I had no idea what the concept of mindfulness was a year ago. I was that crazy career driven person going 200 mph with my hair on fire. Then like most people, life changed and I decided to explore some out of the box ideas outside of my traditional medicine mentality.
So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be defined as bringing your attention to present moment experience without judgment occurring feelings or thoughts (Bishop et al., 2004). Mindfulness is a concept of intention and practice brought from Buddhist traditions.
The practice of mindfulness has been proven to be highly beneficial for emotional and physical wellness. I asked a doctor at the Mayo Clinic about mindfulness and health and he said he prescribes mindfulness exercises twice per day for his cardiac patients. Why hadn’t I heard about mindfulness before? When I looked into it further I was blown away by the number of scientific journal articles I found demonstrating the benefits. The best part of the practice of mindfulness is it is relatively easy and life changing.
There are a few key steps to practice mindfulness through meditation.
The first step is to find a place to sit quietly and comfortably. In my household it can be where ever you can hide! It can be a place where you feel generally at peace and quieted like a bedroom or a porch or patio if you like being outside.
The second step is closing your eyes and breathing through your nose. Something you already do on a regular basis! The big difference is that you make sure you are aware of your breathing for 10–20 minutes. Focusing on taking in deep breaths and exhaling fully helps get rid of some of that constant brain chatter we always have going on.
The last step is to focus on the present moment without thinking about what you need to do that day, worries you have or how lousy you are at keeping your brain from drifting all over the place. Being aware of your body and your surroundings are also key elements. Soft meditative music playing in the background can be helpful and relaxing. Light piano music by Christine Brown is my favorite. https://youtu.be/PJt_vSafpTQ
Some people enjoy gentle scents of essential oils too. I personally like something earthy and sage oriented. Ultimately my favorite mindfulness practice is going outside so I can focus on the sounds of the trees, birds, and feel the breeze on my face, my body being rooted to the ground or my mat and any smells in the air: flowers, hints of rain, vegetation and the earth. I am still one of those tom boy girls at heart.
For most people mindfulness concepts may feel out of reach since life in general is entirely nuts! The idea of setting aside time for mindfulness practice lasting 10-20 minutes is always something we intend to do and discipline is extremely important for success but sometimes the crap just hits the fan and life just gets in the way. You all know what I mean you wake up in the morning well intentioned and your boss calls with an emergency, your car breaks down, your child is sick and then you arrive home from your day, absolutely exhausted.
So how can you bring mindfulness concepts into your everyday life when you can’t get 10-20 minutes of peace and quiet? I practice the concept of micro mindfulness moments throughout my day. These little micro moments help ground me, provide relief of stress, anxiety, family concerns and alleviate pain. Of course if you can do both the 10-20 minutes of mindfulness practice through meditation and the micro mindfulness tips I am going to give you that would be really beneficial.
Here are some micro mindfulness tips which are NOT in order of importance.
- Take a little walk, clear your mind and quietly observe what is around you (2-5 minutes). I have found that this practice very beneficial. I tell myself to find two things on my walk to stop for a moment and focus on. Sometimes it may be something new like a flower that just bloomed or a new plant that is emerging. Clear your mind and focus on what it looks like. Touch its soft petals, feel and observe the structure and texture of the leaves, the smell of the aroma and the color. Usually this last for less than 1 minute but it helps ground me to the world around me. I find myself smiling and letting go during these moments. Sorry, it’s that grown up tom boy thing in me again.
- Observe your pet (> 5 minutes but 2 activities in 1). I usually walk Norman my Basset Hound in the morning most often before dawn breaks. Unfortunately, I just cannot get him to sleep any later and he is that, “Damn Dog,” sometimes when it is 4:00 am. Of course that lasts until he shows me his big smile then I am complete mush. One of my favorite things is just to focus on him. I like to watch him enjoy everything he encounters. The things he sniffs along his path, wandering around plants, finding interesting smells and bumping flowers with his nose. It is easy to smile at his silly moments and he enjoys my undivided attention. While this may not seem like a mindfulness practice it really can be. Remember mindfulness is giving your attention to the present moment without judgement.
- Take a moment to settle into your workplace (~ 5 minutes). For many people, the workplace can be one of the most stressful and toxic places in their lives. Pressure and conflict can be present throughout the day. I think we spend much of our lives just trying to battle the physical and emotional toll that occurs from the workplace. Start your work day when you arrive by allowing yourself a few minutes to settle in. Focus on yourself. Be aware of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Stop judging yourself and BREATH. Breathing is the key to this exercise and thankfully it’s portable. Take in at least 5 to 10 deep breaths and consciously set your intentions for the day.
