Mindfulness is as buzzy as ever, but it still gets mixed up with meditation. That means people who are not interested in meditating — or are simply too busy to sit still for meditation — sometimes write off mindfulness, too.
The thing is, mindfulness is actually the perfect compromise for meditation skeptics. “Mindfulness is anytime throughout your day that you are bringing close attention to what you are doing,” explains Chantelle Fitzgerald, mindfulness expert and founder of Mindset Strategies. In other words, being mindful means being present. That means you can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere without even having to set aside time for it.
Like meditation, mindfulness has a ton of benefits. “Mindfulness relieves us of the ruminating and anxieties of living in past events and over-focusing on future achievements,” says Tara Huber, co-founder and chief contentment officer at Take Five Meditation. That means you have more time and brain space for things that really matter to you, like eating well, getting enough sleep and making time to de-stress and exercise. “Mindfulness allows us to live our lives fully present, finding beauty in even the most routine activities,” Huber adds. “It helps us to cultivate acceptance of the challenges that life throws at us.” In other words, there are really no downsides.
Here, seven ways to try mindfulness in your everyday life — no meditation required:
HAVE MINDFUL CONVERSATIONS
“You can bring mindfulness into your daily conversations simply by treating them as an anchoring practice,” says Keith Macpherson, mindfulness expert and author of “Making Sense of Mindfulness.” The key here is to listen — really listen — to what the person you’re talking to is saying. Instead of jumping in with your own perspective at the first opportunity, leave some space for your conversation partner to really get what they want to say out. “When your mind wants to wander to a distraction, invite yourself back to the present conversation at hand.”
TAKE A WALK
Walking and mindfulness naturally go together. To get started, notice the sights and sounds around you, the smells and the feeling of the air on your skin, Huber advises. “Determine the length of your breath (inhalation and exhalation) by the number of your footsteps. Once you have figured out how many steps you take while completing one round of breath, focus on that for a few moments, getting into a rhythm of matching breath with steps. When you are ready, start to lengthen your exhalation by one step. Continue for 10 breaths, and then lengthen the exhalation by one more step. Notice if the inhalation also lengthens by taking one more step or not. After 20 breaths, return to normal breathing and notice how you feel.”
PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
Bringing mindfulness to your meals can help you appreciate your food more and even help you lose weight. To try it, imagine you’re at a very expensive restaurant and you want to savor every bite. Here is Fitzgerald’s process for eating any food mindfully:
Notice the texture and size. Is it soft? Hard? Big? Small? Take a tiny bite. What does that feel like? Slowly chew. What does it taste like? What side of the mouth are you chewing it on? Can you taste all of the flavors? Can you pick out all of the ingredients?
“You might want to think about how it was prepared and all of the work it took to get this food to you or give gratitude for having this food and the work it took to make it,” she adds.
BRUSH YOUR TEETH
Sometimes the simplest tasks make the most impactful mindful activities. “Many of us wander around the house while brushing our teeth,” Macpherson points out. “A great mindfulness practice is to simply notice when you are inclined to wander around your house while brushing and come back to staying in one place. This simple practice of two minutes a day can be a beginning to reprogram your mind to be more present in the moment.”
SLOW DOWN IN YOUR BATH OR SHOWER
“While preparing for and entering your bath or shower, move slowly and relish every moment,” Huber suggests. “Enjoy the sound of running water and the scents of your favorite soaps and shampoo. Be attentive and very tuned in to every move you make.”
You can also do a body scan to intensify the effect. “Pay attention to every part of your body,” Huber instructs. “Feel each muscle relax, and let the tension drain away as you cleanse yourself. Notice how the water feels on your skin: Its temperature, how it trickles and soothes.”
TRY MINDFUL EMAILING
You can even practice mindfulness while getting work done. To start, turn off your music, close all of the other tabs on your computer and put your phone in a drawer, recommends Samantha Attard, PhD, a yoga instructor and mindfulness expert.
“Open the next email on your list. Take a moment to look at the name of the person who sent you the email and envision their face and tone of voice. Read through the email, just reading, not reacting. Take a second pass through the email asking ‘what do I need to do to respond?’ Perhaps you have a list of tasks to write down or you just need to send a simple reply. Take a deep breath, and move on to the next email.”
USE YOUR IMAGINATION BEFORE BED
“One of the best times to practice mindfulness is just before falling asleep,” Macpherson says. This is especially true if you usually have tomorrow’s to-do list floating around in your head at bedtime.
“Picture yourself in a good place,” Macpherson instructs. “It might be a place you make up in your mind or a place you have been before. Either way, begin to take in the colors, smells, sights, sounds and feelings. Notice how your body relaxes and allows you to breathe.”
Falling asleep in this state of mind not only helps you sleep better, but also allows your unconscious mind the opportunity to marinate on the good rather than the bad or stressful, Macpherson says. “The last thing you think about before bed has a major impact on your mental health.”