Methods of mindfulness
5 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Daily Life
How often have you rushed out the door and into your day without even thinking about how you’d like things to go? Before you know it, something or someone has rubbed you the wrong way, and you’ve reacted automatically with frustration, impatience, or rage—in other words, you’ve found yourself acting in a way you never intended.
You don’t have to be stuck in these patterns. Pausing to practice mindfulness for just a few minutes at different times during the day can help your days be better, more in line with how you’d like them to be.
Explore these five daily practices for bringing more mindfulness into your life:Marta Locklear/Stocksy
Intention refers to the underlying motivation for everything we think, say, or do. From the brain’s perspective, when we act in unintended ways, there’s a disconnect between the faster, unconscious impulses of the lower brain centers and the slower, conscious, wiser abilities of the higher centers like the pre-frontal cortex.
Given that the unconscious brain is in charge of most of our decision-making and behaviors, this practice can help you align your conscious thinking with a primal emotional drive that the lower centers care about. Beyond safety, these include motivations like reward, connection, purpose, self-identity and core values.
Setting an intention—keeping those primal motivations in mind—helps strengthen this connection between the lower and higher centers. Doing so can change your day, making it more likely that your words, actions and responses— especially during moments of difficulty—will be more mindful and compassionate.
This practice is best done first thing in the morning, before checking phones or email.
1. On waking, sit in your bed or a chair in a relaxed posture. Close your eyes and connect with the sensations of your seated body. Make sure your spine is straight, but not rigid.
2. Take three long, deep, nourishing breaths—breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then let your breath settle into its own rhythm, as you simply follow it in and out, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and belly as you breathe.
3. Ask yourself: “What is my intention for today?” Use these prompts to help answer that question, as you think about the people and activities you will face. Ask yourself:
How might I show up today to have the best impact?
What quality of mind do I want to strengthen and develop?
What do I need to take better care of myself?
During difficult moments, how might I be more compassionate to others and myself?
How might I feel more connected and fulfilled?
4. Set your intention for the day. For example, “Today, I will be kind to myself; be patient with others; give generously; stay grounded; persevere; have fun; eat well,” or anything else you feel is important.
5. Throughout the day, check in with yourself. Pause, take a breath, and revisit your intention. Notice, as you become more and more conscious of your intentions for each day, how the quality of your communications, relationships, and mood shifts.PlainPicture/Lubitz+Dorner
It’s easy enough to reduce eating to a sensation of bite, chew, and swallow. Who hasn’t eaten a plateful of food without noticing what they’re doing? Yet eating is one of the most pleasurable experiences we engage in as human beings, and doing it mindfully can turn eating into a far richer experience, satisfying not just the need for nutrition, but more subtle senses and needs. When we bring our full attention to our bodies and what we are truly hungry for, we can nourish all our hungers. Try this:
1. Breathe before eating. We often move from one task right to the other without pausing or taking a breath. By pausing, we slow down and allow for a more calm transition to our meals. Bring your attention inward by closing your eyes, and begin to breathe slowly in and out of your belly for eight to 10 deep breaths before you start your meal.
2. Listen to your body. After breathing, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your belly. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being that you don’t feel any physical sensation of hunger and 10 being that you feel very hungry, ask yourself “How hungry am I?” What physical sensations tell you that you are hungry or not hungry (emptiness in stomach, shakiness, no desire to eat, stomach growling, etc.)? Try not to think about when you last ate or what time it is, and really listen to your body, not your thoughts.
3. Eat according to your hunger. Now that you are more in touch with how hungry you are, you can more mindfully choose what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. This simple practice can help you tune in to your real needs.
4. Practice peaceful eating. At your next meal, slow down and continue to breathe deeply as you eat. It’s not easy to digest or savor your food if you aren’t relaxed.
5. If you don’t love it, don’t eat it. Take your first three bites mindfully, experience the taste, flavors, textures, and how much enjoyment you are receiving from a certain food. Make a mindful choice about what to eat based on what you really enjoy.PlainPicture/Mira
It’s estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot—something I call “fast brain.” That’s because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second into manageable shortcuts so we can function in this crazy world. These default brain signals are like signaling superhighways, so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead.
Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these processes; it’s slow brain. It’s executive control rather than autopilot, and enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. But that takes some practice. The more we activate the slow brain, the stronger it gets. Every time we do something deliberate and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity, activating our grey matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed for the fast brain.
But here’s the problem. While my slow brain knows what is best for me, my fast brain is causing me to shortcut my way through life. So how can we trigger ourselves to be mindful when we need it most? This is where the notion of “behavior design” comes in. It’s a way to put your slow brain in the driver’s seat. There are two ways to do that—first, slowing down the fast brain by putting obstacles in its way, and second, removing obstacles in the path of the slow brain, so it can gain control.
