5 ways to be more mindful
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
In our fast paced lives, it can be challenging to stay present and the thought of adding something to an already busy schedule may seem daunting. But, what if I tell you by learning to be more mindful in what you are already doing you will begin to see, feel and experience things in a very different way and may even be happier. Research suggests, happiness has less to do with what we have, nor what we do, but more about being more present in our lives.
The good news is you don't have to sit still with your legs crossed alone in a quiet room to bring Mindfulness into your day. Informal meditation is merely learning to be more mindfully present in your daily life. I have practiced both formal and informal meditation in the Port Authority in NYC with success. According to Gabrielle Bernstein New York Times "Even for those whose intention is to sit formally for meditation (they)need not do it alone Meditating in a group is very powerful … the shared intention of the group elevates each individual." But for now we will explore the opportunity for informal meditation. Many individual mindful moments make one mindful day, many mindful days make a mindful life.
Informal meditation is a simple at first glance but not so easy at first. However, with a bit of practice you will begin to rewire your brain and focusing on the now and the ability to be fully present will increase. Just like when you were a child and learning soccer or violin - practice makes better.
Informal meditation is bringing attention and focus on what you are doing in this moment. If you are reading this blog just read the blog, if you are drinking a cup of tea just drink the tea, if you are nibbling on cheese and crackers - just nibble. The definition of Mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of MBSR) is learning to pay attention on purpose in a non-judgemental way. The good news is you can't do it wrong.
So let's learn some simple ways to be present in the now.
1. Where are your hands and feet?
I know it sounds silly but really check and see where your hands and feet are in this moment: look at them, feel into them. What sensations do you notice? Right now I am sitting on my daughter's couch in London, I can feel the smoothness of the keys at my left hand's finger tips and the roundness of the mouse with my right. As I type my feet are nice and warm as I have them tucked beneath me as I sit cross legged and I have on thick wool socks.
Now it is your turn:
What sensations do you notice? Are your hands warm or cold or are they perhaps tingling? Can you feel the socks on your feet or the bare floor beneath them?
When you look at your hands what do you see? Do you see someone else’s hands? My hands always remind me of my mom’s. I am not sure when it happen but one day I looked down and there they were - my mom's hands.
If your hands remind you of someone else's hands, pause a moment, do you notice any sensations in your heart (space)? Sit quietly and notice what you notice. What if any sensations, feelings, thoughts do you become aware of? Part of mindfulness is being non-judgemental so what ever you are feeling is what you are feeling. Be an observer - a scientist on an expedition to explore your own experience.
Focusing on the body brings us into the now. When you are walking know you are walking, and when you are washing your hands know you are washing your hands. Notice the warmth of the water, perhaps the fragrance of the soap.
2. Follow your breath.
Breath is a wonderful portable anchor you can focus on anywhere and time. If you are new to meditation, an anchor is something that helps us to stay in the how. Breath is a anchor that is readily available however; however, if focusing on breath makes you anxious for any reason sounds can be another excellent anchor. Take a moment now to notice what you hear - perhaps the sound of your own breath, the sounds inside or outside, or the sounds inside your own head. For some of us the internal dialogue is unending. In mindfulness we are looking to first notice, then allow, then release. As I sit here editing this blog for the 100th time (little judgy I know - but I am aware of it) I hear my typing, my daughter's typing, Spotify, her singing and the cars on the wet road outside her flat! There is a lot going on if we stop and listen. By listening I am unable to wander off into the past or future the sounds keep me anchored in the now - and that brings me a bit of peace at times.
So now if you are using breath as your anchor, take a moment to notice your breath, where is it most apparent to you? At the nostrils, chest or belly? Is the breath slow, rapid, deep, shallow? Can you notice the rise and fall of your chest/belly? Allow your eyes to close and follow a few cycles (maybe 5) of breath and I will be here when you get back.
