This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Wherever You Go, There You Are" by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are some ways to practice mindfulness? Can anyone practice mindfulness?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are, mindfulness is something anyone can do at any time. To make it easier for you, he highlights a few strategies that he believes will help you stay in the present every day.
Let’s look at the few ways Kabat-Zinn suggests practicing mindfulness in your everyday life.
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
Kabat-Zinn emphasizes that anyone can practice mindfulness because mindfulness is simply about being who you are. However, he does highlight certain values that you can cultivate in your daily life that will help you sustain and nurture your mindfulness practice: simplicity, patience, vulnerability, and perseverance.
(Shortform note: The full acknowledgment and acceptance of who you are is similar to the Buddhist concept of satori, the sudden and profound understanding of the nature of reality and one’s own true nature. While satori is often translated as “enlightenment,” satori isn’t necessarily a permanent state of being; it can be experienced by anyone at any time, regardless of their level of spiritual development.)
1. Focus on Your Breath
Whether you’re practicing mindfulness in your daily life or doing a more structured meditation practice, your breath is an invaluable tool; it provides you with something to draw your attention back to when your mind wanders. Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, you can breathe naturally, paying attention to what it feels like to have your breath move in and out of your body. Notice where you’re most aware of your breath and the sensations of your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
|Why Start With Your Breath?|
There are a number of reasons why the breath is such a valuable tool in mindfulness practice.
1. Your breath is enough. So many of the things we pursue in our lives are about getting somewhere or improving, but not your breath. You don’t ever need to try to breathe better or more efficiently. Your breath is vital and perfect as it is.
2. Your breath is steady. Even as your thoughts bounce around, your breath keeps a steady rhythm that you can return to over and over. It’s predictable and constant.
3. Your breath is richly layered. Even as your breath stays steady, no one breath is exactly the same. As you pay attention to your breath, you can also pay attention to how the duration, sensation, and texture of each breath differs slightly from the one before.
4. Your breath grounds you in your body. We live much of our lives inside our heads and disconnected from our bodies. Using your breath as an anchor brings your awareness back to your body.
5. Your breath is calming. Mindful breathing allows you to enter a relaxed state of mind that supports your mindfulness practice.
6. Your breath is in control. Even though you can increase the pace of your breath or stop breathing momentarily, ultimately your breath is in charge. Without it you wouldn’t live. Paying attention to your breath reminds you that, like all things, you don’t have full control.
2. Practice Mindfulness Through Meditation
The first place you can practice focusing on your breath is during formal meditation practice. If you’ve never practiced mindfulness before, it can be helpful to set aside short periods in your time to implement a more formal meditation practice. That way you can focus fully on your practice and get comfortable honing your focus before trying to introduce mindfulness more regularly into your daily life.
In meditation practice, there’s no one right way to meditate. Kabat-Zinn describes meditation as being like walking along a trail. With each step, you make split-second decisions about where to put your foot next and how you step. Each step you take informs the following step. Rarely do you have to think about where you step next—you just do it. Just like walking along a trail, there’s no one way to practice meditation. Everyone will do it differently, so don’t think about what’s supposed to happen, just practice being aware of what is.
Just as there’s no right way to meditate, there’s also no right amount of time to practice. The amount of time isn’t important. As Kabat-Zinn explains, every second is another opportunity to be present. Over time you’ll build up your stamina and be able to meditate for longer and longer periods.
Meditation practice can happen at any time of day, although Kabat-Zinn makes a plug for the early morning, which he describes as an especially fruitful time to meditate. Mornings, he explains, are naturally still. More often than not it’s dark and you’re alone. Moreover, waking up early requires the same discipline required to meditate, so early morning meditation gives you the opportunity to more easily observe your mind’s objections and resistance to practicing. Finally, he explains, when you start your day with mindfulness the benefits are more likely to stay with you through the rest of the day.
3. Practice Mindfulness in Your Daily Life
While a formal meditation practice can help strengthen your ability to focus, the purpose of meditation is to live your life more mindfully every day. Every moment and activity is an opportunity for mindfulness. Mindfulness doesn’t require a specific activity or environment; it can happen anywhere at any time. Just pause and pay attention, using your breath as your focal point.
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- A guide to mindfulness for both beginners and seasoned practitioners
- How to incorporate mindfulness more intentionally into your daily life
- How to practice mindfulness through meditation