When you hear the word mindfulness, what do you picture? The reality is, your response will vary greatly based on your environment, culture, and experiences. Generally speaking, mindfulness can be traced back to several eastern religions and philosophies, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christian mysticism.
Mindfulness means to pay attention to what is happening internally and externally in the present moment.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness does not need to be complicated and ambiguous. Here’s a helpful analogy by Thich Nhat Hanh, beloved Vietnamese Buddhist monk, from his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
The message is clear. Grounding yourself in the moment enables you to truly live and experience life for what it is, and every moment is worth grounding yourself, including mundane tasks like washing dishes. This is, of course, much easier said than done, and we can find ourselves immersed in distractions all day long.
Here are three practices to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life:
Surya Namaskar, or sun salutation, is my absolute favorite way to increase mindfulness on a daily basis. It consists of 12 powerful yoga poses and synchronized deep breathing, repeated however many times you’d like. I typically do 26, while those with more experience can do up to 108. It’s certainly tricky at first, but soon you’ll find yourself in a meditative flow, albeit a sweaty one! It’s especially life-giving if you can face the sunrise or sunset as you go through the practice.
The way we eat impacts how well we intake nutrients and digest our food. If you rush through your meal, or eat while distracted, you can run the risk of eating outside the optimal amount for your body. The next time you partake in a meal, try engaging your senses:
- Observe your food with sight. What colors are present on your plate? Is your food glossy, matte, or textured? Does it have an interesting appearance?
- Smell your food. Take a deep inhale and notice the aromas at play. Does it smell smoky, spicy, or sweet? Is there a combination of various aromas?
- If you’re open to touching your food with your fingers, what does it feel like? Is it mushy, hard, slippery, or crumbly? How does it interact with your eating utensils?
- Try listening carefully to your food before you take a bite. Can you hear it sizzling or bubbling? Take a bite and notice how it sounds as you chew.
- Taste your food. Much like the practice of smelling it, can you notice different flavors and how they interact? Is it hot or cold?
Deep Breathing at Night:
Night-time can highlight anxiety and restlessness in many people. The quiet can be deafening, and letting ourselves relax and trust the safety of our environment before we sleep can be difficult. We may find ourselves attempting to distract ourselves with screens, endless scrolling, or other outlets. Deep breathing at night can be a useful tool to increase mindfulness and decrease anxious thoughts. One deep breathing exercise that has benefited many people is 4 x 4 breathing.
4×4 breathing (also known as box breathing) is slowly exhaling for 4 counts, holding your lungs empty for 4 counts, slowly inhaling for 4 counts, and holding the air in for 4 counts. Repeat.
Yoga, mindful eating, and deep breathing are just a few ways to practice mindfulness. Overall, mindfulness is a lifelong skill that will allow you to reap countless benefits in life, including within your relationships, career, and overall health. However, it is important to note that the benefits of mindfulness will remain surface level if you do not examine your internal motivations for greater consciousness.
If you’re interested in being guided through a more mindful life, I’d love to meet you and hear your story. Give us a call about setting up an appointment today!
Written by therapist Ruth Nathaniel