Mindfulness is the health trend that’s gained momentum for decades now. Whether we attribute it to the Buddhist monks for their contribution of Zen or the Hindus for creating yogic philosophy— mindfulness techniques have multiplied and come down to us in many forms. The following techniques present powerful ways to build a foundation of peace around our lives— but first, here’s a bit of history.
Origins of mindfulness techniques: a short history
The earliest emanation of mindfulness available to us comes from a seal found at the Mohenjo-daro site in modern day Pakistan. On it, a cross-legged figure is etched and dates from the 2500 BC Indus Valley Civilization. Some researchers claim the pre-Vedic figure is assuming a meditation posture akin to our present-day yoga and mindfulness practices.
Fast forward to later ancient times, and you have groups of South-Asian monks sitting in meditation and listening to the sermons of a man named Siddhārtha Gautama, the renowned Buddha or “Awakened One.” The Gautama Buddha obtained a sense of serenity deep enough to begin the tradition of Buddhism.
Today, Buddhism and yogic philosophy instill the world with wonder. Our deepest yearnings to live life fully bring us to mindfulness, the philosophy at the core of these ancient traditions.
But which modern mindfulness techniques are most effective for eliminating the mind’s excessive, unnecessary chatter? Which techniques inspired by the ancients should we utilize to feel happier, change our brain waves, and change our minds on a cellular level?
Start here: yoga nidra
Yoga nidra makes the cut because it does so much. It enhances sleep, creates brain waves that support healing, and creates an optimal mind-body connection. Yoga nidra is so powerful, that doctors and major schools of medicine are beginning to study it.
In the practice, we concentrate and become aware of each individual part of the body. This tends to guide the mind away from excessive, unproductive thinking while creating space to relax each limb, toe, arm, jaw muscle, and more.
Practitioners report that yoga nidra helps them settle into a deep sleep while teachers suggest that just 30 minutes of deep yoga nidra can be equivalent to 2 hours of deep sleep.
The practice is designed to guide the practitioner through restful brainwave frequencies, namely alpha and theta frequencies that support creativity, reduce depression, and promote happiness.
Here is a quality guided yoga nidra practice that you can start right away. The first time I tried it, I was able to obtain a theta brainwave state which supports sleep and very deep meditation!
Thich Nhat Hanh, the world-renowned Buddhist activist and author, wrote a life-changing book titled Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. In it, Hanh teaches how one should live through a very simple, yet revelatory quote:
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
Walking meditation is the mindfulness technique that helps us secure joy in the seemingly mundane. When literally walking and practicing mindfulness our surroundings transform and the mundane becomes detailed and beautiful.
But walking meditation for a Buddhist encompasses mindfulness practiced off of the meditation cushion. Along with walking, this could include washing dishes, hanging laundry to dry, and spending time with family.
The key to walking meditation is to be completely present with whatever you’re doing. Tap into your senses and think about how that dish feels in your hand or how precious your son looks trying to throw a baseball.
Walking meditation is the practice that truly encompasses the age-old saying: “Life’s about the little things.” The practice will make the practitioner realize another insightful thing Hanh says:
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on Earth.”
Box breathing is a mindfulness technique that promotes more immediate results. It also benefits the body on a very physical level.
Box breathing is the simple act of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath on the top of the inhale for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, and then holding your breath at the bottom of the exhale for 4 seconds. Along with that, diaphragmatic, “belly breathing” is utilized. For that, simply breathe in through the stomach and bottom of the chest as opposed to the top of the chest. Research shows that this form of breathing decreases cortisol levels while increasing attention.
Box breathing is a powerful tool for establishing a center quickly while decreasing stress on a physical level. It has proven so powerful, that people in stressful professions from police officers to navy seals use the technique in times of uncertainty and adrenaline-inducing scenarios.
Have you tried karma yoga?
I heard about this practice through a friend whose life it changed. He was dealing with drug addiction and wanted to try something that would give him a fresh start by ending his addictions.
My friend decided to attend a karma yoga retreat without learning much about what karma yoga actually is. He thought he’d be spending hours in meditation and downward facing dog.
Upon arrival, he was given a work schedule that included cleaning the retreat premises and cooking food. Soon after, he discovered that his entire retreat was based around this work and serving others. He was surprised, yes, but later grateful at how the practice of karma yoga changed his life and ended his addictions.
Karma yoga is the practice of service to others. This mindfulness technique grows the seeds of compassion present within all of us. When the seeds of compassion grow, we are no longer controlled by fear. Instead, we lead lives through love and service. Our own problems become smaller in the process.
Saying “thank you”
Gratitude is becoming the top mindfulness hack. Studies are compiling and revealing that being grateful increases mental health.
A popular option for practicing gratitude is keeping a journal and writing what you’re grateful for morning and night. This practice has the power to reshape how we think and process our realities throughout the day.
Having conversations with others about what to rejoice in is also very effective. Exchanging discourse about what we’re grateful for really engrains a new way of seeing into the brain.
I’ll venture to call saying “thank you” is the most powerful mindfulness technique because it holds immense potential for reshaping our realities.
A positive perspective not only makes us happier, but abolishes stress and anxiety. Through it, we see how our lives continue to be abundant no matter the circumstances of a given scenario.
Want to start a gratefulness journal? Begin here and connect with other like-minded individuals.
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