Many people ask me how to start a meditation practice or how to be mindful. The key is to improve the mind-body connection and to increase awareness. The way to do this is to wake up your senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Many of us are so caught up in our thoughts, we don't even notice the world around us. We miss the beauty of the sky—the brilliance of its colors, the mystery of the clouds. We don't even hear the birds around us singing. 

Mindfulness has been defined as 'paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non- judgmentally,' by Jon Kabat-Zinn. One of the best ways to increase attention is to heighten sensory awareness. When we are aware of what is happening now, both within us and around us, we are grounded in the present.

Here's a favorite exercise I offer my students to learn how to be mindful and to prepare to start a meditation practice.

I call it "Circling through the Senses."

Start standing or sitting. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, feeling the body as the breath flows. Draw attention to the floor or chair beneath you. Feel the pressure of your body against it. Shift your weight gently forward and back and side to side. Settle in a balanced upright posture, feeling at ease. Notice all you feel through touch - clothing textures, air temperature, breezes, even breath in the nostrils.

Next, shift your attention to sound. Without strain, let sounds fall on your ears, open and hearing—sounds of humanity and sounds of nature. Avoid focusing on any one specific sound, but rather experience the symphony of sounds all around you. If thoughts or feelings come up, note it and return to sense observation.

Then, relax muscles around the eyes and softly open them, without fixing your gaze on anything in particular. Take in light, shadow and colors around you—the rich visual palette. Experience the variety of hues, the gradations of saturation. See if you can feel the warmth or coolness of the colors around you.

Return attention to the breath and open awareness to all of it—senses, thoughts, feelings—all that is happening in this moment. Be fully present, right here and right now.

For a 2-minute Guided Breath Awareness Meditation, check out my podcast here

For a video of me leading you through the exercise, check out my YouTube here

Shirley Archer

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