Your meditation doesn't have to emulate the Buddha's 49-day retreat. Whether you think there's no time for a mindfulness meditation practice, or the concept of sitting in stillness is more daunting than restful, there are still ways to reap the benefits of the ancient art.
That's right -- you can manifest an informal practice within your daily habits. You don't have to change your routine all that much: All it takes is tweaking your intention.
Informal mindfulness practices are ones in which you pay attention to your moment-to-moment experience. These are "everyday actives of life that can support the cultivation of mindfulness," writes Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D. on Psychology Today. "When we engage in these activities, especially if we are willing to let go of distractions like listening to an iPod or playing the car radio, they give us the chance to tune into what is happening right now. We can pay attention to our sense perceptions, our emotions, and our thoughts."
Many successful people (like Oprah, Rupert Murdoch and even Arianna Huffington, to name a few) credit meditation for their razor-sharp focus, enviable level of productivity and bountiful amounts of creative juice. You, too can join this esteemed group of meditators without sitting cross-legged by candlelight. Here are a few ways to implement mindfulness into your everyday life.
Try Some Mindful Cleaning
Before you roll your eyes, think about the fact that you'll be killing two birds with one stone. Intrigued? Mindfulness coach and HuffPost blogger Patrick Groneman suggests a mindful dishwashing practice to do just this. "Yes, it's not very sexy," he writes, "but it can be a great chance to check in with our state of mind in the middle of our often-busy days."
If you're fortunate enough to have a dishwasher that does it all (except meditate, that is), consider turning your morning bed-making routine into a mindfulness practice. Your morning ritual probably already includes tucking in your sheets --next time, just add a genial dose of intention. Or, try a meditation while you vacuum (there's even a vacuum on the market that claims to help you find peace, but we think just an ordinary machine will do). Whatever chore you choose to transform into a head-clearing activity, just make sure you're doing it with purpose, and all of your attention on the task at hand.
[Be mindful] of the need to set the temperature before getting into the shower; mindful of the wave of pleasure as the warm water washes over you; mindful of the smell of the shower gel, soap or shampoo; mindful of the mind jumping forward, imagining conversations that have yet to happen; mindful of the amount of water you’re using; and mindful of the sound of the water coming to a stop.
Go For A Run -- Sans iPod
Sure, there's nothing like a kick-ass playlist to fuel your workout. But taking a break from your earbuds every now and again can help you keep a steady pace and become more aware of your body. You'll be more likely to engage all senses in what you're doing: You'll feel your feet against the ground and hear what's happening around you all the better without the distraction of any "Blurred Lines." Breathing in synch with the rhythm of your footsteps may also help you to regulate your breath, which could make you a stronger runner.
Take A Stroll Down Memory Lane
We mindlessly scan old albums on Facebook more often than we care to admit. Next time you decide to go down memory lane, click (or page through if you're holding an actual photo album) while accessing your conscious memory: Recall the person and moment in every photo, slowly. Savor your past: This practice will have you enjoying the memory a little bit more and appreciate your experiences.
Drink Your Morning Coffee -- Without Distraction Or Rush
Maybe your cup of joe is something you chug down while frantically searching for your keys for morning commute. It doesn't have to be this way: You can get more from your java than a jolt of caffeine if you choose to slow down. Life coach and Huff Post blogger Ora Nadrich describes a 14-step coffee meditation that will help you start your day with more presence. "Even if having your morning tea or coffee is at your local Starbucks or Coffee Bean, you can sit there -- although it may not be quiet -- using this meditation technique to transcend the noise or talking around you by focusing and concentrating on mindful drinking," she ensures.
Cook Something Using Heart And Attention
"As I make bread, I change. My thoughts go quiet. I come into the now," writes Amanda Cook, who has turned bread baking into a weekly meditation ritual. "Flour. Salt. Water. Yeast. As I push the warm, soft dough against my palm, I feel the cold stone countertop underneath. I feel my hips leaning up against the cabinets. I hear my breath inside my head."
Rather than whipping up something simply for the sake of filling a grumbling belly, use the experience to connect to what you are doing in the moment. The dish doesn't have to be complicated -- what's most important is that your choosing to be conscious of every step of the process. Click here to find a step-by-step practice for mindful cooking.
Write In Your Journal
With 24 hours in a day, it's not hard for the smaller, less catastrophic events to escape us. But it is exactly these little moments -- a nice smile exchanged with a stranger, finding a long, lost sock -- we might not save in our consciousness that can propel us forward and keep us optimistic. Whether you choose to record your whole day or scribble down a couple of things for which you're grateful, the act of writing in your journal can clear your head and make life feel more meaningful.
Our universe is a magical thing: Looking up -- whether at the stars or away from your phone -- is a perfect moment to be present. Take note of your surroundings: It might be the most simple way to practice meditation, all while appreciating beauty. What do you see, hear, feel, smell and taste? Go through all five of your senses individually, not judging, but just observing every sensation.
For more on meditation, click here.