Life can be fast-paced and stressful at times. Some of us might go through the day rushing from one task to the next, without ever stopping to take a breath and reflect. If that sounds familiar, you might want to give mindfulness a try.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation, and it may help you focus on what’s happening in the now. It’s the practice of being fully aware of our moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings, of where we are and what we’re doing, while calmly acknowledging and accepting our emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. Simply put, it’s about being in the moment.
Research suggests mindfulness may help people reduce anxiety and depression, boost their immune systems, maintain a healthy weight, reduce pain, improve sleep, and ease the symptoms of other medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mindfulness for Everyone
Anyone can practice mindfulness. You don’t need anything—no equipment, no workout gear, no gym membership. Just 10 minutes and…well, your mind. Here’s a simple exercise to try that is adapted from an exercise created by the University of California, Berkeley.
- Sit down in a comfortable position.
- Notice and relax your body, paying attention to your body’s weight and how it feels.
- Focus on your breath. Don’t change how you’re breathing, just notice your natural breath, the sensation of breathing in and out.
- Keep this up for about five to seven minutes.
- When your mind wanders, don’t try to push these thoughts away. Don’t let them take over either. Just notice them without judging them and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
- After a few minutes, shift the focus back to your body and how it feels.
- You’ve finished—take a moment to notice how relaxed you feel.
You can even make mindfulness part of any activity, turning the most boring, everyday experience—the things you do without thinking—into a meditative mental break. For example, you can practice mindfulness while you:
- Eat. Don’t scarf down your lunch at your desk while tapping at your phone. Instead, practice mindful eating. As you eat, focus on the food—what does it taste like? What does it feel like on your tongue? Listen to your body telling you that you are satisfied or hungry.
- Walk. Stop rushing to your destination and focus on the experience of walking. What do you see around you? What do you hear? How do your legs and feet feel as you take each step? Notice your breath, your thoughts and emotions, then return your mind to the present.
- Do chores. Instead of trying to distract yourself when doing boring tasks, focus on the actual experience. For example, the next time you’re washing dishes, run through your senses as you do it—listen to the sound of the water, smell the soap, feel the suds on your fingers.
While you can practice mindfulness on your own, learning more about it can be helpful. Taking a class or finding a therapist who specializes in mindfulness are good options. You can also check out some of the books, audiobooks, websites, online videos, and smartphone apps dedicated to mindfulness exercises.
Stick with It
Keep in mind that the goal of mindfulness is not to achieve a state of eternal Zen, nor is it about quieting the mind with a specific mantra or image you repeat in your head—instead it’s about paying attention to the present moment, accepting your thoughts and feelings as they roll in (without judgment), then moving on.
Practicing mindfulness may be a bit harder at first than you may expect. Your mind may start to wander, and other thoughts will pop into your head—Will I make that deadline? Did I switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer? When was that credit card bill due? But don’t worry; random thoughts during meditation happen to everyone. When it does, don’t judge your thoughts or get anxious, just notice them, and gently redirect your focus to your breath.
Keep an open mind and be patient as you try to be mindful. It’s just like learning a new exercise routine. You will likely need to put in some effort before you get the hang of it. But in time, you may find yourself feeling less stressed—and maybe a little bit healthier too.