Shifting the balance to give your slow brain more power takes some work, though. Here are some ways to get started.
1. Trip over what you want to do. If you intend to do some yoga or to meditate, put your yoga mat or your meditation cushion in the middle of your floor so you can’t miss it as you walk by.
2. Refresh your triggers regularly. Say you decide to use sticky notes to remind yourself of a new intention. That might work for about a week, but then your fast brain and old habits take over again. Try writing new notes to yourself; add variety or make them funny so they stick with you longer.
3. Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into slow brain. For instance, you might come up with, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday. Or, “If phone rings, take a breath before answering.” Each intentional action to shift into mindfulness will strengthen your slow brain.Female athlete tying her shoes. Shot from above in sunset light. Shot in 50 megapixel resolution.
Riding a bike, lifting weights, sweating it out on a treadmill—what do such exercises have in common? For one thing, each can be a mindfulness practice. Whatever the physical activity—dancing the Tango, taking a swim—instead of simply working out to burn calories, master a skill, or improve condition, you can move and breathe in a way that not only gets your blood pumping and invigorates every cell in your body, but also shifts you from feeling busy and distracted to feeling strong and capable.
Ready? The following steps, good for any activity, will help you synchronize body, mind, and nervous system. As you do, you will strengthen your capacity to bring all of your energy to the task at hand.
1. Be clear about your aim. As you tie your laces or pull on your gardening gloves, bring purpose to your activity by consciously envisioning how you want your guide your session. As you climb on your bike you might say, “I am going to breathe deeply and notice the sensation of the breeze and the sun and the passing scenery.” As you enter the pool, you might say, “I’m going to pay attention to each stroke, and the sound and feel of the water surrounding me.”
2. Warm up (5 minutes). Try any simple moves— jumping jacks, stretching— and concentrate on matching the rhythm of your breath to your movement. By moving rhythmically, your brain activity, heart rate, and nervous system begin to align and stabilize.
3. Settle into a rhythm (10 to 15 minutes). Pick up the intensity, but continue to coordinate your breath and movement. If you have trouble doing this, then simply focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Eventually you’ll find your groove.
4. Challenge yourself (10 to 15 minutes). Try faster speed, more repetitions, or heavier weights, depending on what you are doing. Notice how alert and alive you feel when pushing yourself.
5. Cool down (5 minutes). Steadily slow down your pace until you come to a standstill. Notice the way your body feels. Drink in your surroundings.
6. Rest (5 minutes). Quietly recognize the symphony of sensations flowing in and around you. Practice naming what you feel and sense. Chances are you’ll feel awake and alive from head to toe.Plainpicture/Johner/Peter Carlsson
There’s nothing like heavy traffic and impatient drivers to trigger the “fight or flight” response. That’s why road rage erupts and stress levels soar, while reason is overrun. The worse the traffic, the worse the stress. Los Angeles, where I live, has some of the worst traffic around, and some of the most unserene drivers. Emotions run high, tempers flare, tires squeal.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, the snarliest traffic jam can provide an excellent opportunity to build your mindfulness muscle, increase your sense of connection to others, and restore some balance and perspective.
Here are the steps to a simple behind-the-wheel practice I’ve been doing for a while. I’ve found it can work wonders.
1. First, take a deep breath. This simple, yet profound advice helps bring more oxygen into your body and widens the space between the stimulus of the traffic and your heightened stress reaction. In this space lies perspective and choice.
2. Ask yourself what you need. It may be in that moment that you need to feel safe, at ease or you just need some relief. Understanding what you need will bring balance.
3. Give yourself what you need. If ease is what you need, you can scan your body for any tension (not a bad thing to do while driving in any case) and soften any tension or adjust your body as needed. You can sprinkle in some phrases of self-compassion, such as, “May I be at ease, may I feel safe, may I be happy.”
4. Look around and recognize that all the other drivers are just like you. Everyone on the road wants the same thing you do—to feel safe, have a sense of ease, and to be happy. Chances are you’ll see a number of fellow drivers who look a bit agitated, but you might also catch that one who is singing or actually smiling, and this will dissipate some of your own stress immediately. You can apply to all of them what you just offered to yourself, saying, “May you be at ease, may you feel safe, may you be happy.”
5. Take another deep breath. In 15 seconds or less, you can turn around your mood by applying these simple tips. When you feel the frustration of traffic rising, choose whatever you need to work on, and offer that condition to others. If you need to feel safe, say, “May I be safe, may you be safe, may we all be safe.” Breathe in, breathe out, you’ve sowed a seed of happiness.
