Updated: Jul 20, 2021
What comes to mind when you hear the word mindfulness? For many people, they picture a serene-looking person, legs crossed, thumb and forefinger touching. Their eyes are closed, and maybe they’re even chanting “ommmmmmmm.” While this style of meditation uses mindfulness, it can also feel intimidating and/or unrealistic for many of us.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to look one certain way, and it definitely doesn’t have to involve sitting criss-cross. Mindfulness is the act of non-judgemental observation in the present moment. This observation can be focused inward on our breathing, our muscle tension, or the feeling of movement, or it can also be focused outward on the sounds, sights, smells, and movement of the world around us.
The non-judgemental piece of mindfulness means we focus on what *is* instead of how we feel about what is. In adopting non-judgment, we invite ourselves to refrain from labeling things as “good” or “bad,” “liked” or “disliked”, and instead just notice their existence.
Mindfulness is largely about bringing our mind’s focus to the present moment. Because our brains are such mighty and powerful organs, we have the capacity to think about the past and imagine about the future. This skill helps us learn from mistakes and prepare ourselves for what’s to come, and it helps us engage in things we enjoy and avoid things that don’t feel good. But it can also set us up to spend a lot of time analyzing our past and worrying about our future. By bringing our awareness to the present moment, to exactly what is happening right in this exact moment, we can give our brains a much-needed break.
Why might you be hearing about mindfulness at every turn, even in this very blog post? Although mindfulness is an ancient practice that has been around for thousands of years as a formal practice (and occurs in our species and others naturally), it has experienced a bit of a resurgence in recent years in the Western world for its health benefits.
For physical health, practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk, offset age-related cognitive decline, decrease blood pressure, and improve immune response. For psychological health, mindfulness has been shown to assist in stress reduction, improve quality of life, lessen anxiety, and decrease depression. Mindfulness has even been related to higher relationship satisfaction.
So how do we do it?
Mindfulness may be simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. Much of our Western world encourages us to always be on the move and to be thinking three steps ahead. That’s why the aforementioned meditative-chanting position can feel a little out of reach sometimes. Instead, I suggest trying to incorporate small “Mindful Moments” into your day that can be brief and easily woven into your current routine.
Taking a mindful moment looks like incorporating the three tenets of mindfulness into anything you do: 1) non-judgemental, 2) observation, 3) in the present moment. Here are some examples or simple mindful moments that you can try today:
Close your eyes in the shower. Notice the sound of the water coming from the faucet, on the tile, on your shampoo bottle. Notice the feeling of the water on your skin, its temperature, the steam in your nose. Notice the smell of your soap and the feeling of cleansing your body.
Notice the appearance of what you’re eating: its color, its shape, the contrast to its dish. Notice how it feels in your hands as you bring it toward your mouth. Pay attention to its aroma and smell. Can you revel in the flavor of the food on your tongue, or notice the texture of each bite?
Bring awareness to the temperature of the water as it flows over your hands. Notice the sense of touch and contact between your hands as you rub them together. Smell the fragrance of the soap. Observe how you dry your hands, paying attention to the sensations, sounds, and even smells of the towel or dryer that you’re using.
Pay attention to the sensations of each inhale and exhale. Notice the temperature of the air as it passes through your nostrils or mouth. Feel your lungs fill with air, the rise and fall of your chest and/or belly. Notice how you feel your breath in your body. Feel the exhale pour out of your nose or mouth as you empty your lungs.
Notice the feeling of the steering wheel in your hands, its texture, its size, its temperature. Focus your eyes on the road in front of you and take in as much detail as you can. What colors can you see? What shapes and textures do you notice? Can you imagine what the temperature would feel like? Notice all the sounds of your car, maybe even the sound of your own breathing. Feel your body supported in the seat of your car and the pressure of your foot on the brake or accelerator. (Please remember to stay safe and focused on your driving!)
By inviting non-judgemental, present-moment observation, we can turn almost any activity into a mindful one. How can you practice mindfulness today?