What exactly is mindfulness?
Jon Katbat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique describes it as “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.”That sounds pretty simple,” he continues, “but actually when we start paying attention to how much we pay attention, half of the time our minds are all over the place and we have a very hard time sustaining attention.”
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A myriad of benefits
While it can seem like a challenge at first, there are plenty of benefits to being more mindful – it can help with stress by decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, help you perform work and study tasks more successfully, even help with technology addiction, depression and result in brain changes that may protect against mental illness.
The good news is, you don’t need to block out hours of your day to sit cross-legged in the lotus position, you can achieve it just by paying a little more attention throughout your day.
Here are 11 every day situations you can practice being more mindful:
1. When you’re talking to someone
Ever talked to someone who isn’t listening to you, but instead waiting for their time to talk again? Truly listening to someone is one of the biggest compliments you can give – in fact, it’s one of the hallmark lessons in the self-help classic How To Win Friends and Influence People.
“Listening is the intentional choice to fully pay attention to the other person—from the tone and texture of their voice to their emotional state and body language,” says Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D, clinical psychologist. “Next time you ask your loved ones how their day was, make sure to really listen. Take in what they’re saying without projecting what you feel or expect onto their words. Remember how you feel when someone is actually listening. Offer that to others.”
2. When you’re eating
When was the last time you truly savoured your food, or even tasted it? We’re in such a rush to satiate our hunger that we take for granted what it has taken for the food to get to our plate. That apple you munched on for morning tea had to have the correct amount of sunlight, water and soil. Those carrots in your salad had to be transported, manufactured, and shipped. It had to be prepared.
It’s simply mind-blowing when you think about the amount of time, energy and resources that has gone into preparing our food – so appreciate it by eating slowly, and deliberately.
“Everything has a vibration,” says Executive Chef Martin Buchele from Spa Village Resort Tembok Bali, who practices vibrational cooking. “We are all energy, so if you want feel good, you have to put yourself into the vibration of feeling good. So if you want your food to not only taste good but absorb the maximum amount of nutrients, then you have to love your food.”
Practice mindful eating by saying thanks before every meal, paying attention to the taste and textures and really focus on the act of eating.
3. When you’re cleaning
Many of us are constantly on autopilot, caught up in the mundane. But there can be beauty in the mundane, with many experts saying that this can be the perfect time to practice mindfulness just by paying a little more attention to your daily activities while you’re performing them.
How? Well, take inspiration from the Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”
So when you’re washing dishes, vacuuming, or cooking, try and remain fully present.
Notice the sounds, the sights, the textures and feelings that are around you. If you find this a challenge, then take the advice of Jeffrey Brantley, MD, author of Calming Your Anxious Mind, Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind.
“Use the sensation of the breath as the anchor for awareness in the present moment,” he tells mindfull.org. “Establish mindfulness on the narrow focus of just the breath sensation.”
4. When you’re waiting
Any time we’re on public transport, waiting for a meeting or for a friend to arrive for a coffee, most of us reach for our smart phones. Instead, use this opportunity to be mindful by calming the mind.
Allow yourself to feel the breath as it goes in, and the pause between in and out, then out again. Don’t control the breath, just bring attention to the direct sensation of the breath. Do this at least five times, and watch your stress levels dissolve.
5. When you’re worrying
As the saying goes, worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good.
If you’re guilty of this then learn to recognise when you’re doing this, and practice bringing yourself back to the present.
“Whether or not you think of yourself as being an anxious or fearful person, mindfulness practice can help you deal with your reactions to life’s inevitable threats—both big and small,” says Ronald D. Siegel PsyD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School.
“Sometimes the best solution is just to focus on what you can control; that may be as simple as your breathing,” adds Chip Conley, author of Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness & Success. “Get in touch with how the anxiety feels in your body. Gain some control over your breathing, then shift to how you can influence your thinking. As you build some momentum in seeing your ability to cope with a widening sphere of influence, you’ll build your sense of confidence so that you can handle what life is throwing at you.”
6. When you’re angry, sad or frustrated
Being mindful doesn’t have to mean you’re happy all of the time. If you’re often trying to bury feelings of anger, guilt or frustration, then the best thing to do may be just to ‘feel it.’
“Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn.
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
Once you recognise that your emotions and thoughts are fleeting, it can free you from negative thought patterns.”
Recognise that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
6. When you’re being creative
Many creative endeavors we enjoy get pushed to the wayside when we’re busy or stressed, but being creative is a great way to practice mindfulness and let your brain press ‘restart’.
Being creative can be amazingly relaxing – it might be baking, colouring-in (there are many adult colouring books on the market), singing in the shower, sculpting with Play Doh, painting, even baking. While doing these activities, stay in the moment, quieten down your thoughts and get into the flow.
7. When you’re trying to multi-task
Are you a master of multi-tasking? You might be rendering yourself less effective. Studies have found that when people are dividing their attention, it takes them 50 per cent longer to accomplish that task, and are 50 per cent more likely to make errors, according to the Huffington Post.
“Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed attention,” Real Happiness at Work author Sharon Salzberg writes in a Huffington Post blog. “Debunking the myth of multi-tasking, we become much better at what we do and increase the chance of being able to remember the details of work we have done in the past.”
8. When you’re in nature
Spending time in a beautiful space in nature – and truly appreciating the colours, sounds and textures around you is one of the most powerful ways to give yourself a mental reboot.
According to phys.org, research has found that being outdoors can relieve stress, improve energy levels, memory and attention. Simply going for a walk can be an excellent way to calm the mind and gain new perspective, and even help put the brain into a meditative state.
9. When you’re tuned into technology
If you’re guilty of staring at your phone when you eat out with friends or family, then you’re not alone. But many experts warn our addiction to our devices is stealing away precious moments. “If the device is shaping your agenda for the day, determining your emotions, and dictating what you focus on and how you spend your time, your device is controlling you,” says Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University.
“Create some barriers, such as no technology at the dinner table, or just make it more difficult to access by unplugging it, putting it in a drawer or on flight mode,” she says. “Reflect on whether your device is contributing to or taking away from your quality of life. Notice the benefits of disconnecting.”
10. When you’re doing nothing
That’s right, just do nothing. “Just sit in silence. Become aware of your thoughts,” says Leo Babauta from ThirdAge.com. “Focus on your breathing. Notice the world around you. Become comfortable with the silence and stillness.”
11. If all else fails, laugh
A crucial part of mastering the art of mindfulness is refusing to get invested in the constant pull of emotions. But if you can learn to laugh and keep an even keel through difficult situations, you’ll be better armed to cope with them suggests research from the University of California and University of Zurich.
But you don’t need a university study to tell you that laughing brings us in the present moment, and can help us maintain a elevated mood, cheerful personality and a sense of humour. Try it. Next time you find yourself getting drowned in the stress of life, take some time out to remember a funny moment, and watch your mood transform.
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