Mindfulness has been somewhat of a trend in the recent years, and there’s a good reason for that! Research has shown that practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can improve mood, concentration, and relationship satisfaction, as well as reducing stress and pain levels. Brain imaging shows that a regular mindfulness practice can decrease the size of the part of the brain that causes the fight/flight/freeze survival response, which tends to be overactive in trauma survivors. Integrating the practice of mindfulness into your daily routine is one of the simplest ways to find relief from emotional distress.
So what is mindfulness, anyway? At its core, mindfulness is about non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. We can be mindful about all sorts of things: our breath, our bodily sensations, the sights and sounds around us. When many people picture mindfulness, they see an image of someone sitting in contemplative meditation– while that is certainly one way to do it, mindfulness can also be active! We can mindfully eat, walk, crochet, or just about anything else you can think of. Although it is rooted in Buddhist meditation practices, mindfulness as a skill is separate from any religious or spiritual traditions, and can easily be implemented as part of a daily self-care routine.
Here are 8 simple ways to get started on a mindfulness practice today.
1. Mindful Breathing
This is one of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness, because you can do it pretty much anywhere and at any time. All you have to do is shift your awareness to your breathing and keep it there for at least one minute. Start by breathing slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your breath flow naturally and easily. Notice the sensations of the air as it moves through your airways, and of your lungs inflating and deflating with each breath. As your attention wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
2. Mindful Walking
Walking meditation is another easy way to implement mindfulness into your daily routine. Rather than walking mindlessly from place to place, bring your attention to the physical movements involved with walking. Notice the sensations of your feet on the floor, the weight of your body, the swing of your arms, the rocking motion as you move from one leg to another, and whatever else your senses are aware of.
3. Mindful Observation
Choose an object in your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. Bring all of your awareness to the object you have chosen and don’t do anything except notice it. Look at the object as if you are an alien and you are seeing it for the first time. Explore it visually and describe every aspect of it to yourself. Allow yourself to relax into watching it for as long as your concentration allows you to.
4. Mindful Awareness of Thoughts
Imagine that your thoughts are like leaves floating on a stream, or clouds passing in the sky. As you notice a thought coming into your mind, imagine placing the thought onto a leaf or a cloud and watching it pass. Noticing your thoughts and letting them go, without getting “stuck” on them through judging or evaluating them, is a helpful practice in reducing worry and stress.
5. Mindful Eating
For many people, multitasking while eating is the norm. Rather than eating while distracted, whether by watching tv or just spacing it, try focusing intently on eating. Pay attention to all of the sensory experiences of the food you are eating– appearance, taste, texture, and smell.
6. Mindful Listening
When we hear sounds around us every day, we tune them out. Bring your sense of hearing into your mindful awareness- what can you hear around you right now? Another way to do this is to put on some music and listen intently to it for a few minutes. Try to really hear the music without thinking about whether you like it or not, what it reminds you of, or what the lyrics mean to you. Listen to each sound and analyze it neutrally and non-judgmentally.
7. Mindful Immersion in Tasks
We have many routine tasks that we rush through every day, so that we can move on to the next thing more quickly. Instead, try using mindfulness to experiencing fully in a way that you never have before. If you are cleaning, bring your full attention to every detail of the task you are working on. Feel the movements in your muscles as you vaccuum the floor, the sensations against the skin of your hands as you wash dishes. When you are taking a shower in the morning, take a moment to pause and mindfully experience it.
8. Mindfulness Apps
There are a number of apps out there now can make the regular practice of mindfulness even easier! Free apps like Calm, Aura, and Stop Breathe & Think contain instructional information about how and why to practice mindfulness, as well as short guided meditations to help you through the process. Headspace is another very popular app that is subscription-based, and has hundreds of meditations and mindfulness exercises to choose from, including a number of themed meditations specifically tailored for topics such as improving sleep or reducing stress. For many people, scrolling through a social media app is a way of coping with stress or distracting from difficult emotions– try downloading one of these apps instead, and spend that time building a valuable skill that will help with symptom reduction overall.
Mindfulness practice takes just that– practice. It may not be easy at first, but that’s ok! With time, the practice of mindfulness will become second nature.