gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the present moment. By that, I mean not being lost in thought. Not being distracted. Not being overwhelmed by difficult emotions. But instead learning how to be in the here and now. How to be mindful. How to be present. I think the present moment is so underrated. Sounds so ordinary. And yet we spend so little time in the present moment that it’s anything but ordinary.” – Andy Puddicombe

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The more fast-paced, developed and technologically-saturated our world becomes, the more I think it’s important we find a bit of time to get a way from it all.

The more important it is to be mindful of our surroundings.

We only live once guys. There’s no need to rush through the beauty.

So what are your thoughts on this topic? Is mindfulness a priority? If so, how do you find time for it? Is 10 minutes too much to spare? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. I’m so glad to see this TED video and topic appearing on a fitness blog. Fitness blogs do touch on topics of the importance of strength mind to building a fitter body but I find that most merely scratch the essence before moving on to the gratifying bit of building a beautiful body. Personally, a regular yoga practice has helped me to be more aware of self-development – good, bad and ugly (yurp). Mindfulness is often brought in as a theme of the class as well and my mind wanders the most when I am unhappy or stuck in a rut of sorts. Mindfulness is also integral, like you said, to building a fitter body since going through the motions of any physical training will more likely lead to injuries rather than finesse. That is one of main reasons which attracted me to your site – your emphasis on building a fitter body for strength and function through proper alignment – things which i love about yoga as well. Keep the good stuff rolling in!

    • Han, thanks so much for your awesome comment! You bring up a lot of great points. Yoga is absolutely an excellent tool for practicing mindfulness, although (unfortunately) it’s not affordable by everyone. The fact remains, however, that even the simple practice of doing nothing for a few minutes every day can teach you to how to become more aware of your body, your food choices, the effects of your training, and everything in between. It makes you aware of your motions as you go through them. It teaches you how to listen to your body, which I think is a skill that is highly underrated and generally poorly developed.

      • Hey, I just saw the comment. I used to go to a studio too but cut back because of budget constraints. You guys can go to doyogawith.com – free and excellent yoga instructions. Or yogaglo.com – $18 per month – excellent instructors, some of whom I’ve practiced w before as well. =)
        Or youtube some yoga videos – there are some excellent free clips too.
        Yeaps, listening to my body is a skill i’ve yet to master too. Haha. Still working on it!

  2. I love u Srdjan.Your information and points are so beneficial that I make myself to read them and employ them in my life.I wish you the best of the world.

    Accept my sincere thanks.

    Hamid

  3. Hi srdjan, I gotta agree with Hamid. I really enjoy reading your emails because you provide a holistic approach to health. Keep feeding us with stuff on exercise, nutrition, spirituality etc and your following will grow and grow. They are all so interlinked that you need everything to be truly healthy !

  4. Hi!,

    Great post! I’m from Mumbai, India. I would like to share my (in)experience with something similar. We have a “Vipasana” centre about 3 hours from here on the outskirts. They run a 15-20 day course. During a visitors stay for these 15-20 days, they are allowed to do NOTHING. No reading, mobiles, iPods, etc. Etc. Meditation sessions are held throughout the duration for about an hour everyday. Visitors are not even allowed to TALK to anyone. I’ve been wanting to go, but this is very scary for me. Many of my macho friends have cried there because the feeling of not being able to talk for so many days hits you HARD. About a third of them drop out within 4-5 days. That said, people do come out refreshed, active and at peace with themselves and the world. Charges? NOTHING! No donations accepted either unless one completes the course.

    My new year resolution (in line with your earlier post) – complete the course!

    Cheers,
    Vivek

    • Wow that sounds both intense and incredible at the same time. That’s definitely an extreme practice of mindfulness, but I can see how it can be of benefit to some. It really gets you away from everything – from the world essentially – and the sheer isolation forces you to focus on nothing but your thoughts and your breathing. You can’t leave NOT refreshed or at peace with yourself.

      If you do go through this Vivek, please send me an email and let me know how it goes!

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. David Cano Riesgo says:

    Loved the post! I am thinking about the last time I did nothing for 10 minutes and can’t even remember.

    I think the problem is bigger though in current world, as I don’t think we are really looking for those 10 minutes. I see it everyday in my office, friends… people do not look for time for themselves, but they really look for activities to avoid time for themselves. Out stressful society considers stress something positive (“look how hard he works, he is in the office all time…. Always busy”). I can’t think of the countless times I have the feeling that people pretend to be busy.

    I’ll do my best to find 10 minutes for me, every day (o every second day lol). I really liked TED’s video as well, especially how Andy explains that people get anxious and then anxious of being anxious… happens to me alllllllllll the time.

    Thanks for the post Srdjan!

    Cheers

    • Today’s society definitely is a problem David. It brings to mind a concept I’ve been meaning to share on this blog and that’s the idea that we are currently living in what I call a toxic environment. It’s a metaphorical way of saying that we (mankind) have created an environment in which we are not necessarily designed to live in. We eat foods that aren’t meant to be eaten, we sit more than we move, we are glued to our technological devices, and we are slowly becoming less aware of our surroundings. We have poorly designed values (like the one you mentioned: being busy is valued even though it provokes higher levels of stress) and a system that is designed to continue this unhealthy (i.e. toxic) cycle.

      Being more aware of who you are, what you’re eating, how you’re moving, and essentially how you’re living is becoming more and more important in an environment that is becoming more fast-paced and more polluted with technology and unjustified ideologies.

  6. Srdjan,

    I think stress management is the most underrated component of a healthy lifestyle. Stress impacts weight more than people think it does. I think it’s important for people to make a conscious effort to do things that make them happy. It seems straightforward, but a lot of that gets lost in day-to-day responsibilities, obligations and outside pressure from others. I like the idea of taking 10 minutes to yourself. You should be able to at least spare a tiny percentage of your time each day for yourself, after all.

    Alykhan

    • Alykhan, from the first day I started to dedicate the first 10 minutes of my morning to doing nothing, I can’t describe the difference it’s made in my day/week. My mind is clearer, my thoughts aren’t wandering all day, and I just feel more focused throughout the day. It’s amazing to say the least!

  7. I have signed up for the Ultimate Kettlebell Guide but I have yet to receive it….can you forward it please?

  8. You amaze me with each new post you write. I agree with the others that i really appreciate your holistic approach. I do believe we all know these things deep down inside, but there are so many things we need to work on along with the pressure from the current of society that we don’t know where to start. Thanks for the tips to helping us get started on improving some of these things. :)

  9. Krysia Mailo says:

    Thanks Srdjan, a timely reminder to look after the inner aspect of myself when at times I feel overrun by pressure. Another helpful tool along these lines I’ve heard about recently is breathing. Apparently expelling all air from your lungs and holding that for as long as possible followed by a deep intake of air through your nostrils causes your blood to become oxygenated to a higher degree. The recommendation is to do for 15 reps . Delivering this to the brain improves its function and I think would help to get you into a prepared state then to sit and practice your “mindfulness” refreshing your brain and emotions from the frenetic pace that life mostly travels at.
    It also helps to lay in the sun and know how much you are loved by your Creator.
    Krysia

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