Mindfully Mundane: Being Intentional in Everyday Life
Mindfulness: More than Meditation
Step into our office, and you will see a bookshelf full of titles such as Mindfulness and Mindset in Psychotherapy, The Mindfulness Solution, and The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. These are only a few of the many works on mindfulness in therapy and everyday life.
But what is mindfulness?
The American Psychological Association defines Mindfulness as “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. Mindfulness can help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them.”
Basically, mindfulness is the practice of having a present awareness of our environment and our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in response to it. The key to mindfulness is to look at these various reactions to our environment through a gentle, non-judgmental lens and accept the feelings as they arise. This means that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given situation.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Research in mindfulness has shown that it can:
Improve cognitive ability
Slow brain aging
Increase a sense of well-being
Help with pain management
Improve the quality of life for those living with chronic conditions
Beyond that, it is a good practice for living in the moment, improving self-awareness, and learning to accept and enjoy life as it comes.
How to Practice Mindfulness
It may sound pretty easy, but mindfulness can be tricky because of our mind’s tendency to wander and take flight. Practicing mindfulness takes intentionality and practice. Here are a few ways to get started on practicing mindfulness:
Meditation (Mindful Breathing): Yes, mindfulness is more than meditation; however, sitting and focusing your breath is a wonderful way to get used to focusing on your bodily sensations, feelings, and the present. Sit or lay with each hand on your stomach and chest. Breathe in for five counts, hold for five counts, and breathe out for five counts. Focus on how your body feels starting at your toes and moving up to your head. Are you holding tension anywhere? Try to relax your muscles. If you notice your mind wandering, try to come back to your breathing (a simple way to do this is to focus on counting). There is no competition, judgment, or “right” way to do this: take longer or shorter breaths as needed. Listen to your body and find your way of being with your breath. Do this for as long or as often as needed.
Mindful Eating: Even the mundane task of cooking a meal can be a wonderful time to practice mindfulness. Pay attention to your senses. Smell the spices you are cooking with; hear the sizzle, crack, or pop of your food cooking; feel the heat rising off the pan or the oven and warming your face; see the vibrant colors of the food that will soon nourish your body; and finally taste the dynamic flavors of your hard work. If you mess up, spill, or burn something, don’t judge yourself. Accept the things you cannot change, accept your feelings, and gently clean your mess. Eating mindfully helps us to enjoy this small task that is often seen as a chore. Let this time be joyful for you. You will enjoy your food more, feel more satisfied, and develop the habit of sinking into the present moment.
Mindful Commuting: Mindfulness can be found anywhere, even in California rush hour traffic. Rather than letting your mind race and stress about the future, take this time to live fully in the moment. Appreciate the feeling of the sun shining through your window or, though it’s rare for us Californians, the sound of the rain pattering on the roof of your car. Listen to the wonderful and dynamic chorus around you: the soothing voice of a radio host, the gentle rumble of your wheels on the road, and the occasional excitement of a horn honking in frustration. You cannot change traffic, but you can change your attitude. The only thing you can control is yourself. Being mindful during a commute will reduce your stress about the upcoming day and can turn a situation that is usually a nuisance into a moment of appreciation.
The beauty of mindfulness is that it is best found in the mundane. You don’t need a yoga mat, a quiet garden, or the perfect posture to be mindful. Focus on your body, your breath, your sensations, and your feelings while doing the dishes, folding laundry, doodling, showering, or brushing your teeth. Try to not let your mind wander. Accept both the positive and negative feelings that arise. And remember: there is no judgment, no competition, and no rating on mindfulness. It is a time to just be.