Mindfulness is one of those wellness buzzwords that is frequently tossed around, and with good reason. Numerous studies have shown it can lead to profound changes in both the mind and body.
To the uninitiated, however, the concept can sound vague, even intimidating. Sure, it's all about cultivating focused awareness in the here and now... but how?
"While there are many benefits from formal meditation, you can easily reap the rewards of mindfulness by simply adding short periods of practice to your daily life," Charlene Richard, a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, writes in an e-mail to The Huffington Post.
"We often go through the day on autopilot, checking things off our to-do list while the mind is off somewhere daydreaming, worrying or wallowing in a string of stressful thoughts," Richard adds. "Practicing mindfulness during the day will allow you to wake up and pay attention to your experience. It will pull you out of autopilot and put you back in your life." Here are four extremely simple ways to get started.
"In three seconds, anyone can get back into the body," Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Unplug Meditation, the Los Angeles studio offering drop-in guided meditation classes, tells HuffPost.
"Three," she emphasizes.
How? Take a breath. "The breath is something that is with us all the time -- we breathe something like 21,000 times a day -- but we pay zero attention to it," Schwartz says. Pausing to focus on what it feels like to breathe in and then breathe out can instantly snap your mind back to attention, she explains.
If you want to go deeper, give yourself five minutes ... or 10. "A good way to get started with a mindfulness practice is to do a short, five-minute guided meditation on a daily basis," Richard says. "It is helpful to learn how to focus our concentration on something like your breath before you begin to focus your concentration on daily activities."
2. Establish your own "lip balm" technique.
“It is helpful to attach mindfulness to something you do regularly. This will help you remember to practice,” Richard recommends. “For example, I’ve attached mindfulness to putting on lip balm, which happens approximately five times per day.” When she reaches for the balm, Richard takes a few deep breaths, tuning into its smell and texture, as well as what it feels like when it goes on her mouth. Likewise, Schwartz has a friend who does a "mascara meditation," tuning into her movements, the color and the feeling as she moves the brush through her lashes.
It doesn’t have to be cosmetic, of course. Just “pick an activity you do regularly and attach mindfulness to it,” Richard says. Then be consistent, so it becomes a true practice -- however small.
3. Use daily drudgery to your advantage.
No one likes to be stuck in traffic or in line at the supermarket, but it happens to each of us -- in some form -- daily. Schwartz challenges her studio clients to continue building their practice by using those otherwise frustrating, mindless moments to their advantage. "If you're stuck in traffic and you're freaking out, breathe in for five, exhale for five," she suggests. Her studio also teaches a breath-focused standing-in-line-at-Starbucks meditation. Or, if you prefer, simply tap into the sights, smells and sounds around you.
"Try and take something that is normally a waste of time and be aware of it," Schwartz says. "That's it. That's the whole gig. And don't judge it. Don't be like, 'This is stupid.' Just focus your attention and when you notice your mind wandering, bring it back."
4. Really relish anything sensory.
Eating is a natural fit, according to Richard (and -- bonus! -- being mindful about it may result in overall healthier food choices).
"Look at the food closely, see the shapes and colors. You can smell the food before you put it in your mouth," she urges. "For just one slow bite, pay attention to the texture of the food, the different flavors and how it feels in different parts of your mouth before you swallow."
The key is to recognize those small, daily moments that inherently grab and engage your senses and that generally make you feel a sense of pleasure, such as listening to music or washing your hands in warm running water. Then pay extremely close attention to them.