Mindfulness on the go: Integrating mindful awareness into daily activities
Research has consistently shown that mindfulness practice has a positive impact on psychological health, with numerous therapeutic benefits including reduced symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety and chronic pain. While many of us recognise the benefits of mindfulness and strive to live more consciously, we don’t always make the time to include mindfulness meditation as part of our daily routine. Often this is because we find meditation difficult, and it is human nature to put off the things we find most challenging.
Anyone can learn to meditate, but it requires ongoing practice, takes time and may not be easy. Your mind will most certainly wander and one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness practice is suspending the inevitable judgement that arises when this happens. Typical negative beliefs include thinking you are not doing it properly or are not any good at it. Individuals new to the practice often feel they just can’t meditate.
Perseverence is the key. Over time and with regular practice, you can learn to just notice and accept these thoughts without buying into any negative judgements. Start with just 5 minutes a day and perhaps experience with different apps and media to see what works for you. You might prefer to listen to someone talking, to music or chanting, or to just be silent. Choose a location that feels good to you and remember to sit (or lie) comfortably.
There are benefits to regular mindfulness practice, even for just a few minutes a day, however if you are struggling to make time, and find yourself putting it off, try integrating mindfulness into an everyday activity. We have listed some ideas below to get you started:
Practice mindful eating
Try eating your next meal or snack mindfully. Observe the colour and texture of the food on the plate. If you are using cutlery, pay attention to the weight and feel of the knife, fork or spoon in your hand, and the experience of cutting into the food. As you take your first mouthful just notice the flavours on your tongue. Perhaps different parts of your tongue experience the tastes differently. Try not to let judgement creep in. If you find yourself having an opinion about the food, whether it you like or dislike it, or wish it had been prepared differently, just bring your attention back to what you observe or notice about the meal. For example, it might taste salty, sour, tangy or sweet. The texture might be chewy, soft or crunchy. Be curious about the experience and see what unfolds.
Eating mindfully will ultimately provide a greater appreciation and enjoyment of food. Taking the time to chew your food properly also has the added benefit of improved digestion, and as we now know, a healthy gut is important for good mental health.
Take a mindful shower
Taking a shower is a daily ritual for most of us, but how often do you pay attention to the overall experience? The next time you take a shower try to notice each part of the process; the feel of the taps on our hands and fingers when you turn on the water, the spray of water on different areas of your body, the pressure and temperature of the water, the silky feel and smell of lathering soap, and the sensation when applying it to your body. Pay attention to the sound of the water, observe how it mixes or bubbles with the soap, and watch how it drains away. Again, be conscious of any judgement that might arise (whether you are satisfied with the pressure and temperature, or whether you wish you could stay in the shower for longer) and try to be curious and connected with the experience.
Connect with the outside world
The next time you take a walk outside, whether you are going to the local shop, to the train station or taking kids to school, try to observe and connect with the natural world. Notice trees, flowers and other greenery. Observe patterns, shades and colours on pathways, walls, gates and buildings. Pay attention to the feel of your feet as they connect with the ground, the feel and movement of your body as you walk, the temperature of the air, and sensations such as breeze or warmth on your skin. Also notice any smells, perhaps stopping to get closer to any flowers or blooms you may pass. If you practice this exercise on a regular basis you will begin to find everyday walking a more enriching and connected activity
Tune in to music
The next time you listen to your favourite song, stop and give it your full attention. Close your eyes an immerse yourself in the experience. Listen to the rhythm, beat, pitch and tone of the different sounds, voice(s) and/or instruments. Notice how your body feels, any emotions that you might experience, and any changes to your overall mood. Again, try to suspend judgement here and just try to be open and curious about what comes up. You may also notice new or different aspects of the song that you haven’t been aware of previously, adding a new dimension to the overall experience.
Be mindfully mundane
How often do you find yourself resisting or putting off tedious and mundane chores? Or just getting them done as quickly as possible so you can focus on something more interesting and exciting? Try completing some of these activities mindfully. For example, when washing up, pay attention to the feel of the warm, soapy water on your hands as you immerse them in the sink. Observe the texture of the bubbles, the feel of sponge or cloth as you wipe things clean, and the look and sound of the water as it drains away. The next time you have to stand in a queue at the post office or supermarket, take a moment to look around you, and take everything in; the people, patterns on the floor or carpet, any other décor, the arrangement of product on the shelves etc. Notice any resistance that may arise and then try to divert your attention back to the present moment. With a little creativity and practice, mundane activities can provide valuable opportunities to integrate mindfulness into everyday life.