A guest post from Janet Miller
You don’t have to be a Buddhist (or a hippy) to practice mindfulness, and you don’t have to spend hours sitting on the floor in meditation. Practicing mindfulness is simply bringing awareness to yourself and your existence. By practicing mindfulness in your life, you can feel more focused, less stressed, and more happy. Here are eight ways to introduce mindfulness into your life.
1. Mindful Breathing
The breath is a common object of meditation, and a great way to be mindful of your body’s natural rhythm. Try focusing on your breath at least once a day. This can take the form of dedicated meditation time, but you can also be mindful of your breath while lying in bed, driving to work, or exercising. Pay attention to the rhythm of your breathing, and the feeling of the air in your lungs. As distracting thoughts drift into your mind, try to gently push them away, and let the breath occupy your mind. This practice is a great way to improve focus and self-discipline through mindfulness, and it can be very relaxing.
2. Mindful Eating
Don’t worry, you don’t have to become a vegan, or radically change your eating habits in order to be mindful, but it can be rewarding to approach your food from a mindful perspective. Put some thought into the foods that you choose, and how your body feels depending on your diet. Learning to interpret your body’s reactions is an important step on the path towards mindfulness.
When life gets busy, and your responsibilities start to consume your free time, it can be easy to let meals slip through the cracks. We often eat meals in a frantic rush to get out the door, planted in front of the T.V., or behind a desk at work. Try setting aside time to enjoy your meals without distractions. This might mean waking up a half-hour early, or pausing the T.V. before you dig in, but when you focus on eating, meal time can become a source of joy, and a relief from stress.
Journaling is celebrated for its many benefits to mental health, but it can also be a helpful exercise in the pursuit of mindfulness. Writing in a journal on a regular basis is a great way to foster internal dialogue, and to map out your distinct perspective on life. Journaling can take a variety of forms, but for many people it is helpful to develop a sense of privacy. Your journal should be a place where you can transcribe your thoughts without filtering them through your insecurities or social influences.
4. Appreciate Silence
With music and video just a few clicks away at any moment, the silent moments in our lives are growing smaller and smaller. Silence can be scary, and we often feel a need to “fill the space” with conversation, music, or noise, but silence can be healthy for your mind, and can promote mindfulness and relaxation. Try switching off the radio on your drive to work. You might find that you enjoy the time alone with your thoughts.
Andy Warhol once said, “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” This serves as an appropriate mantra for the mindful life. Many of the chores and tedious tasks that fill your day can be great opportunities to practice mindfulness. When you’re folding clean laundry, try to put off idle thoughts and worries, and focus intently on the feeling of the fabric, the colors, or the smell of warm clothes. Mindfulness can make otherwise tedious chores into moments of relaxing meditation.
Starting your day with a brisk walk or jog can be an excellent way to bring mindfulness to your life. The cool morning air refreshes the senses, and time outside keeps you connected to nature. Pay close attention to each part of your body, and feel your muscles waking up. Exercise helps to wake up our brains, and keep us focused throughout the day. It also provides an opportunity to meditate on your breath. Instead of putting in headphones, you might enjoy listening to your breath, and focusing on the sensation in your muscles and your lungs.
7. Immerse yourself in Nature
Many of us would benefit from a deeper connection with nature, and the natural cycles of weather. This can be as simple as enjoying your morning coffee outside, instead of at the kitchen table, or rolling down the windows rather than cranking up the air conditioning. Instead of hiding from the weather, make it an object of mindfulness. Savor the feeling on warm summer sun on your skin, and taste the crisp air of a winter morning. Spending more time outside is a great way to reduce stress and stay healthy.
8. Make Time for Reflection
It’s easy to let life get cluttered and busy. Responsibilities like work, school, and social groups tend to soak up free time, and produce stress. While it’s important to devote time to these concerns, it is also crucial to leave space in your schedule for free time, relaxation, and mindfulness. For some of us, free time often feels like wasted time, and stress always seems to find a way into our relaxation. Try taking small breaks throughout your day to consciously push out worries and stress. This could be a great opportunity to meditate on your breath, clearing your mind of your worldly thoughts.