This article also appeared in the April 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.
13 Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness - And the Difference it Can Make
by Karen Young
What if there was something that could give you a stronger, healthier brain, lower your stress, help protect you against anxiety and depression, give you a better sleep, and improve your mood – all without any side effects except a happier, healthier, calmer version of you? What if science could back it up its restorative, protective, healing powers with countless research studies? And what if this remarkable, restorative gem was in your hands right now, without any need for you to stand in queues, rely on the internet behaving itself, or demand that you swap your cash for a handful of magic beans.
Because it’s here. Well, technically, it never left, we did. It’s mindfulness. Far from being a gimmick or a fad, mindfulness is getting plenty of love and attention from all of the right corners, as in the ones in universities and research rooms.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. The idea is to allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go, without judgement or the need to do anything with them.
It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness in the moment. It’s not so much about reaching an end goal, but about exploring your experience and expanding your awareness of your own inner world – the things that drive you, motivate you, get in your way, trip you up, keep you stuck. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will come to understand how your thoughts, feelings or sensations influence each other, as well as your mood and the way you respond to the world.
What else can it do, aside from turning up the feelgoods, coz, you know, I can get that from bakeries.
Research has shown that mindfulness can change the physiology of the body and brain in ways that strengthen, heal and protect. There are so many benefits that stream from mindfulness, all proven through research. Here are some of them:
There are plenty of ways to practice mindfulness. Here are 13 of them.
Mindfulness can be tricky at first. Our minds are used to wandering, and we will often be tempted to fix on a thought or a feeling, judge it as good or bad, or work hard to analyse or change it. Sometimes this will be useful, but we also need to be able to sit with our experience and be fully in the moment, without being dragged away by thoughts or feelings that might do damage if they hold on for too long. The truth is, the only place we can fully be is here and now. Of course, it is important to plan for the future or reflect on the past, but it’s about balance.
If you haven’t practised mindfulness before, try to replace any judgement you might have about whether or not you’re doing it properly, with acknowledgement that you are doing the very best you can in the moment. What’s important is that you are doing it. The rest will come with practice. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will become to stay present and focus your attention on where you want it, rather than on wherever your mind might take you.
Remember also that mindfulness is dose-related. The more you do it, the more you will benefit from it. The most important thing is to start, and to work towards a regular practice of at least twenty minutes each day. If twenty minutes is difficult to find, and sometimes it can be, try for two ten minute sessions. Here are some different ways to practice mindfulness:
This will make you ‘app-y’. (Oh yes, you’re right, that was bad.)
There are quite a few apps around that contain guided mindfulness sessions. Smiling Mind is a free one, developed by psychologists and health professionals and driven by research. Find out more about it, or download it here.
Get comfortable and start to breathe strong, deep, slow breaths. Make sure that your belly is moving up and down as you breathe. Be aware of what is happening in your body as the breath comes in, and then as it leaves you. Acknowledge your thoughts if they come. Let them be, and then let them go. If your mind moves away, just acknowledge that your mind has wandered, acknowledge where it went, and gently bring your focus back to your breath. Be present without needing to hurry things along, or move on to the next part of your day. This can be difficult, but remind yourself that whatever happens is okay. Just notice, let it be, and then let it go.
Notice body sensations.
Move your attention gently through your body and notice any sensations that are there. There is a world of wisdom behind your sensations. Can you feel your aliveness? Maybe there’s a ‘deadness’ or a heaviness in you. Try to let go of any need to judge, understand or change those sensations. Just notice them. Let them be, and then let them go.
Notice any emotions that come to you. Perhaps they grow from attending to a sensation or a thought. Perhaps they are just there. Let your attention land softly on them, without needing to change or understand them. Any awareness you need will come to you when it’s ready. For now, it’s about creating the space for your experiences to ‘be’.
As you move your attention through your body, notice what you see, feel, hear, taste, smell. Name them, without judgement, and then let them go.
Surf your cravings.
As you become aware of any needs or cravings, let them be there and notice how they feel as they sit within you. Habits, cravings or addictions do damage by creating automatic responses within us. The urge appears, and we instantly respond. Sometimes the response to satisfy the urge is so automatic, it happens without any real awareness or conscious thought. Try something different. Try to expand the space between your awareness of the urge and your response. Let the urge or craving be there, and try staying with the discomfort that comes with that. Rather than moving to get rid of the discomfort, acknowledge the certainty that the discomfort will soon pass on its own.
Wash the dishes.
