Mindfulness—no doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about it lately. But what is it, how do you do it, and what can it do for you? Here are the basics, and some simple ways to incorporate it into your day.
Why Mindfulness is Important to Your Health
Why is it important for good health? “Most of us fall into the trap of spending too much time inside our own heads, either through worrying about something that happened in the past or fretting about an event in the future,” says John Burley, author of Mindfulness for the Mindless. “The past only exists in your memory and the future just in your imagination. The only time that isn’t inside your head is the present. It’s a present moment that you will never have again, so don’t waste it inside your head; spend more time in the present moment. Your life will become easier and more enjoyable.”
It’s especially relevant right now, Fletcher notes. “The average person now absorbs more information in seven days than our ancient ancestors did in their whole lives,” she says. “It’s not natural for us to know every single terrible event in the world, and we can now in one 30-second check of our iPhones. It costs us our mental and physical energy. Mindfulness is like medicine to counteract this constant inflow of information and technology. People are recognizing that if they implement daily mental hygiene, not only do they feel better, but they actually perform better.”
Luckily, there are some simple, straightforward ways that you can incorporate mindfulness into your day.
1. Enjoy your shower.
Instead of scrubbing up as quickly as you can while stressing about the busy day to come, use those few minutes for mindfulness. Feel the water hitting your skin, smell the soap or shampoo, listen to the sound of the spray hitting the tub floor. This isn’t about taking more time, but using the time you have to practice being present.
2. Tune into your commute.
“Turn off the radio off in the car on the commute to work and listen to the sounds that you hear inside and outside the car,” Burley suggests. “Notice the sounds that the car makes at different speeds and on different surfaces. Notice the sounds of other cars around you in the traffic, or birds in trees as you wait to take a turn. Try to take in all the road signs that you pass; there will be many that you will see for the first time even if you’ve done the same journey hundreds of times. If you use the train as part of your commute, try to do the whole journey without looking at or touching your mobile phone. Just notice the people around you, the stations that you stop at and scenery that you pass.”
3. Breathe with intention.
Try a 5-minute breathing exercise in which you focus on the sensations you feel as you’re breathing.
4. Really listen to someone.
Most of us are not fully focused on other people when we talk with them. Choose one person or one conversation and give the other person your full attention. Listen to their voice and what they’re saying without formulating a response at the same time. Look at his or her face and note their expression. Turn your body to face them. Not only does this help you by increasing mindfulness, it also makes the other person feel truly heard, which is a gift.
5. Transform a household task.
Pick something you do every day—washing dishes, folding clothes, cooking. Choose one thing and instead of just getting through it, pay attention. Notice the way you do it (without judgment), the order you choose to complete the task. If you’re folding clothes, note the different textures, how they smell coming out of the dryer. Don’t think about what you’re going to do next, just do what you’re doing.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
One important thing to note: Mindfulness and meditation are both important, but they aren’t the same thing, Fletcher points out. “Mindfulness will help you get rid of stress in the now,” she explains. “Meditation gives your body deep, healing rest. That rest heals your stress from the past.” So incorporating mindfulness into your day as stresses come up, combined with a meditation practice to help you heal from past stress, is a powerful combination.
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