It has become so easy to speed through life without noticing our surroundings or even our own actions. We go through our daily routine on autopilot. Even with the slower pace of life the pandemic has brought to many, electronic distractions have increased. Maybe you now have kids at home that make it seem as if you can't hear yourself think. If you have experienced this lately, it's time to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.
Some easy ways to incorporate mindfulness in your everyday life are meditation, journaling, and breathing. One of these methods to mindfulness should make it possible for you to be more mindful whether you are eating, working, or running errands. Even if you've tried one of these methods in the past, another one just might work better for you. And as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect.
It is best to be alone in a quiet place to really practice any of these mindfulness techniques. Even stealing away to run an errand, walk around the park, or even stepping into the backyard can provide a reprieve from the busyness and opportunity for mindfulness.
Obviously, breathing is critical to your body's functioning. It distributes oxygen to all your body parts and greatly affects blood pressure, heart rate, cognitive ability, alertness, and stress reaction. However, it can also be so much more.
Controlled breathing such as breathing exercises can increase oxygen levels in your body. It can also serve as a kind of meditation.
Achieving mindfulness through breathing exercises is a simple process, but there are many options:
- Deep breathing. Sit up straight. Simply breathe in and out deeply while focusing on each breath.
- Box breathing. Sit up straight. Exhale all the air out of your body. Inhale slowly for a count of four. Hold your breath for a slow count of four. Exhale for a slow count of four. Hold your breath for a slow count of four again. Repeat as many times as you like.
- 4, 7, 8 breathing. The 4, 7, 8 breathing technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold your breath for 7. Slowly exhale for 8. Repeat for a total of 4 times.
Many times a lack of mindfulness is due to a busy mind or even a desire to avoid thinking too deeply about a given subject. Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts on paper and bring your thoughts in focus. As with breathing and meditation, there are several techniques.
- A stream of consciousness type writing style might be the most helpful. Simply put your pen to the paper (or fingers to keys) and do not stop writing for a given amount of time (start with a few minutes). It does not matter what you write about. Even if you are writing that you don't know what to write!
- Guided journaling is especially good for beginners. There are books specifically geared toward mindfulness that include writing prompts (usually daily).
- Traditional journaling is usually what we all think of when we think of writing in a diary. It logs the events of the past day or week and then reflects on it. For mindfulness, this type of writing should be tweaked to reflect what is happening currently. Simply describe what your 5 senses are taking in or how you feel emotionally. What do you see around you? What do you smell right now? What sounds do you hear? How does the pen/pencil feel in your hand? Do you taste anything (maybe tea you are drinking or the lunch you finished)?
Mindfulness and meditation are closely linked. It is perhaps the most popular method of practicing mindfulness. There are many different types of meditation. It is not as scary or mystical as many people think.
Zen Meditation is also known as Zazen meditation. This type of meditation focuses on awareness without a specific object.
Posture and breathing are important. The above breathing exercises would be very helpful in preparing for Zen meditation if you are new to it.
This type of meditation involves the "thinking about not thinking" idea that many associate with meditation. While actively trying to think about nothing is a fool's errand, Zen meditation uses several techniques to train the practitioner to do so without as much struggle as you may think.
Zen meditation may not bring mindfulness during meditation. But an after-effect of doing Zen meditation in the past (even the recent past) is almost certainly increased mindfulness.
This type of meditation involves focusing on an object. The very practice is an exercise in mindfulness since it brings you into the immediate present. Some Zen meditation practitioners also use object-focused meditation. You may be familiar with a meditation using a candle flame-this is an example of object-focused meditation.
The object you choose should be stationary or have a slight pattern to its movement (as the flickering of a candle flame would). It might be even more helpful to focus on an object that holds meaning for you such as a favorite piece of jewelry or a beautiful work of art. I don't recommend a picture of a person as it tends to evoke more thoughts about the person than the picture itself.
You have probably seen someone in the movies meditating by repeating the sound, "OHM." This is mantra meditation. Any sound or word can be used in this method of meditation, but a simple one that can easily be repeated is best. I recommend you try several different words or sounds before settling on one.
Mindfulness is Part of Your Future
All of these practices are fairly mobile and can be done at least partially in a short amount of time. You may not reach nirvana through a few minutes of meditation on your lunch break, but it should increase your afternoon mindfulness. That may be just what you need to get through the last Zoom call of the day.