Mindfulness offers a powerful, impactful way of navigating our stress and enhancing our well being.
But how? How does this concept—with all of its buzzword appeal—actually improve anything about our daily lives
Read on for more information and five ways to practice mindfulness every day.
What Is Mindfulness, Anyway?
Let’s dive into what mindfulness is and how it can benefit the average person—people like you and me.
Imagine this: you’re sitting outside, in a field, fully relaxed and immersed in what’s around you. You’re aware of the feel of the grass against your legs, and you can feel the breeze ruffling your hair. You smell the sweet scent of summer flowers, and you can hear the soft buzz of bees pollinating the bright flowers all around you.
You aren’t stressed over yesterday’s mishaps, and you’re not mentally listing tomorrow’s to-dos. You’re just there, in the moment, fully engaged and aware.
You don’t need to be in an idyllic setting, of course—mindfulness is just as valuable when you’re sipping your morning coffee at your kitchen table or listening to your favorite song on the way to work.
You don’t need to be in full meditation mode or to completely clear your mind. As long as you’re present in the moment, observing your thoughts and emotions and letting them pass through without judgment, you’re practicing mindfulness.
That’s because mindfulness is all about intentionally paying attention to the present moment without judging yourself, your thoughts, or how you feel. It’s about observation and awareness—not effort. Instead of feeling ourselves caught up in the usual whirlwind of thoughts and worries, we’re simply committed to noticing what’s happening in our minds and bodies from a (metaphorical) distance.
So… Why bother? Why even try to switch things up and stay present?
Great question! I’m so glad you asked.
When we practice mindfulness, we can reduce our stress levels by shifting our focus away from past concerns and future anxieties. We learn to anchor ourselves in the here and now—the only reality we have any control over.
Mindfulness improves our emotional wellbeing by helping us cultivate self-compassion and gain a better, fuller understanding of our thoughts and feelings. This is because we’re not getting bogged down in justifying those things—we’re simply taking note of how we react to any number of stimuli. We break the cycle of overthinking, analyzing, and ruminating… And that gives our nervous system a much-needed breather.
And, if you need even more convincing, try this: mindfulness can help sharpen our cognitive abilities.1 It helps strengthen our focus and concentration over time. (Yes, you’ll forget where you put your keys a lot less often, too!)
All of the wonderful benefits of mindfulness don’t just live within us, either. They spread to our loved ones through our improved ability to stay present, listen, find empathy, and show up within our relationships.
5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness
It’s one thing to understand and even embrace the benefits of mindfulness… But it’s entirely another to figure out just how to incorporate this practice into your day. After all, that to-do list does seem pretty long already, doesn’t it?
The good news is that incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can feel downright easy and immediately rewarding.
Here are five ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life.
This one is as simple as it gets. Take a moment each day to notice your breath. Find a comfortable spot, close your eyes if you’d like, and pay attention to the sensations of your breath. Feel the air entering your body as you inhale, and leaving it as you exhale. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and belly. Your mind will wander—when it does, bring your attention gently back to your breath.
Mindfulness can be delicious, friend! During your next snack or meal, don’t just wolf down your food to get to the next task, and make the choice not to zone out in front of the latest Netflix series while you eat. Instead, take a pause with each bite and savor the flavors and textures of your food. Engage all your senses in the experience, noticing the colors and smells, too. Chew slowly and fully experience every mouthful. Give mental thanks for the nourishment you’re receiving, and enjoy a feast for both your body and soul.
Mindful Walking or Moving
At some point every day, we find ourselves walking or otherwise moving from one location to another. Use these transition periods as mindful moments by slowing down and bringing your attention to the action itself—not just thoughts of your destination. Feel the ground beneath you, notice the subtle movements of your body, and observe the sights and sounds of the environment around you.
In a fast-paced, tech-driven world, it’s easy to get lost in the digital shuffle. And while advances in technology have brought about amazing benefits, mindless usage of things like social media can cause a fair amount of harm.2 Mindful technology use might mean setting aside specific times of day to unplug and engage in non-screen activities without distraction. You might go for a hike, read a book, or grab dinner with a loved one. Put your phone away, resist the appeal of “multitasking,” and give your full attention to the real world in front of you.
Body Scan Meditation
Have you ever heard someone say to “do a body scan”? This is a truly fantastic way to connect with your body and its physical sensations. Find a quiet space to sit or lie down comfortably—you can choose either one. Focus your attention on your toes, and notice any sensations or areas of tension. From there, shift your attention to your calves, then your upper legs, and gradually on throughout your body until you finally visualize a bright light emanating from the very crown of your head. Take your time, focus, and kindly kick any self-judgment to the curb; this practice is all about connecting with the things happening inside of your body.
Mindfulness Techniques Are for Everyone
Mindfulness isn’t some mysterious, enlightened concept that only a select few “gurus” can engage in. The beauty of the practice is its accessibility—and the benefits any practitioner can reap, even as a beginner.
By understanding mindfulness as simply being present in the here and now without self-judgment, we can find many small opportunities to incorporate it into our daily lives. Doing so can reduce our stress, help us gain emotional balance, deepen our relationships, and even improve our cognitive abilities.
Of course, if our anxiety is already high and persistent, letting go of it—even for a moment—may feel like a tall order. In that case, it might be worth reaching out to a mental health practitioner to help you clear some of the cobwebs away (so to speak) and gain more space for taking those deep, mindful breaths.
Start where you are, friend. You’ve got this!