Mindfulness can sound far more complicated than it actually is.
I like to describe it as being aware of what is happening as it is happening. Sounds simple? It is. But it isn't the normal way of operating in our busy lives -- we are far more likely to have a wandering mind. So it takes a conscious decision and practice to become mindful -- or present -- in the here and now rather than living in the past (remembering) or in the future (planning).
- Start small -- pick just one of these and do it for just two minutes
- But do it every day -- it's too random to do it three times a week or every second day for your brain to help you make it a habit
- If it doesn't seem to come easily at first, it helps to have a gentle and curious approach to it all so it isn't yet another reason to be harsh or critical of ourselves... so if you miss a day, just begin again, no one knows!
We are going through a bit of a mindfulness revolution at the moment, as everyone catches on to the mounting evidence of its benefits to our health and well-being. There are many easy ways to begin to bring mindfulness into your day, and as you do so, you will become more motivated to make it a way of life that helps you become more grounded and more connected to yourself, your surroundings and the people you love. So here are the five mindful things I do every day.
1. Waking Up
Who would think that something we hardly even notice ourselves doing could be such a useful mindfulness practice. It really is -- yet it can be an easy one for me to forget to do, because my habit of jumping straight into organizing my day in my head has been with me for such a long time. Waking up mindfully "sets the tone" for my day and reminds me of the value of being present.
- The first thing I do is deliberately notice that I am waking up
- Then I check where my brain is, in that moment of noticing waking up: Do I start a commentary about how little sleep I had last night or wishful thinking that I could just go back for a few more precious minutes? Do I leap into planning mode and start frantically trying to prioritize what to get done today?
- Whatever comes up is OK, I just notice it without judging or criticizing myself and then gently bring myself back to my intention to wake up mindfully. To be present here and now
- Then I take a few moments to quietly notice my breath in and out, gently scanning over my relaxed body resting against the bed and softly smiling
- My 5-year-old's version of this is to wake up and say "hello world!"
2. Islands of Mindfulness
When we interviewed Sarah Napthali for our mindfulness4mothers program, she introduced us to the idea of finding easy routine activities that can become mindful moments in the day. I have a short list of "go to" activities that now automatically remind me to pause and check how mindfully I am going through my day and use that activity as a way of fully focusing my awareness on what I am doing rather than being on autopilot or multitasking, neither of which are satisfying or get good results! So my "go to" list includes:
- Brushing my teeth
- Tidying up children's toys
- Even simply breathing -- with full and gentle presence
3. Eating and Drinking
If you saw how fast I can eat, you would think I went to boarding school and had to compete to get enough food. So for me, eating -- or drinking that lovely one cup of coffee a day -- is a golden opportunity to slow down and really register what I am doing. Years of study have also created bad habits of eating while I read or do research. So mindful eating is something I prioritize to develop a healthier and more satisfying relationship with food. I will write a longer blog on this practice alone but briefly, what this looks like is:
- Acknowledging my usual responses to food without self criticism
- Tuning in to my physical cues of hunger, thirst and sufficiency to guide my decisions about when to start and stop eating
- Choosing food that is both enjoyable and healthy and then actually tuning in to eating it slowly -- noticing it and savoring it rather than shoveling it down
- Drinking more water (did you know we often confuse hunger and thirst?)
- Eating smaller amounts more often and sitting to eat mindfully
4. Savoring Positives
This is another practice inspired by our interviews for mindfulness4mothers. Rick Hanson has a fabulous practice, included in our program, called Taking in The Good. And when we interviewed Barbara Fredrickson, pioneering researcher on the power of positive emotions, she reminded us that love, happiness and other positive emotions are fleeting and that if we want to get the most from them we need to really let them sink in and be a full body experience. Both Rick's practice of Taking in the Good and mine of Savoring Positives, reflect what we know about the good feelings in life - we need to be mindful and present to notice them and pause long enough to savor them. So that's what I do. For example I savor:
- All the hugs from my children
- The chats over breakfast
- The excited sharing of their news that bubbles up
- Even the cool air or bright sunshine around me
All are opportunities to feed my body and brain with health and happiness goodies -- as long as I notice them and mindfully tune in to the positive feelings they generate. There is more good news here: If I realize later that I have let one go past, I can recreate that positive feeling by remembering it and letting it expand and fill my heart and mind for at least 20 seconds to let my body chemistry do its job. Feeling grateful as I savor these positives helps me intensify the experience and its health giving qualities.
5. May You Be Happy
The latest addition to my daily mindfulness activities comes at the end of the day. I wrote about it in another blog and it is an absolute favorite. It is only a few minutes long but really cultivates peace, warmth and kindness for my children and for me every night as they are going to sleep.
They have always enjoyed a bedtime story and a little chat about whatever is on their mind, but now we also have a few moments of sending ourselves and others wishes for happiness, strength, health and peace as they settle down into readiness for sleep. I now leave their room with a small smile on my face and feelings of contentment and connection. It's really lovely and something I look forward to sharing with them, no matter what the day has been like!
I realize in writing this list that I actually do more than this most days, but these are the ones that happen reliably and infuse my day with mindfulness even when I don't have time for more substantial sitting practices like some of the ones I recorded for our mindfulness4mothers program. The return on my investment as a mother and for my own sake is what keeps me coming back. Like so many others who practice mindfulness, I have a greater sense of calm and contentment, greater enjoyment and engagement in my life, greater self awareness and self acceptance -- and for me a big one -- an increased ability to slow down and not get caught up in automatic reactions and busyness. All this is possible through cultivating a little quiet in my day. A few pauses. A little more mindfulness.