- Listen and observe in the workplace (You’ve got to be there anyway might as well take care of yourself). Take some moments throughout the day to really listen and observe the people you interact with. You would be surprised at what you will learn about yourself and others. Some of the most successful people I know don’t try to get the last word, don’t cut others off while talking, don’t constantly interrupt a conversation just to get their perspective across and don’t spend entire meetings reviewing their emails. We ALL know this person and some of us can be this person sometimes. Some of these successful people hold back and bring forward really strong creative and powerful additions to the conversation. This is often because they were one ACTUALLY paying attention.
- Use some mindfulness tools (2-3 minutes). Have a few little things for your desk or items for your car that can bring you back to yourself. Smell is one of the most reflective and memory intensive senses we have. Use a little essential oil if you find that centers you. If I am really stressed I like to put a little oil in my hands and cup my hands over my nose and take in a few nice deep breaths. I find this also helps with headaches when I combine peppermint and lavender or Eucalyptus with a carrier oil. A picture of a special time or place can also be a nice visual to help you escape the madness for a moment. Get a desk Chia Pet. You get the idea.
- Encountering stressful situations (1-2 minutes). When you encounter a stressful situation BREATH. Take a few deep breaths and take yourself back to a state of quietly observing yourself emotionally and physically. Push judging thoughts aside and take a micro mindfulness break. Sometimes 10-20 seconds can really help. I practice this throughout my day and sometimes after I can see the situation more clearly. This works great for me during road rage moments and THAT guy that just cut me off giving me the finger. Physically for me I have seen that practicing this exercise throughout the day reduces my heart rate and frequency of headaches.
- Nourishing our body (0 minutes you gotta eat anyway). Often we find ourselves eating at our desks multitasking, eating in the car on the way to soccer practice, eating in a loud busy over stimulating environment or simply inhaling our food to move onto the next thing. Remember meals are a way we nourish our bodies. Try to enjoy eating your meals. Take a few minutes to ACTUALLY taste your food with every bite, feel the effects of the nourishment on your body, and take a moment to rest quietly after eating. Hmmm ever wonder why so many people have digestion disorders?
- Listen and observe others outside of the workplace (> 20 minutes but you are physically present already). Listen and observe the people you hold dear in your life. Take that moment to play blocks on the floor with your toddler, sit and really listen to your partner sharing the elements of his or her day or have that cup of coffee and hear out a friend. Look them in the eyes, block out other distractions and focus. No you can’t check emails or Facebook during this time! Sadly, I learned this one through life experience. I can’t tell you how many times my kids took my work phone away from me on vacation. Now that time has passed and I can never get it back. They are older now and I am older too. I wish at these times I would have been more present in my life. I always justified my behavior by telling myself it was for them after all my job was taking care of them. Sadly I know now it really never made a difference.
- Reduce electronic and information overload (> 20 minutes). Personally, I LOVE my phone, computer and tablet. I love to read constantly, be in touch with everything going on with family and friends, review important news feeds, connect with items I am researching, check email, and the list goes on and on. What we don’t realize is the amount of time we waste not being present in the moment and how detrimental input overload is on our brain. Try taking 1 day off or even 2 hours off from checking your email, the news feed, checking Facebook, not watching TV and see how liberating it can be. Take the time you used to spend to practice a 10-20 minute mindfulness exercise, share some intimacy, perform a few yoga poses, exercise, listen to some of your favorite music or make that phone call to a friend or family member. I think you will find a richer overall living your life in the moment experience even if you did this once a week!
- Starting your day (5 minutes). Start each day before jumping out of bed at the sound of the alarm to take a few minutes to set your intentions for the new day, reflect about how your feel, connect with your body and BREATH in some nice long deep breaths.
- Take moments to care for your body (1-20 minutes). Okay last one, sorry I could not resist. Give yourself a massage, take a warm bath, apply lotion to your body and take that extra time to care of your skin. Focus your awareness and senses on your body and reflect upon how unbelievable and beautiful you are without judgement. Reflect upon how you feel being present in that moment and in your life.
Even though some of my tips above may seem easy our habits can be very difficult to break. Practicing mindfulness can be built into everyday life through small changes in perception and perspective. Every mindful moment in your life counts, even if it is just 10 minutes throughout an entire day. Remember the key to mindfulness is bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment occurring feelings or thoughts.
Please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org any of your mindfulness tips and we will update this post with more tips!
Bishop S., Lau M., Shapiro S., Carlson L., Anderson N. D., Carmody J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clin. Psychol. Sci. Pract. 11, 230–241. 10.1093/clipsy.bph077