Therapy asks that clients in recovery spend a good amount of time dissecting and processing past events. Similarly, it asks that clients consider the possibilities for their future, taking the time to prepare and make plans in order to prepare a safe route in sobriety.
The secret to successful living in recovery, however, is to learn how to live in the present moment, being mindful and aware of your surroundings and actively releasing obsessive thoughts over the past and worry over the future. This can take practice and time, but it is well worth the effort, helping to lower overall stress levels and manage acutely stressful situations when they arise.
Here are just a few ways you can begin to incorporate mindfulness practice into your life and recovery starting right now:
Just stop. No matter where you are, stop what you are doing and take a look around. Notice how the air feels. Notice the smells. Notice where your clothes come into contact with your skin. Just be for a moment and let all thoughts on anything but your current surroundings pass. That’s it – that’s all you need to do to practice mindfulness.
Focus on your breath. Notice how your breath feels filling up your lungs, how it feels to exhale. If you like, you can control your breathing, taking a deep breath in, holding it for a few counts, and exhaling longer than the inhale. This can help you to practice mindfulness, and it can also serve to slow the autonomic system and help you to feel calmer naturally.
Sit and focus. For many, mindfulness starts with a meditation practice. This is just what it sounds like: sitting still, quietly, often with eyes closed or looking at a focal object like a candle, just breathing in and out and allowing thoughts to pass without notice. Starting with just five minutes a day and working up to 10 minutes or more has been shown to help people manage their stress, sleep better, and feel more clearheaded.
Take a walk. If you feel that sitting still is not working for you or if you would like to expand your mindfulness practice beyond your meditation cushion, you can try taking a mindfulness walk. Choose a natural area for your walk like a park, a beach, or a wooded location, and go alone, allowing your thoughts to pass just as you do in seated meditation. Focus on the how the air feels and smells, the sound of the wind in the trees or the rolling waves, and notice the small details of how the ground feels beneath you. Be aware and present, and avoid retreating into your thoughts as you walk.
Eat mindfully. When you eat, instead of eating hurriedly or doing other things during your meal, you have the opportunity to practice mindfulness by thoughtfully preparing a plate that focuses on nutrient-dense, non-processed foods and sitting down to eat. The idea is to fully focus on the act of eating, chewing each bite, tasting your food, and being present. This empowers your mindfulness practice, and it can also help to ensure that you are eating foods that will help your body to repair itself and that you are not eating beyond fullness.
Do a body scan. It can be helpful to stop and check in with yourself throughout the day and mentally do a body scan. Start at your feet and work your way up slowly, noticing anywhere that there is tightness or pain. Consider your mental state and note how you are feeling. Notice if you are hungry or tired. If you can, in that moment address whatever issue you uncover; stretch or move to relieve pain or discomfort, rest if possible if you are tired, and eat something healthy if you are hungry.
Practice mindful conversations. When you are talking to someone, do you often find that you are only half listening? Do you focus instead on judging the content of what they are saying, thinking about how they might be judging you, or preparing for how you will respond? When being mindful, focus solely on what they are saying without judgment – it simply is what it is, neither good nor bad – and then take a second to process your response before speaking.
Mindfulness is all about finding new ways to be actively and presently in the moment. How will you incorporate mindfulness practice into your daily life?