Nonjudgmental Mindfulness Practice in the New Year

By Ann Brand, PhD

January is that time of year we embark on our radical plans for self-improvement. We look at ourselves with dismay, berate ourselves for mistakes and poor choices made in the past year, and come up with a long list of the ways we are going to eat healthier, be more fit, get organized, and improve our flaws. We charge ahead with this ideal in mind, ready to take on the new year. And then by the end of January, we are right back where we started, failing to meet our lofty expectations and kicking our self for blowing our New Year’s resolutions once again. It is an all-too-familiar cycle. Mindfulness practice is one way to interrupt this painful cycle. Mindful awareness can support us in making wise, healthy changes that we can sustain throughout the new year.

Change begins with awareness. We must first pay attention to our present experience, so we can see clearly what needs to change. That means seeing our experience as it is right now, not how we would like it to be. It is difficult to look at the unskillful patterns getting the way of well-being. We might see the ways we are not taking care of ourselves and the well-worn patterns behind our unhealthy habits. Perhaps we drink too much when we are anxious, or eat when we are lonely, or consistently put others’ needs before our own, leading to emotional burnout and poor health. Mindfulness practice supports us in staying present to our experience without judgment. We can see our unskillful patterns with kindness and gentleness instead of the harsh critic of self-improvement. With this clarity, we can make wiser changes that will support us in meeting our goals in sustainable ways.

Change is difficult. Our habits and patterns are engrained, and we are likely to slip up along the way. Maybe we are seeing our goals for the new year as a way of punishing ourselves for past failings. When we make a mistake in meeting those goals, it reinforces this self-punishment, sabotaging our efforts. “See,” our inner critic says, “you will never stop smoking, lose weight, run that marathon,” and then we give up. Mindfulness practice cultivates the awareness needed to keep us out of our judging, reactive mind, allowing us to stay present to our experience with kindness. We can then make a wiser choice to move forward in the face of an obstacle. Maybe the initial goal we set was too big to start with, and instead of giving up, we can see clearly how to readjust to support our long-term well-being. Mindfulness practice fosters the willpower we need to compassionately begin again when we make a mistake.

Maybe your first intention for the new year is to cultivate nonjudgmental present moment awareness through the practice of mindfulness. Try reading a book like Real Happiness by Sharon Salzburg or take a mindfulness class, all in support of changes that lead to sustainable, healthy habits for the year ahead.

Ann Brand, PhD, is a mindfulness meditation teacher and lecturer at UW–Stout in the School of Education. She teaches mindfulness classes in Eau Claire at The Center and can be reached at annbrand365@gmail.com.

Late Summer Calls Us to Mindfulness

by Ann Brand, PhD

The practice of mindfulness is beneficial year-round, but let’s look at how it can be relevant in late summer.

Mindfulness in Late Summer

As the summer winds down to a close in August, many of us must shift from the carefree days of summer with little to no schedule (or a schedule that changes each week) to the organization of the school year. For some, this is a challenging transition. Our capacity to be present to our experience is critical, whether it is embracing school shopping or mourning the loss of casual evening driveway gatherings with the neighbors. A regular mindfulness practice helps us cultivate that present moment awareness, so we don’t fast-forward through the last days of summer to the business of the school year in our head.

 

Mindfulness Tools

A daily mindfulness practice of mindful breathing or mindful movement helps us cultivate awareness of our habits and patterns. For example, we notice when we are getting caught up in the to-do list in our head and not paying attention to the laughter of our children as watermelon juice runs down their chin or we hear the sounds of the band playing in the park. A regular practice helps us to show up to the moments of our life as they unfold.

 

Mindfulness and the Season

Each season has its unique joys and challenges. And it depends on the person to some extent. For me, the advent of a new school year is like New Year’s Day. I review my priorities, set goals, maybe even set some resolutions to be more organized, more productive, or eat healthier. I love the school year for the structure it provides to my daily life. But for others, the structure of the school year is confining rather than comforting. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our own particular habits and patterns, so we can respond skillfully to our experience.

 

Learn from the Children

Children are naturally mindful. They are in tune with the full range of their experience—the movements of their body, the sounds they are hearing, their emotional experience. They are much less likely to get stuck in the story in their heads like us adults. So we can take a page from their book and pay attention to what are we doing right now, whether that is feeling the sand between our toes or carefully sorting through last year’s school clothes to prepare for school shopping.

 

Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Because of advances in neuroscience, scientists can see how mindfulness practices work to change our brain and lead to benefits in physical health, stress reduction, attention, learning and memory, positive emotions, empathy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness practice can help us manage our stress and bring calm, clarity, and peace into our daily lives.

 

Mindfulness is a self-awareness practice. And when we get better at paying attention to our own experience, we get better at noticing others’ experience. This is important as our family members begin to anticipate the beginning of another school year with its excitements and fears. When we listen and notice without judgment, we can respond to others more skillfully and support them in the best possible way. This paves the way for a smoother transition to the new school year.

 

For more information contact Ann at annbrand365@gmail.com.

Spring Is a Good Time for Mindfulness

by Ann Brand

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is present-moment awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the researcher responsible for bringing mindfulness practice into Western medicine, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness practice is now part of many disciplines including health care, education, mental health, and business.

Mindfulness practice is a mental training. Using the power of our brain’s plasticity, we can shape our brains in positive ways. The more frequently we practice, the stronger the attention muscles in our brain become. The more we practice paying attention in this particular way, both through formal practice and mindfulness in everyday life, the better able we are to be present.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Because of advances in neuroscience, scientists are able to see how mindfulness practices work to change our brain and lead to benefits in physical health, stress reduction, attention, learning and memory, positive emotions, empathy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness practice can help us manage our stress and bring calm, clarity, and peace into our daily lives.

Why is the changing of seasons a good time to focus on mindfulness?
Any time of year is a wonderful time to cultivate our capacity to be mindful. That said, spring offers us the waking up of nature from the quiet sleep of winter. Nature is always in the present moment, and we can use the warm air on our skin, the singing of the birds, and the budding of the trees as anchors to the present moment. This supports us in the practice of being present and showing up to our life as it unfolds instead of the story in our head we are telling about our life.

Nature can be a helpful support to our mindfulness practice in the spring. Here are five things we can use to help us rest in the present moment:

  1. Feel the warm spring sun on your skin.
  2. Savor the taste of spring harvest from the garden.
  3. Breathe in the smells of spring—snow melting, damp earth, spring flowers.
  4. Listen to the sounds of spring-migrating birds, water flowing, kids playing outside.
  5. Open up our awareness as we walk outside, noticing when we get caught up in our thoughts and bringing our attention back to the sensations in our body as we walk.

Mindfulness practice helps us see that no matter how many times we are distracted from the present moment, we can begin again, just like nature starts over each spring in Wisconsin.

 

Ann Brand, PhD, is a mindfulness meditation teacher and lecturer at UW–Stout in the School of Education. She teaches mindfulness classes in Eau Claire at The Center and can be reached at annbrand365@gmail.com.