What Is Mindfulness? Here’s What Happened When I Tried It

BY Kaitlin Willow · July 18, 2017

walking barefoot on beach

Mindfulness is one of those buzzwords that has sort of lost its meaning over time. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Be mindful,” without actually knowing what it entails? So much more than a trendy word, mindfulness is a powerful way of thinking with mental, physical and emotional benefits.

I chatted with Tristan Coopersmith, Chief Inspirologist of Life Lab in Hermosa Beach, California—a women’s wellness studio dedicated to empowerment, healing and self-love. We met one morning in Life Lab’s “Zen Den” room to discuss mindfulness, meditation and making positive changes. We dug into some of the misconceptions surrounding the practice of mindfulness, the physical and mental benefits and how to incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily life.

As someone who can never turn off her brain, I was skeptical about whether mindfulness was something I’d ever be able to do. But Tristan, who is also a licensed psychotherapist, quickly dispels this way of thinking. “Mindfulness is not about stopping your thoughts,” she says. “It’s about quieting their power.”

What does all of it mean—being mindful and quieting the power of your thoughts?

What Is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is being aware of the moment without a compulsion to change it or needing it to be something different,” explains Tristan. And while you can’t not think—“thinking is a reminder that you’re alive,” she says—you can decide what to do with your thoughts. We have a tendency to let our thoughts control us, to want to change what we see. She gives me an example: “It’s kind of hot in this room right now. I can simply notice that or I can wonder, ‘Is Kaitlin hot, too?’ or, ‘Maybe I should do something about it.’ Instead, I just accept it as an observation, as a thought, and move on without any attachment.”

Mindfulness is also “giving yourself permission to do one thing at a time,” Tristan says. She explains how harmful it is to be multitasking all the time. When you’re trying to do two things at once, she says, “you’re not present in either one—not to mention you task the brain since it isn’t even designed to do two demanding tasks at once.” In the above example, if Tristan were to focus on those thoughts, she wouldn’t be present in our conversation.

Dispelling a Few Myths

Mindfulness is only for yogis.

Though it’s often practiced by yoga enthusiasts, Tristan emphasizes that anyone and everyone (even children) can benefit from mindfulness. “Mindfulness is for anybody,” she says. “I started practicing with my son when he was six months old,” she adds.

It takes too much time.

Tristan notes that the biggest objection she hears about mindfulness is that you have to dedicate a lot of time to the practice. “You can do anything mindfully,” she says, “from doing the dishes to taking a walk along the beach. You can benefit from one minute of a mindful practice.” She even suggests I try being mindful while driving later that day. “Be aware of five things on your drive home. What do you see? What do you hear? What’s the weather like?”

I’m doing it wrong.

“The only wrong way to do meditation is to not do it at all,” says Tristan. Let yourself be present in whatever moment you’re in—whether you’re sitting still or taking a walk in the fresh air. If something’s not working, Tristan suggests to experiment and try different things. “Think of it like working out,” she says, “except you’re ‘working in.’” Just like you could find your workout niche in spin class or weight training, you can find your mindfulness niche by trying new approaches.

I’m too busy to be mindful at work.

If you think you’re too busy to practice mindfulness, you probably need it most! Similar to taking a coffee or smoke break in the middle of a workday, Tristan urges you to allow yourself to take a mindfulness break. “Our brains just can’t keep up with technology and constantly being on all the time,” she says. “You need to take a second to reset so you can come back refreshed and ready to focus again. It’s like a restart from your inner computer.”

Mental Benefits of Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is about letting yourself be present in the moment. Tristan explains that this can lead to:

  • Increased concentration
  • Improved communication
  • Decreased reactivity
  • Increased productivity and creativity

Emotional/Spiritual Benefits of Mindfulness

Tristan explains that mindfulness helps us control our own emotional experiences. “A peaceful mind leads to expanded awareness and acceptance of our feelings leading to more compassion for self and for others,” she says. Other benefits include:

  • Relief from depression and anxiety
  • Increased confidence, patience, tolerance
  • A greater love for and acceptance of one’s self

Physical Benefits of Mindfulness

It makes sense that mindfulness would have positive effects on our mind, but it has plenty of physical benefits as well. Tristan notes some of these:

  • Boosted immune system
  • Reduced stress (learn about the stress-skin connection)
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced chronic pain
  • Increased sleep quality and energy levels
  • Slowing down of the aging process

Read more about the anti-aging benefits of mindfulness and meditation.

How to Ease Into the Practice of Mindfulness

If you’re a mindfulness newbie, like myself, Tristan offers a few tips:

  1. Take a meditation class. This can help dispel any myths you might have heard about the practice.
  2. Disconnect from technology. Try taking a walk without your phone to distract you so you can focus on the movement of your feet, the air on your face, the color of the sky.
  3. Start small. “A quality two-minute session is better than thirty minutes of frustration,” Tristan says.
  4. Be patient! Learning how to be mindful is a process. “Think of it like skin care,” says Tristan. “You don’t get clear skin the first time using a new cream.”

To demonstrate just how simple mindfulness can be, Tristan leads me through a short, guided session. I take off my shoes and sit on the floor with my legs crossed and eyes closed, hands resting on my knees (palms down, to help me feel grounded, Tristan explains). She talks me through a few different mindfulness and meditation techniques. I focus on breathing: inhale, exhale; follow a trail from the top of my head to my toes with my thoughts; focus all of my energy on something I need more of in my life; and visualize a positive scenario in my mind.

Afterward, Tristan asks what the most difficult part of the session was for me, which was keeping my eyes closed the whole time. I felt my eyelids twitching as I forced them shut and found myself focusing too much on that feeling. “Don’t close your eyes, just direct your eyes to the floor with a soft, undistracted gaze,” Tristan instructs for my next attempt. Again, she emphasizes how there’s no wrong way to be mindful: “If you’re feeling uncomfortable, try something else,” she says.

I had other thoughts during these few minutes—about the cars driving by, whether Tristan could tell if my eyelids were twitching, what I was going to do at work later that day—but I tried my best to just notice them without attaching judgment and move on.

I’m definitely not a pro yet, but I am trying to be more mindful each day and giving myself permission to just be.

If you take anything from my experience, let it be this:

If I—an anxious, type-A personality, who basically lives in her head—can do it, so can you.

Kaitlin Willow

Kaitlin Willow is a Content & SEO Analyst at Dermstore. She lives and breathes words—both inside and outside of the office. Apart from writing or editing blogs and emails for Dermstore, she's also working on a ... Read More >