Mindfulness—It seems to be the topic du jour on everyone’s minds and mouths these days. It’s being integrated into popular culture with more frequency as more and more people gain an interest in healthy living and natural ways of well-being. Science has started to take notice of mindfulness, and it is being touted as effective treatment for everything from stress to weight-loss. But what exactly is mindfulness, really? Like many people, I wanted to practice mindfulness and knew it would probably be good for me, but I had this preconceived idea in my head about what it looked like in action. I used to visualize mindfulness as some sort of big production that involved finding the perfect spa-like atmosphere, breathing exercises, maybe a couple mantras thrown in for good measure, and so on. But the reality is that I was just too exhausted by daily life to find the time for all of that, and I felt guilty for not doing what I was “supposed” to do and frustrated that I wasn’t doing it “right.”
Now I realize I was making mindfulness way more complicated than it needed to be. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is simply the act of “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” That’s it! No need for chakras or yoga shrines or what-have-you (unless you want to, of course!). You don’t have to have perfect mastery over your thoughts, you just need to be aware of them. During a quiet moment, observe the thoughts and emotions that crop up and then let them pass, like watching clouds float by in the sky. When you find yourself getting distracted or thinking beyond the present moment, bring your awareness back to your most basic physical sensations, like the breath. So how do I do this, exactly? Keep reading for 7 practical ways to practice mindfulness in everyday life.
1. In the shower: The shower is the perfect place to practice daily mindfulness, as you have privacy and some peace and quiet. I treat the shower like my own version of cheap hydrotherapy; pay attention to the sensations of the water splashing over and down your body. Listen to the sound of the water raining on to the floor below. Breathe in deeply and let the steam clear your airways. Now is also a good time to do a full body scan. Start at your feet and working slowly upwards, pay attention to each and every individual body part. Notice what feels good, what doesn’t, and take stock of any aches and pains.
2. Brushing your teeth: Brushing your teeth feels like a chore, and it’s tempting to rush through it as fast as possible in order to move on with your day. But rather than frantically running through the house looking for your car keys with a toothbrush jammed in your mouth, try this instead: while brushing, make it a goal to completely and thoroughly reach every surface of every tooth. Imagine that your toothbrush is loaded with paint instead of toothpaste, and your mission is to coat every nook and cranny of your mouth with whatever color you’re envisioning. As a bonus, you’ll have a much happier dentist!
3. Applying makeup: Washing my face and applying my makeup has become a sort of calming, zen-like ritual I perform every morning. Like an artist with a blank canvas, I take special care to observe and pamper my skin (non-judgmentally, of course!). Pay attention to the smell and sensation of the lipgloss gliding over your lips. Carefully coat each and every lash with mascara. And if I’ve just painted my nails (leaving my phone in the purse!), I have no choice but to sit still and wait for the polish to dry, lest I risk instantly smudging all my hard work.
4. During the commute: You can’t control the traffic and other drivers around you, so why fight it? Instead of getting angry over the inevitable rush hour traffic, take advantage over this free time to be mindful. Put on your favorite song or listen to an inspiring podcast. Look around you and observe the surrounding environment that you’d normally ignore while you rush to work.
5. Doing the dishes/chores: This may sound crazy, but I actually don’t mind washing the dishes (don’t tell my husband!). It’s a time for quiet reflection and processing the day. Focus your thoughts on carefully and thoroughly cleaning each dish. Work your way through one fork at a time, taking an extra second or two to make sure everything is squeaky clean.
6. Cooking: Making dinner is another excellent time to practice your mindfulness– provided you aren’t totally starving already! Pay attention to the sights and smells that arise: the scraping of the peeler, the chopping sounds the knife makes on the cutting board, the sizzling of oil in the pan. Measure each ingredient with care, and be extra observant of the small changes in color and aroma that the food creates as it cooks. And when you’re ready to eat, remember to taste and savor your meal with mindfulness too!
7. Exercise: I’ve always said (not so jokingly) that my gym membership is a form of therapy. When you’re working out, be fully in the present moment– not thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner or how you look compared to others around you. This is your time to focus completely on yourself, and everything else can wait. Bring awareness to your breath and the physical capabilities of your body. Feel every stretch deeply and commit to giving every move your all.
See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Dumplings, how to do you incorporate mindfulness into your daily life?
Also by Sarah: Natural Beauty – Skincare for Changing Seasons
Related: I Tried It – Zen Meditation Sangha
Photocredit: RelaxingMusic via Flickr; Minoru Nitta via Flickr