Mindfulness is not just a buzzword; it’s a scientifically proven practice recommended by medical professionals, yoga teachers, and most likely a handful of your friends or colleagues.
But what exactly do people mean when they talk about practicing mindfulness?
Is it a meditation technique, a self-care practice, or a quality we should seek to explore?
If you’re confused by mindfulness or unsure how to implement it into your life, this article is for you.
We’ll explore what mindfulness is, how it can benefit us, and how to practice it. I’ll give specific methods for implementing mindfulness in your everyday life that don’t require waking up earlier or finding additional time in your schedule.
I’ll also share some common obstacles you may encounter and how to overcome them, so be sure to read until the end!
Before exploring the different mindfulness techniques, let’s look at what mindfulness means, where it comes from, and why we should practice it.
Definition and Origins of Mindfulness
While it sounds like a simple concept, most of us rarely (or never) practice mindfulness.
Most of the time, we unconsciously focus on the never-ending thoughts our mind produces, and as a result, we don’t notice simple things like the objects around us, what our partner just said to us, or even the fact that we are breathing.
Mindfulness gained popularity in the Western world during the 21st century. However, it is not a new practice by any means. In fact, it is believed to be around 2500 years old, originating from ancient Eastern Vedic traditions, including Buddhism.
The concept of mindfulness traces back to the Pali word sati, mentioned in several ancient texts, meaning awareness, attention, or alertness.
The Science Behind Mindfulness
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh first brought the Eastern concept of mindfulness to the Western world in the 1970s. As the interest in mindfulness grew, researchers began to turn their attention to this practice. Many scientific studies have now been carried out on mindfulness and its benefits.
For example, one study examined how mindfulness changes our brains by undertaking an eight-week mindfulness intervention in 81 older adults. It found that mindfulness has long-term effects on the brain in terms of increased ability to sustain attention and can even reverse age-related mental decline.
Other studies have examined the link between mindfulness and anxiety. They all found that practicing mindfulness can reduce worry and rumination and increase emotional regulation.
Biggest Benefits of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Increased concentration and reduced anxiety are just two benefits of mindfulness proven by science. Let’s explore the other key advantages of cultivating a daily mindfulness practice.
1. Improved Mental Clarity
The more we practice mindfulness, the more self-aware we become. We can notice our thoughts and feelings and observe them without judgment. This skill allows the “mental fog” to clear from our minds, allowing us to think clearly and react to things with careful consideration.
Moreover, researchers have found that mindfulness meditation can make us less reactive to stressors as it strengthens the part of the brain associated with responses to stressful or negative situations. Thus, mindfulness helps us both think and react from a calmer, more aware mental state.
2. Improved Decision Making
With a clear and focused mind, we can see situations from different perspectives. This reduces uncertainty and confusion and allows us to make confident and assured decisions.
Mindfulness research has found that people who practice mindfulness can identify decisions that need to be made earlier than those who don’t. They also possess more creative problem-solving skills because they can gain information and perspectives from multiple sources.
How to Practice Mindfulness
There are various ways to practice mindfulness, most of which you can easily include in your daily routine. Here are five popular techniques.
1. Mindful Breathing
One of the simplest ways to become more mindful is to increase your awareness of your breath.
The idea of a mindful breathing practice is to bring awareness to your breath throughout the day. This has been shown to:
- Increase calm feelings
- Reduce mental activity
- Strengthen your ability to focus
- Promote muscle relaxation
- Lower blood pressure
Mindful Breathing Techniques
I’ve found the best mindful breathing technique is to combine observing the natural rate of your breath and consciously lengthening it.
First, become aware of your natural breathing. Breathe in and out of your nose, noticing the sensation of your belly and chest rising and falling. Feel the cool air entering your nostrils as you breathe in and the warm air exiting as you breathe out.
After a few minutes of following your natural breath, gently lengthen and retain the breath. Inhale for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds.
You can do these mindful breathing techniques anytime and anywhere, including at your work desk, on your commute, or while waiting in a queue.
2. Mindful Eating: Bringing Awareness to Meal Times
Nowadays, consuming meals while watching TV or scrolling through your phone is standard. When we do this, there is minimal awareness of the food’s taste or how it makes us feel.
