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Mindfulness 101: The Basics

Download a printable version of the information on this page.

Life is not easy. It can often be hectic and stressful. At times, thoughts and feelings can seem like a storm raging in the ocean. Yet no matter how rough the ocean is on the surface, deep below, things are calm and clear. Mindfulness helps us to find this calm, even when we feel overwhelmed. Practicing mindfulness means being more aware of emotions, thoughts and body sensations. This awareness helps to keep our focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or the future.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening right now. When you practice mindfulness, you turn your attention to your thoughts, emotions and body sensations in the present moment . While doing this, you do your best to accept what you’re experiencing, without labelling it as ‘good’, ‘bad’ or anything else. This can help you feel calmer and cope better with stress and frustration.

Focusing on the present helps us to:

  • Feel less depressed – as we often do when we worry about the past
  • Feel less anxious – as we often do when we worry about the future

How can mindfulness help me?

Research studies show that mindfulness can:

  • Promote mental well-being
  • Help us calm our minds and relax
  • Help us handle our emotions
  • Have a positive impact on mood
  • Help to treat depression and anxiety disorders
  • Improve symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Improve relationships: between friends, parents, partners and children.

How mindful are you?

Do you tend to...

  • observe life as it happens?
  • accept how you are feeling without judgment?
  • focus on the present?
  • allow yourself to enjoy things as they happen?

Or do you tend to...

  • analyze and judge every thought and emotion?
  • feel bad about how you feel?
  • focus on the past or worry about the future?

How can I be more mindful?

In today’s world, it’s not always easy to keep our minds in the present moment. Our attention often gets pulled away by many things, including our devices or other technology. So we end up not giving our full attention to what we’re doing or the people we’re with. Or we dwell in the past, or worry about the future. Our minds are constantly jumping from one thing to the next. Mindfulness teachers say this is our ‘monkey mind’. It’ s like our mind is filled with monkeys, all jumping, chattering and screeching to get our attention. Practicing mindfulness can help us to tame our ‘monkey mind’. This might seem hard to do at first-but it really can be simple and easy.

You can practice mindfulness in everyday activities or try more formal mindfulness exercises (sometimes called ‘mindfulness meditation’). Here are some steps to guide you on your path.

Participate fully

  • Try to: Bring your full attention to what you’re doing.
  • Try not to: Do many things at at the same time. 

Example: “Let’s keep phones away from the dinner table so we can talk about what went well today.”

Reflect

  • Try to: Observe your thoughts, emotions and body sensations with an open curiosity.
  • Try not to: Judge the experience (as good, or bad or anything else), or act on your feelings right away.

Example: “My muscles are tense and I'm feeling annoyed.” 

Recognize

  • Try to: Remind yourself that your thoughts, emotions and body sensations just thoughts, emotions or sensations. These don’t always reflect the whole truth, and can change from moment to moment. Focus on what you are observing or feeling.
  • Try not to: Turn your emotions and thoughts into facts. There is a big difference between thinking “I’m feeling unloved right now” and “Nobody loves me.”

Example: "I'm feeling overwhelmed, but I'll probably feel better after a good sleep."

Accept

  • Try to: Accept what you’re experiencing, without judgment.
  • Try not to: Judge your experience or think about your thoughts, feelings and body sensations as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Example: "I'm sad. my chest feels tight and I feel like crying."

Re-focus

  • Try to: Notice when your thoughts wander, then gently bring your awareness back to the present moment. Take a mindful pause.
  • Try not to: Judge yourself harshly when this happens.

Example: "My thoughts are wandering - let's bring attention back to the person I'm talking with."

Be kind to yourself

  • Try to: Respond to your thoughts, emotions and body sensations with a gentle and compassionate attitude towards yourself.
  • Try not to : Criticize yourself for not being better.

Example: I'd be kind to a friend who felt this way. I'd tell her to take care of herself. I should be as kind to myself as I would to my friend.”

Informal and everyday mindfulness

There are many ways to be more mindful in our busy lives. No matter what you’re doing, you can bring your full attention to it. Get engaged in something that you enjoy and can sink yourself into: basketball, yoga, playing music, dancing, hiking. Let yourself just be into it.

Waking up

As you wake up in the morning, lie in bed and pay attention to what you are:

  • Seeing – the sun, clouds, trees and grass outside the window
  • Hearing – birds chirping
  • Smelling – fresh air from outside the window
  • Feeling – warm bedsheets.

Eating

  • Turn off all devices.
  • Look at your food. Notice the colour, texture and smell. Take a bite and chew slowly. Is is hot? Cold? Lumpy? Sweet? Salty? Does the taste change as as you chew? How does it feel when you swallow? When do you start to feel full?

In the shower

As you shower, notice the steam rising, the sound of water, the scent of soap, the sensation of warm water on your body.

Outside

Pay attention to:

  • The colours around you - yellow leaves, white snow, grey slush, blue sky, dark clouds.
  • Scents - grass, air, roses, the french fry truck :-).
  • Sounds - birdsong, the rustling of leaves and the wind, traffic, crunchy gravel underfoot.
  • Sensations - the warmth of the sun, the wind on your face, your body in motion.

