By Kira M. Markoff, LCSW-C / www.o-books.com
Mindfulness is not a religious practice. As much as anything else, Mindfulness and Me: A Practical Guide for Living is a myth-buster for misperceptions about mindfulness. Let’s get some of those out of the way first. Mindfulness is not a religious practice. It is and always has been a tool used to be more intentional, regardless of what the intention is. The bottom line is, in order to live, connect, and make intentional decisions then you have to actually be present in your life. That is all mindfulness is. A set of practices to help you be present in your life. Which leads us to the second myth. Despite what pop psychology is telling you, mindfulness does not only lead you to pleasant and comfortable experiences. Life can be unpleasant sometimes, and when you’re present in your life then it’s going to feel yucky sometimes. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It just means you’re human. Mindfulness, while sometimes leading to uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences, also provides strategies for managing those experiences. Okay, now that we’ve got the two biggies out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
With something for everyone, Mindfulness and Me: A Practical Guide for Living appeals to both the mindfulness novice and those who have already begun their journey to live in the moment. How does one book do all that, you ask? The answer: layers from modern psychology, mental health treatment, and traditional philosophies woven together in bite size chunks along with each daily practice. Kira M. Markoff, LCSW-C is a mental health therapist, certified trauma professional, psychology PhD student, and trained yoga and meditation teacher. Though these worlds seem at odds, Kira brings out themes such as connection, intention, and empowerment which surpass the surface level differences. In Mindfulness and Me, mindfulness tools are not just for relaxation, but are also a tool for personal empowerment and connection with self, others, and the world. Mindfulness is a tool for healing.
We’ve all spent our whole lives forming the habits that are present in our lives today, and most of the times those habits developed without our awareness. Sometimes those habits are even developed as part of a trauma or survival response when we’re in an unsafe environment or relationship. Most of the time, those survival responses are actually helpful long term, but we keep them anyway. Psychologists have spent a lot of time studying the way that behaviors are shaped, and one thing is clear: the more you do something, the more you create the habit of doing it. The more you drive, the easier it is for you to drive. Literally, the networks in your brain get more refined and activate more quickly and easily. The same is true for thoughts, feelings, and reactions. If you’ve developed the habit of reacting in anger, it’s going to take more than one or two tries to respond from a place of peace and clarity. That’s why Mindfulness and Me has 8 weeks of daily practices. Habits take time to create and strengthen – especially when you’ve spent years doing something else!
Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your belly fill with air. Pause and notice what’s like to be full. Breathe out slowly through your nose and feel yourself emptying. Pause and notice what it’s like to be empty. Make you want to try it a few times? Go for it! The difficult part about mindfulness is that it’s experiential. What that means is, you can know what mindfulness feels like just by hearing someone talk about it or by reading about you. You can only know what mindfulness is like if you try it out for yourself. I can tell you all day long that mindfulness is being present with your breath, your body, and the world around you, but what does that actually feel like? More importantly, how is that different from what I’m already doing? Well, you have to try it to find out, and not every mindfulness practice is going to click. That’s why Mindfulness and Me includes 56 different practices. The practices are broken down into 8 weeks and each week has a different focus like sensory grounding, breathing techniques, body-based practices, and so on. This allows the reader to try out a variety of mindfulness exercises with some guidance on the what and why of it all. Best of all, each practice only takes about 5 minutes – although of course you can extend it if you want to!
Much likes apple slices with peanut butter, mindfulness is delicious and nutritious. You’d be shocked at how pleasant it can be to just sit, breathe, and notice. Honestly, just bringing in a little more peace and comfort into our lives is probably all the sales pitch you need, but wait – there’s more! A primary function of mindfulness is building the practice of self-monitoring and self-regulation. These are just fancy psychology terms that just mean that you are watching – in real time – the way that you’re body is feeling and making any necessary adjustments. Consider this: someone says something to you that causes some irritation. Pretty typical Tuesday, right? For most of people, that leads to physical tension (face, jaw, shoulders, lower back, knees) and an emotional reaction sometimes accompanied by some words in response. Now, imagine hearing those same words, breathing into your belly, relaxing all your muscles, and internally wishing them peace and comfort. Maybe you say something, maybe you don’t. Your energy is a precious commodity. You should get to decide when and how much to spend.
Whether we like it or not, we’re connected energetically with other people. Someone’s grumpy? We feel it. Someone’s happy? We feel that too. Other peoples’ moods affect us and there is simply no denying it. In psychology, mental health, and traditional philosophies, there is always talk of connection. In fact, the word ‘yoga’ means connection (or unity) and one hallmark of trauma is the physical, mental, and social disconnection that it causes. Humans are social creatures. We literally crave connections. Mindfulness is a tool for supportive connection. You have to be present to connect. You have to feel some level of emotional and physical safety to connect. Mindfulness and Me: A Practical Guide for Living is not simply a handbook for mindfulness practices. It’s a guide to healing through connection with self, others, and the world.
Mindfulness and Me: A Practical Guide for Living By Kira M. Markoff, LCSW-C is available from www.o-books.com and from wherever books are sold.