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Simple Ways To Practice Mindfulness Everyday

Life in 2019 involves being constantly bombarded with stimuli and distractions. As wonderful as technology is, an ironic side effect is that being so connected to our devices can leave us feeling more disconnected in real life- from ourselves, our world, others, and the present moment. Many of us also experience quite a bit of noise and stimuli in our own heads. We spend only a fraction of time “living in the moment,” and spend most of it dwelling on the past, worrying about today’s problems, or making to-do’s for the future. All of this activity can make it hard to slow down and feel truly engaged in life.

Practicing mindfulness can help us do just that- slow down and be present in our daily lives. You may have heard of the term “mindfulness” and have wondered what it means. It has gotten a lot of buzz in recent years, for good reason, but has actually been practiced for thousands of years, originating in Eastern philosophy and religion. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique” (www.dictionary.com).

At a fundamental level, being mindful involves paying attention to our present moment experience with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. As we do this, not only can we be more engaged in our lives (and consolidate meaningful memories), but we can also respond to our lives more intentionally. This allows us to intentionally act instead of reacting. In other words, when you are tuned in to your present experience, you can choose how you respond to it, rather than simply responding on autopilot. A deep mindfulness practice involves an awareness of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. However, when starting out practicing mindfulness, it is easiest to start with simple observations involving your senses. Here are 5 simple ways to be start practicing mindfulness today:

1.    Attend to your surroundings in everyday life.

Connect to your world around you by simply observing it. Engage with your surroundings as if you are experiencing such a place for the very first time. Take yourself through each of your senses, noticing things you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel in your surroundings- the architecture of the buildings, the sounds of the city, the scent of crisp air, etc. As busy thoughts come into your mind, notice the mind has wandered and gently bring your attention back to simply observing your surroundings. Truly taking in your surroundings aids in memory consolidation. 

2.    Take 1 minute mindfulness breaks.

Carve out one minute breaks throughout your day to simply sit and breathe. The most effective way to do this is to set a timer for 1 min, close your eyes, and focus solely on your breath. Nothing else. Notice the sensations as your chest rises and falls, and feel the chair/ground beneath you as you breathe. If you notice your mind start to wander away from the breath, simply let go of those thoughts and gently bring your attention back to your breath. It is ok for the mind to wander, that is what minds do. Simply bring your focus back to the breath. You can do this just about anywhere, and even 1 minute of mindful breathing can do wonders in regard to relieving stress during your work day. 

3.    Engage in mindful walking.

As you walk down the street, instead of texting or responding to emails on your phone, put your phone away and pay attention to the physical sensations in your body as you walk. If you can, walk slowly so that you truly notice all of the sensations that come with as simple an act as moving your feet. Notice what it feels like to raise your leg, swing your foot in front, and place it back down again. Feel the floor beneath your feet as you make contact. Notice how your clothes feel moving against your body. Pause in between each step and take a breath. Mindful walking connects you to your own body and helps you gain more appreciation for what it does for you every day.

4.    Practice mindful listening.

All too often, we listen to others with the intent of responding (or reacting) rather than to simply listen and engage. We also get caught up in our own mind chatter mid conversation – making judgments about the person speaking or what they are saying, preparing what we want to say next, or faking listening so that we can move on to the next thing. This behavior leads us to feel disconnected from others. We can combat this by practicing listening with solely the intention of hearing. As you notice yourself making evaluations, judgements, or crafting a response, simply let go of those thoughts and attend back to what you hear. Rest assured that you can pause after the person has spoken to form a response. For now, simply listen.

5.    Mindfully eat.

Eating is one of life’s most simple and wonderful pleasures, but all too often we do not slow down to fully enjoy our food. Eating mindfully can help you reclaim the pleasure of food, feel more satisfied, and it has been linked to a variety of health benefits such as aiding in healthy digestion. Practice mindful eating by simply starting with one bite of food. Say, for example, you are eating grapes. As you sit down with the bowl of grapes, turn off all distractions and tune into the experience. Hold the grape in your hand and notice what it looks like. Feel the texture of the grape in your hands. As you put the grape inside your mouth, notice the sounds as you bite down. Attend to the sweet smell of the juice. Taste the different complexities of the grape. Be fully present in the moment with the experience of eating by going through all 5 senses.

By Annie Garrett, PsyD

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Annie Garrett