Cooking

Focus on:

  • The feeling of food in your hands as you mix, peel, chop, wash.
  • The colour, texture and smell of the food you’re preparing.
  • How foods change as you fry, grate, whip and boil.

Walking

As you walk, focus on your body as it moves. For example, you might pay attention to:

  • The pressure you feel as your feet touch the ground
  • The movement of your muscles
  • Your breath
  • How the air feels on your skin
  • Sounds around you.

Try walking barefoot when possible. Notice the how it feels to walk on different surfaces (carpet, concrete, grass, mud or sand).

“Pay attention to what you are doing. When your attention wanders, bring it back to what you are doing. Repeat one billion times.” - Anonymous

More everyday mindful ideas

Tame the email monster.
Try to avoid reading email first thing in the morning. Your mind is the most focused and creative in the morning. This is the best time to focus on your priorities and the most challenging work. When you answer emails first thing, you get distracted by other people’s priorities. Aim to give yourself 30 to 60 minutes before trying to catch up on emails. Try to check and respond to email just a few times each day, at set times.

Manage distractions.
Close your door, turn off the radio, and disable notifications. Fewer distractions will allow you to really focus on what you’re doing. If you work in a cubicle environment, listening to white noise or classical music through headphones may help.

Don’t multitask.
Studies show that everyone does better on tasks when they can focus on one task and complete it. Even people who think they are good at multitasking are actually more efficient when they focus on one thing at a time.

Formal mindfulness practice

Formal mindfulness is deliberately taking time to focus attention on something specific, like the breath, sound, or body sensations. You can practice for 30 seconds to 45 minutes or more. When your mind wanders (and it will) gently bring your attention back to the breath. When starting out, you may find it helpful to follow guided mindfulness exercises, available online. We’ve included links to some of these in the resource section.

Here are some ways to practice mindfulness in a more formal way:

Awareness of the breath

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Bring your awareness to your breath. Notice how your chest and belly move with each breath, how your nostrils feel as the air moves in and out. When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
  3. Do this for a few minutes.

Mindfulness Pause - a 30-second break for calming down

  1. Take a slow deep breath, expanding your belly and chest. Focus on how the breath feels in your nostrils, chest and belly.
  2. Hold the breath for a moment.
  3. Exhale slowly. Focus on how your body feels as you let go of the breath.
  4. Reconnect with whatever you are doing.

“This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.” -- Jedi Master Yoda, wishing that Luke Skywalker was more mindful

Helpful resources

Websites

American Mindfulness Research Association – online database for mindfulness research publications 

BC Association for Living Mindfully – a non-profit society dedicated to education, research and advocacy around the benefits of mindfulness

Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (MBSR training)

Centre for Clinical Interventions – resources for consumers and mental health practitioners

Mindfulness for Teens – online guided meditations and resources 

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center – online resources and free guided meditations 

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic Word - Free meditations from Mindfulness  

Books

Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment―and Your Life. Author: Jon Kabat-Zinn

Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive. Authors: Dan - iel Siegel and Mary Hartzell

Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Authors: Mark Williams and Danny Penman

The Mindful Brain. Author: Daniel Siegel

Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). Authors: Eline Snel, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Myla Kabat-Zinn

The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate. Author: Susan Greenland

Apps

Headspace App

Calm website and app, which has meditations to relax, focus and sleep better

Stop, Breathe & Think: Meditation and Mindfulness App

The Mindfulness Training App

Finding help in Ottawa

In a crisis?
Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario, 613-260-2360 or toll-free, 1-877-377-7775

Looking for mental health help? eMental Health is a bilingual directory of mental health services and resources for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Canada.

Finding help in Eastern Ontario

In a crisis? Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario, 613-260-2360 or toll-free, 1-877-377-7775

Looking for mental health help? eMental Health is a bilingual directory of mental health services and resources for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Canada.

  • Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 
  • Renfrew County: Phoenix Centre for Children, Youth and Families, with offices in Renfrew and Pembroke. 613-735-2374 or toll-free 1-800-465-1870
  • Leeds and Grenville County: Children’s Mental Health of Leeds and Grenville, with offices in Brockville, Elgin, Gananoque and Prescott. 613-498-4844
  • Lanark County: Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth, with offices in Carleton Place, Smiths Falls and Perth. 613-283-8260
  • Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry and Akwesasne (Cornwall Island): Single Point Access-for all child, youth, family and mental health services. Services in French and English. Main office, Cornwall, Ontario 613-938-9909 Toll free 1-888-286-KIDS (5437). Satellite office in Winchester.
  • Corn wall and area: Child and Youth Counselling Services (CYCS)- (Cornwall Community Hospital) provides assessment, therapy, and counseling. Services provided in English. Office in Cornwall 613-932-1558, limited outreach services in Winchester office.
  • To find a psychologist anywhere in Ontario: College of Psychologists of Ontario, 1-800-489-8388
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