Ok. Stay with me. Washing the dishes wouldn’t typically make the top five sensual experiences, but doing it mindfully can switch on senses that might not ordinarily come to the party. The mundaneness of the task makes it easy to focus on the senses in the moment – the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water against your skin, the feel of the dishes in your hand, the sights, the sounds. Research shows that mindful dishwashing increases calm and decreases stress. People who washed the dishes mindfully reported a 27% decrease in nervousness, and a 25% increase in mental inspiration.
Take a mindful shower.
Feel the water against your skin, the taste of the water, the smell of the soap, the calm of you. What do you notice about the temperature? Is it too cold? Too hot? Perfect? Watch and listen as the water as it hits your skin and falls to the ground. Touch your skin and notice what this is like for you. Is it nurturing? Uncomfortable? Familiar? Unfamiliar? Do you want more? Less? Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you do this.
Take mindful walk.
Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as, ‘Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.’ To take a mindful walk, give your full attention to the experience of walking. Because walking is something we do a lot of, it becomes automatic. We do it without thinking. This is a good thing – we don’t want to have to think deliberately about every step we take – but occasionally bringing awareness back into the automatic, everyday things we do is a way to experience our ‘everyday‘ with a sense of newness and vitality. To walk mindfully, focus your attention on the actual experience of walking. Feel the ground beneath you as you walk. Listen and notice what this is like. Engage your senses as you do this. Notice the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the world as you move through it.
Eating is another thing we tend to do automatically, often because we tend to do it while we are doing other things such as talking, thinking, reading, scrolling through emails, or watching television. To practice mindfulness while you are eating, engage fully with the experience of eating, without other distractions. Smell the food, touch the food, feel it inside you. Be fully present as you eat, without focusing on other people, the conversation, the things you have to do when you finish. Eating is one of the most powerful ways to nurture ourselves. Notice any thoughts or feelings that come to you as you are eating. Are you nurturing by nourishing? By emotional comfort? What are the feelings that come up for you when you eat? Happiness? Security? Warmth? Guilt? Sadness? What do you tell yourself about eating? Again, let go of any temptation to judge your thoughts or feelings. There are no right or wrong answers – just awareness.
And when you’re with someone.
Really engage with the person you are with. Notice them fully – the colour of their eyes, the sound of their voice, the way their voice lands on you when they speak. If you are speaking to someone over the phone, try closing your eyes to block out other distractions, so you can be fully present in the moment. Too often we hear what people are saying but we aren’t fully present, often thinking of a response or distracted with other things, mentally or physically.
Mindfulness involves a ‘stepping back’ from your thoughts and watching them, rather than letting them gain traction or turn into negative feelings. One way to make this happen is to imagine your thoughts as thought clouds. Imagine that you are watching your thoughts as you might watch clouds – with a sense of indifference, or distance between you and them, and without analysis or judgement. The problem with thoughts is that they can dig in and become feelings. Instead, give them the space to be there. Let them come, and then let them go. If your mind is tempted to wander away with a thought, come back to your breathing and ground yourself in your senses. What do you see, feel, hear, taste, smell?
Do what you love – and be all there.
Whether it’s eating, reading, walking, cooking, taking a warm bath, being with someone – whatever you do, be all there.
And finally …
It’s so easy to fall into habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Mindfulness slows the process down, and brings a sense of meaningfulness to even the most mundane, everyday tasks. It allows us to engage the whole of our senses and experience moments of our day with a full aliveness and presence, without the distractions that might tend to dilute our experiences.
The opportunities for mindfulness are in our hands every day – many times a day. Engaging with the things we do regularly – showering, washing the dishes, being, noticing – but being with them fully, with every sense switched on, and without drifting into the future or the past, might be easier said than done, but it’s a powerful way to strengthen our mind, body and spirit.
If you are new to mindfulness, it’s important to be patient and kind with yourself. If your mind is full and a seasoned wanderer, it might push hard at first against any attempt to slow it down or bring it to the present. Start where you are, and with consistency and regular practice, you’ll finish where you want to be.
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Alexander Ross-Johnson, founder of Mindfulness School, Partner at Mindful Business. For more than 10 years, he has been developing and implementing training programs on the practices of mindfulness, stress reduction, self-regulation and the development of emotional intelligence for top managers and heads of leading Russian and international companies
The series of webinars "Personal Development of a Leader" will be useful for business owners, senior and middle-level managers, and HR specialists. The purpose of this webinar is to introduce participants to practices that develop mindfulness and flexibility of thinking. Every week we debunk popular myths about the human body and share the good habits of famous CEOs and businessmen. Read more about what awaits you in the section, read here.
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