Mindfulness is a buzzword in the health and wellness community, but translating it into our own daily routine is easier said than done. Our #MindfulMornings series takes a deep dive into what mindfulness means to the yoga and meditation gurus hosting Quiet Mornings, a mindfulness-plus-art series taking place the first Wednesday of each month this year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Their experience with mindfulness and meditation may help you define it for yourself.
EVERUP: What does mindfulness mean to you?
SARA: Mindfulness means to be fully aware of the present moment. Mindfulness as a meditation practice can help us to tune in to our life in order to experience it more fully.
When did mindfulness become something that you actively tried to practice and why?
In a way I was forced into it. When I was 23, I broke my back in a traumatic accident and suffered from chronic pain. The pain was a constant reminder to be mindful of how I sat, walked, got dressed etc. Through yoga and meditation I began to shift my relationship with the pain by becoming more aware of choices and actions moment to moment.
How did you go about incorporating it into your routine and practicing it daily?
I had to create boundaries for myself in order to stick with a daily meditation practice. For instance, I don’t look at my phone until after my morning practice. Of course mindfulness extends beyond that throughout the day; not engaging in any other activities while I’m on a call and taking regular short breaks from work for example.
Did you encounter any roadblocks or struggles when first attempting to be more mindful? Was it hard to cultivate?
I don’t think I ever “attempted” to be more mindful. For me, living mindfully came from a consistent meditation practice. As a result of my daily practice, I am able to access a pause before I react or respond to something or someone in my life.
Can you remember your first experience with meditation? What was it like?
I do remember my first formal meditation experience. The whole time I was wondering if I was actually meditating and when it would be over, all while both of my feet were falling asleep.
What are some other ways that you actively cultivate and practice mindfulness?
Mindful listening is a very important practice to me. Living in New York City you are surrounded by sounds. When I’m in transit, I use these sounds as a practice by listening without judgment and observing what responses or reactions might be triggered by particular sounds. Being able to remain calm when horns are honking and sirens are screaming, pretty much feels like a super power.
What effects did you see on your mental and physical health, productivity and/or creativity as you made mindfulness and meditation a part of your daily life?
I notice more clarity of thought and decisiveness. This leads to more productivity and creativity and assists in making better and more health-conscious decisions. Taking the time to sit and connect with myself helps me to understand myself and my values, what’s important to me and how I want to express that. In this observation I am able to gain different perspectives, helping me to be a better listener and more compassionate person. For me it’s about finding a neutral, steady, internal baseline so that I’m able to access ACTION in place of REACTION.
What do you think is the most common misconception about meditation?
“I’m not good at thinking about nothing.”
Many people think meditation is all about not having any thoughts. They have a hard time doing this, and feel like they’re “bad at” meditation as a result. Instead, meditation is about setting time aside to guide your mind. It’s a peaceful, yet active process. You’re not sitting back with a blank mind; instead you’re softly moving your mind towards more awareness, consciousness and choice.
If someone is completely new to meditation and has reservations about giving it a try, do you have any tips or tricks that made it easier for you?
Start small. Make a commitment to sit and pay attention to your breath for 1 minute each day. Do it before you do anything else. Slowly build to 2, then 5, then 10 minutes, etc. If this is challenging, try it with music or sound. I have recordings of music designed for meditation; short tracks available on Soundcloud and longer versions at SaraAuster.com
Give us your 30-second elevator pitch for why we should all be making mindfulness (whether it is in the form of meditation or another daily practice) a part of our daily routine, and actively trying to cultivate it.
I think we all want to enjoy life more fully and that has definitely been possible for me through meditation and mindfulness. Although different practices work for different people. My hope is that each person can figure out what it is that brings them joy or peace and access that on a daily basis, even if only for a few minutes. When we feel happy, healthy and balanced, those around us will be inspired to achieve the same.
Sara Auster is a certified Sound Therapy Practitioner and meditation teacher based in New York City. She has been a driving force in bringing sound meditation and sound therapy to contemporary culture.Using holistic approaches to healing with the transformative power of music and sound, Sara’s carefully crafted personal instruction allows her students and clients to use sound as a tool to support, access, and cultivate deep relaxation. In New York City, Sara collaborates to create sound for The Big Quiet, regularly teaches at MNDFL, and offers sound events at venues such as The Rubin Museum, New York Society for Ethical Culture, Lincoln Center and Summer Stage in Central Park. Sara co-created the Mindful Music + Sound Series at Tibet House in 2014, and serves on their associate board.
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