Mindful eating means eating intentionally and with full awareness. Thus, practicing mindful eating increases our enjoyment and overall dining experience. We can also better distinguish between foods that feel nourishing and satisfying and those that don’t, leading to better food choices.
In addition, we become better at noticing signs of being full, reducing overeating or food wastage. So if you tend to overeat, mindful eating can improve your health and help you lose weight.
How To Practice Mindful Eating
To practice mindful eating, eat slowly and intentionally, taking small bites and savoring the food before swallowing. Connect to all your senses as you eat, smelling the food before putting it in your mouth, then noticing the taste and texture as you chew.
Some people also like to practice mindful breathing just before eating as it brings them into the present moment. In addition, you can take a few moments of reflection to think about where your food comes from and express gratitude for it.
3. Cultivating Mindfulness Through Gratitude
In our goal-driven society, we are often too focused on the future. While striving for a better life is essential, fixating on the future can detach us from our current reality and the present moment.
Likewise, we often stay stuck in the past, replaying events and conversations we regret or wish to change. As we cannot go back and change things, ruminating on past events is unproductive and unhealthy. Plus, when our mind is in the past, we lack awareness of the present moment.
Gratitude is a simple yet highly effective practice to bring ourselves into the present moment and change our perspective. It encourages us to focus on the good things in our life rather than the bad, shifting our attention from what we want to what we already have.
Practical Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily
Practicing gratitude takes just a minute or two each day. I like to record my gratitude in a journal, but thinking about what you’re grateful for can be just as beneficial, boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety.
Get into the habit of writing down (or thinking about) three or more things you are thankful for daily. Your gratitude can include recent events, people, pets, pleasant conversations or interactions with people, an act of kindness someone did for you, or even just having your basic needs met. However, try not to choose the same things over and over again.
4. Becoming Mindful Of Your Surroundings
Mindful observation means noticing the things around you. This could be maintaining focus on an object or bringing full awareness to the things around you as you walk in nature.
Mindful observation is a highly calming and de-stressing activity. It can help to take your mind off problems and challenges by prompting you to pause and breathe.
If you choose to observe natural surroundings, the benefits are even greater. Looking at nature has been proven to balance the nervous system and boost immune functioning.
Mindful Observation Techniques
My favorite mindful observation technique is to observe nature as I walk or hike. Rather than focusing on one thing, you look around and take in the vibrancy of nature.
The first time you take a mindful walk, you will realize how much stuff you usually are unaware of. You suddenly see the many shades of green in the trees and spot wildlife you’ve never seen before. Of course, when you find a state of presence like this, your other senses enhance too. You may hear the crisp sound of leaves under your feet and smell freshly cut grass.
5. Becoming Mindful Of The Origins Of Your Thoughts
One key aspect of mindfulness practice is developing the ability to observe your thoughts without judging them. As regular mindfulness practice increases self-awareness, we not only notice our thoughts and feelings more, but we also understand whether we are thinking for ourselves or not.
Many external factors can determine our thoughts and feelings. These include the people we spend time with, the TV programs we watch, and the music we listen to. Specifically, the news, advertising, and social media significantly influences how we think and feel, installing fearful and anxious thoughts into our minds.
Many people do not realize that the thoughts in their minds are due to the influence of something external. But the more we practice mindfulness and observe our thoughts, the more we understand where our thoughts are coming from.
Techniques for Mindfully Evaluating and Responding to Outside Influences
Evaluating the origins of your thoughts requires you to go within and connect with your values and beliefs. Spending 10 minutes or so each day sitting silently and observing your thoughts will help you do this.
However, note that you should simply observe your thoughts, not judge them. When you notice a thought arising, ask yourself, “Is this something I truly believe?” I find journaling on that question a good way to explore it deeper.
Incorporating Mindfulness Into Daily Activities
Mindfulness should be part of your everyday life, not something you practice now and again. And what’s fantastic about mindfulness is that it is easy to incorporate into your daily activities, as you don’t have to stop what you are doing to practice it. Here are some easy ways to live more mindfully.