Now, follow the breath in and then notice the small pause where the in-breath ends and the out-breath begins? Can you notice the slight pause between breaths? If your breath a color what color would it be? If you could see it would it be transparent or opaque.
As you follow the breath a bit longer do you notice the breath change in length or depth? No need to alter the breath merely notice and ride the waves of the breath - in and out. Be a witness to the breath. Watch it like you would watch those silly little birds that run sideways on the beach.
And when your mind wanders, and it will, just bring back the focus to the in or out wherever you maybe. The mind drifting off is an opportunity for mindfulness and an opportunity to begin again. In meditation we have the opportunity to begin over and over again. But more about that in another post.
3. Notice your surroundings.
An easy way to bring us back to our surroundings is to do an exercise using all of 5 of our senses.
First, find 5 objects to in the room to see. As I look around my daughter's flat I see her the lights twinkling on her little Christmas tree, the dried lavender, on her small round kitchen table, the gifts we exchanged yesterday and the wrapping paper scattered about. I see the brick apartment buildings out her windows, and the various technology strewed about the room.
Next, identify 4 sounds that you can hear. I hear typing coming from two computers, my husband whistling, the traffic on the wet road as the cars drive by, and the deep sigh she just made as she works on her blog https://www.throughblueeyes.net beside me and her singing off and on - my favorite sound in the world.
Now touch 3 things, I feel the smoothness of the computer keys, the varied texture of the white fluffy quilt on my tap and the reading glasses on the bridge of my nose.
Now can you find 2 things to smell? We have dinner in her oven so I smell chicken coq-au-vin. It was so good at Christmas we are making it again! If I get up and put my nose into her lavender I can still smell a faint fragrance even though it was bought last Fall on our trip to visit. A trip to the refrigerator allows me to smell the deep rich chocolate truffles we made last night.
Only thing left to do is to taste the truffle - tough life I have! The truffle tastes velvety rich on my tongue. If you are not lucky enough to have a truffle to taste a raisin actually works quite well. Explore it first with touch (fingers or tongue will do) what do you notice, now give it a sniff what do you smell. You might be surprised how much flavor a mere raisin has if you first place the raisin in the mouth roll it around a bit and bite just a tiny piece off, notice what you notice - take your time, and then chew it slowly noticing the texture and flavor.
By using our senses we bring ourselves into the now. Babies and puppies are good at being in the now - they live by using their senses. They also have the capability of letting things go and moving on.
4. Savor the first bite.
Do you know how the first and last bit of anything always tastes the best?
It is because we pause and savor it. So pause and be present for that first sip of tea or coffee in the morning. Feel the warmth of cup in your hand, notice the aroma savor it.
5. Keep a journal.
The mind makes a wonderful servant but a poor master.
- Robin Sharma
Keep a journal by your bedside and write down three things you are grateful for each night before you close your eyes at night. It can be something as simple as “I am grateful for a bed to sleep in, pillow to lay my head, and a full belly. Gratitude trumps all other emotions if you can find gratitude even in the simplest things you are wiring your brain to notice the positive. We know we don't even need to notice more positive things in our lives to be happier we just need to notice the neutral. Most of us are good at noticing the negative. We call it a negative bias - it was necessary for our survival from an evolutionary perspective for us as a species.
Research suggests by keeping a gratitude journal, writing a gratitude letter to someone who made a difference to us, or by just noticing the neutral things in our lives we are happier. If it all seems pretty simple it is because it is.
So where do you go from here? I suggest you pick just one and practice this new skill for a week and then notice what you notice. Perhaps you will jot your observations down in that journal. Jotting things down accomplishes two things; first, it reinforces the new skill you are trying to learn (e.g., be present while eating an apple) , and second it often allows us to recognize what is happening, allow it to be there and then release.
Next time "Catch and Release" . Learn to Recognize, allow and release. I would love to hear about your experiences - leave me a note and I will get right back to you.
Cheers for now,