What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of your physical, mental, and emotional state, all through a lens of curiosity and non-judgment. Many people employ mindfulness techniques to evoke a sense of calm through grounding themselves in the present. There is so much more that mindfulness can do beyond calming you down, however. When incorporated into your life in organic ways consistently, you are likely to deepen self-compassion (which is gold for us perfectionists!), understanding of and connection to those around you, and gratitude. Mindfulness practices can be wonderful for increasing a sense of peace and grounding for those experiencing anxiety, grounding in the safety of the present moment for those who have experienced trauma, and noticing details that can evoke pleasurable feelings for those experiencing depression. Regardless of where you feel your mental health is at the moment, mindfulness can enrich your life in both smaller and more significant moments. Mindfulness is for all.
Many of my clients have voiced concerns about not having the time or energy to learn and practice meditation or extensive breathing practices, and if you too resonate, I have good news for you – you can incorporate mindfulness into your life while essentially continuing your busy, packed life as is! I will warn you, though, mindfulness has been known to help people highlight what brings them a sense of peace and purpose, sometimes resulting in them desiring more and more of that which is good. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eventually wanting to rearrange your busy life. Here are five mindfulness hacks for adding mindfulness to your current daily schedule.
1. Mindfulness in the Shower
The physical sensations connected with water are incredibly grounding. It’s not a surprise that many people say they get their best ideas in the shower! Just washing our hands can be a practice in mindfulness, so showering is an immersive, mindful experience if we allow it to be. Close your eyes and tune in to how your body experiences water. Notice the different ways it flows and drips off of you. Notice what connected imagery comes to mind for you. Listen to the different sounds. Slightly adjust the temperature to be a little warmer or a little colder and notice the different sensations. Notice the different senses (sight, smell, touch, sound) that arise as you lather up in soap or when you dry off. To add in some reflection after mindfulness, muse about what in your life is flowing as smoothly as the water is over your body and express gratitude with it. Maybe there is also the space to identify aspects of your life that are clunkier in their movement and not flowing as naturally, but do so without criticism or judgment, only observation.
2. Mindfully Eating
As with mindfulness in the shower, mindfulness in eating has to do with intentionally noticing your senses as you eat. Look at a food item and notice the different colors and shapes. Perhaps smell it before you eat. Take a small bite and notice the texture, taste, and smell. Notice how it feels different against your teeth, against your tongue, and as you swallow it. Notice how your body feels as it receives the food. Incorporating mindfulness into your eating, even if only for the first 30 seconds, can make for a much richer, pleasurable experience even in the middle of a busy day. One of my favorite mundane mindfulness moments is drinking tea during therapy sessions. I notice the temperature of the mug in my hands, how my physical grip on the mug feels, the array of flavors as I take a sip, and how the warm liquid feels in my body as I swallow it. This takes all of five seconds and is very effective for grounding into the immediate space I’m in to be even more present with my clients.
3. Mindful Moments Outside
Nature is healing. Even if you work in what feels like a concrete jungle, you will always have at least a view of the sky outside. Even better is if your immediate workspace has a few trees or other semblance of greenery. Even if you walk outside for only two minutes, it is a wonderful opportunity to notice how the breeze and the sun feels against your skin and in your hair, to notice the colors around you and how the current lighting impacts their shading, and to give a moment to your other senses to see what arises. Find something small and ordinary that you find beautiful such as the movement of a small bug, the shape of a particular plant, or a sound. Level two mindfulness is actually touching tree bark, a leaf, or dirt and focusing on the associated sensory experience. An added perk of this mindfulness suggestion is that it gives you a reason to take a quick mental and movement break — there is way too much startling research about how sitting for long periods of time harms our health.
4. Mindfulness in Exercise and Movement
Incorporate mindfulness into your regular workout routine whether you run, lift weights, play a sport, or practice yoga. During your exercise take a moment to assess the sensations in your body. Notice sensations of strength, strain, tightness, and pain. The real challenge in this particular mindfulness technique? To do so without judgment. Instead of criticizing yourself for where you feel pain or weakness, just notice it. Be ever so mindful of your thoughts and intentionally push away the criticism. Other benefits of doing this is that you can adjust your form if needed, have your attention drawn to muscles that need more stretching or attention given to them, and recognize both goals or limits you want to set for that day. This may also bring heightened attention to your breathing, which can help you mindfully breathe — picture slowly filling and emptying your lungs with each breath. I also highly recommend incorporating a gratitude practice into your exercise. Thank your body for its health and movement. Acknowledge that it is working hard for you. Envision all of the body systems working collaboratively to fuel your movement, and thank them.
5. Mindfulness in Heightened Emotions
This last suggestion for incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine is definitely the most advanced because it requires some emotional regulation skills and really stretches your mindful muscles in not giving into judgment or criticism. When you begin to feel yourself drifting (or skyrocketing) into a more heightened emotional state — anger, stress, sadness, disappointment — notice the different sensations in your body. Begin with the physical sensations. Where in your body are you feeling the emotion? What does the emotion physically feel like (a heavy rock, butterflies, a liquidy mass, a quivering mass?) Where are you feeling tension or looseness in your body? Then feel yourself drawing away from yourself to a third-person vantage point, almost as though you are watching a friend experiencing this or watching a movie of yourself. Be very gentle and curious. Notice what may have contributed to the feeling, but do so in non-judgmental terms. Acknowledge the triggers and connections. Most of all, do not berate yourself for the feelings you’re having or for their intensity. Just notice and accept that those feelings are present. Take it a step further and tell yourself “I welcome you, Anger, and want to understand your presence more.” (100 mindfulness points for this one!) You may need to incorporate some deep-breathing into this practice in order to be able to tolerate the feelings without judging yourself or trying to distract yourself away from them. Breathe in slowly for 5 to 8 counts through your nose, hold the breath for 2 to 5 counts, and then slowly release the breath through your mouth for 5 to 8 counts. This particular mindfulness practice surrounding your emotions has the most potential for building your own self-compassion and perhaps even increasing your empathy for and understanding of others in your life.
Therapy can be a helpful space for exploring how to create a mindfulness practice that is particularly meaningful and beneficial for you, especially if being in the present moment feels overwhelming or triggering or if you struggle to disarm your judgmental thoughts. Those who have experienced trauma would especially benefit from participating in therapy, especially because aspects of mindfulness, deep-breathing, and assessing your body can be triggering for trauma survivors if not done sensitively and in conjunction with other therapeutic work. Please contact me here to arrange an initial consultation to see if we are a good fit for working together.