Mindfulness has a way of sounding complex. I’ll be the first to admit- it can be a hard thing to practice in the midst of our busy lives, and a tumultuous world. But that doesn’t mean we need it any less. I work with many people who wait to slow down until their vacation, or until the weekend. They say they’ll slow down when things get better – when there’s time, money, or energy for it.
Mindfulness really is simple – it doesn’t need money, it needs very little time, and has a way of focusing the mind and body in a clear, simple way. Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting in silence for 20 minutes, or burning incense, or having an empty mind. I love this quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” With a little bit of intention you can integrate mindfulness into your everyday life, in a way that feels natural, nourishing, and good. Here are 7 tips to get you started:
- Build mindfulness into routine activities. A great way to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life is to make it part of your routine. Pick a place or time during your daily routine to take a moment to pause and pay attention. Some ideas: when you wake up, while showering, getting dressed, while commuting, waiting for the elevator, while drinking your tea/coffee.
- Keep it short and sweet. Nothing stifles an attempt to integrate mindfulness into everyday life like the belief that “it has to be 5 (or 10 or 20) minutes long”. It’s better to take 3 breaths at a red light twice a day, than to sit in silence for 10 minutes every other week. Mindfulness can be as simple as noticing your shoulders, seeing if there’s any tension there, and giving yourself a moment to take a deep breath. How long does that really take?
- Notice 3 things around you. This is where the paying attention part comes into play. Pause right now – what 3 colors do you notice? What 3 sounds do you hear? List them silently to yourself or write them down. (I noticed the colors pink, brown, and gold & the sounds of plumbing upstairs, the clicking of my keyboard, and the hum of the fridge).
- Notice 3 things about yourself. Our lives often pull us externally from ourselves. So look inwards for a moment. What does your shirt feel like on your skin? Are you clenching your jaw? Can you take a deep breath in and out? Is there tension anywhere in your body? Can you soften it? Is your mind relaxed, or are there lots of thoughts moving through?
- Mindfulness while eating. When was the last time you noticed your food? Take a moment at your next meal – What does it taste like? What are the textures? Can you see the steam rising off your hot meal or drink? See if you can eat/drink without also being on your phone, even for 2 minutes.
- Mindfulness while listening to music. If you listen to music regularly, it can be a wonderful and natural way to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life. Choose a piece of music and allow yourself to listen deeply without doing anything else – Notice your breath. Notice your feet and your head – this will help you feel more grounded. Notice if you want to move or be still. Be in the present moment with the music, whether it’s a piece you’ve heard a thousand times or a brand-new one.
- Be gentle. Building the habit of integrating mindfulness into your everyday life will take a bit of time. Notice if you speak harshly to yourself when you pay attention to your thoughts and notice mental clutter, or when you forget to practice your mindfulness while eating one morning. Are you judging or criticizing yourself? I often encourage clients to cultivate an attitude of “oh, that’s interesting” in response to self-criticism. It may feel a little ridiculous at first, but this is a way of acknowledging your feelings without dismissing them – a key aspect of mindfulness.
Maya Benattar, MA, MT-BC, LCAT is a music therapist and psychotherapist in New York City. She helps women uncover and understand what's holding them back, while nurturing creative and powerful growth in relationships, work, and everyday life. Get Maya's free guided relaxation audio to pause the hustle and change your life: http://mayabenattar.com/