Start Your Day Mindfully
Every successful person agrees that how you spend your morning determines how the rest of the day goes. But this doesn’t mean you must build a 2-hour magical morning routine involving yoga, ice baths, journaling, meditation, and a HITT workout.
Instead, bringing mindfulness to your usual morning activities will set you up for a joyous and prosperous day.
Avoid grabbing your phone and checking your emails as soon as your alarm goes off. Instead, take a few moments to connect to yourself by bringing awareness to your breath and checking in with how you feel.
For most of us, showers are when we run through our mental to-do list or worry about our big meeting that day. However, showers can serve as mini meditation when you mindfully approach them. To do this, bring full awareness to the sensation of the water hitting your skin, the temperature, and the aroma from your shower gel. Then as you wash, focus on the feeling of your hands touching your skin.
As mentioned earlier, we should seek to eat mindfully and intentionally rather than stuffing our faces as we reply to emails or rush out the door. Ensure you have time each morning to sit down and eat breakfast. Remove all distractions, such as leaving your phone in another room and turning the TV off. Use these few minutes to fully experience and enjoy the pleasure of eating before entering the hectic workday.
Driving to Work
Rather than seeing your commute as an annoyance and waste of time, use it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and connect within. Whether driving, on a train or waiting for a bus, you can practice mindful breathing as described above.
Mindfulness While Working
While cultivating mindful mornings will benefit the rest of your day if you want to extend those benefits further, bring mindfulness into the workplace.
Get into the practice of checking in with your body every hour. This is particularly important for those working at a desk for long hours.
Set an hourly alarm, and pause whatever you are doing each time it goes off. Take 30 seconds to breathe deeply, notice how your body feels, and make any adjustments needed to increase your comfort levels, such as fixing your posture or taking a quick stretch.
Overcoming Challenges in Practicing Mindfulness
Like all healthy habits, sticking to our mindfulness practice can sometimes be challenging. However, as consistency is crucial to reaping the many benefits of mindfulness, it’s essential to know what common obstacles may come up and how to overcome them.
Common obstacles in practicing mindfulness
According to mindful.org, the five common obstacles to mindfulness practice are:
- Doubt – This is common when you begin your mindfulness practice and realize it is harder than it seems. You may question whether you are cut out for it or whether it is really worth it.
- Restlessness – Whether it’s a busy mind or physical tension distracting you, it’s common to feel restless when trying to be present.
- Irritation – Restlessness can lead to irritation and make us want to give up. External factors such as noise can also create irritation during our practice.
- Sleepiness – When we feel fatigued, finding the discipline to do our practice is extra challenging. Plus, as mindfulness is a soothing practice, we may worry that it will tire us even more.
- Wanting – This can vary from hunger cravings to a desire to stop and go to do something ‘more productive’ instead.
Expert tips to overcome these obstacles
So, how can we move past these obstacles and stay consistent in our mindfulness practice?
Firstly use overcoming these unwanted feelings or thoughts as a mindfulness practice itself.
- Observe the mental or physical sensation without trying to explore it. Remind yourself that it is just a thought or feeling, not a fact.
- Avoid judging yourself for having this thought or emotion; instead, allow it to enter and then let it go.
For example, if it is excessive thoughts you are struggling with, visualize each thought as clouds in the sky. Watch each one enter, pass through your mind, and then leave.
Another way to approach these obstacles is to practice breathwork beforehand. Using a breathing technique like square breathing will distract your mind from excessive thoughts or unwanted feelings while soothing your nervous system and relaxing your body. This will bring you into a calmer mental state to begin your mindfulness practice.
Resources for Practicing Mindfulness
There are many helpful resources for starting and maintaining a mindfulness practice. Firstly, if you want to learn more about mindfulness and the different techniques, I recommend reading The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
You can also find many guided mindfulness practices on Youtube and mindfulness meditation apps like Calm, Headspace, and Buddhify. They all offer free content or free trials, so you can try them out before committing to any memberships.
I hope this article has cleared up any confusion you had around mindfulness and shown that it is totally possible to be more mindful in your everyday life. Mindfulness is a practice that can benefit us in many ways, and it doesn’t cost any money or time. So which mindfulness technique will you be introducing into your life first?
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