As with everything, practicing mindfulness and seeing its long-term, transformative effects in our lives is only possible if we integrate this practice into our everyday, turning it into a habit. There are many ways to practice mindfulness other than meditation, but let’s start with that one first.
- Mindfulness Meditation
Being aware of our inner world and cultivating the habit of being present in the moment is possible when we spare time for practicing mindfulness. Meditation is a formal practice, which allows us to increase our levels of attention and tune into what’s happening here and now.
- Walking Meditation
Mindfulness practices not only take place while we’re in a seated position, but also as we move. Mindfulness practices invite us into an awareness of our surroundings and of our own bodily sensations. While walking, we can choose to direct our attention to our steps and the way our legs move from one place to another. Feeling parts of your feet touch the ground and noticing these sensations is one way to practice mindfulness.
- Mindful Eating
When we talk about “applying mindfulness to our everyday lives”, this is one of the many aspects from which we can benefit. Something as fundamental as eating can be practiced in a mindful way by focusing on whatever we may be eating or drinking and observing the sensations it offers to our bodies, without judgment. You can think of it almost as if you are eating/drinking something for the first time in your life. It gives us the opportunity to genuinely enjoy and appreciate our food.
- Mindful Movement
Similar to mindful walking, there are other movement-based activities to which you can apply mindfulness. Whether it’s dancing, running, stretching or doing yoga; you can practice by paying attention to the sensations within your body and listening to how your body wants to move. Apart from practicing your daily exercises, you can also just let your body move and take you where it wants to go without any restrictions or overthinking. Turning your favorite music on and dancing may be a great way to try mindful movement.
Being mindful is to be outside of the auto-pilot. Usually we do the chores that we are so used to doing in a mindless state. Do you remember the last time you washed the dishes while being fully aware? The answer is probably “no”, right? A part of mindfulness is also being able to direct your attention to the here and now, regardless of what you’re doing, and being present with that task. Next time you’re doing your chores, try to bring attention to the way you’re moving and maybe notice the thoughts that are going through your mind.
You can’t and that’s okay. The nature of our minds tends to take us between the past and the future quite often. Mindfulness, however, is the practice of being in the present moment and fully experiencing what’s now. Even though there are many benefits of being more mindful and aware of the present moment, this kind of awareness isn’t sustainable all day long.
Our brains are wired to go back to past experiences and it’s perfectly natural because that’s how we learn. Similarly, we often think ahead as well, planning the future, because our minds tend to want to eradicate the uncertainties we might face in the future.
Although these functions of our brains are what keep us alive, when we feel stuck in our memories and plans, we may begin to feel overwhelmed. Dwelling on past mistakes or repeatedly visiting past scenarios isn’t that much of a help. These can create what psychologists call ruminative cycles, which is one symptom of depression. On the other hand, planning the future and trying to control what might happen, unable to tolerate uncertainty, can cause anxiety and stress. The key is to realize when our minds wander through the past and the future.
Through all these, like everything else in life, we’d like to find balance. Cultivating a mindful attitude, as research shows, helps to prevent the ruminative cycle and also decreases the negative reactions we have toward uncertainties.
With this information in mind, it’s safe to say that even though we might not be mindful all day long, we still have the ability to bring our attention back to the present moment whenever we notice that our mind has wandered away. Simple practices like a 3-minute mindfulness break during the day or informal mindful practices can be a huge help in bringing our awareness to the present moment.
We should also be compassionate toward ourselves if it’s a struggle. The course of our mind and thoughts alongside our environment is in constant change. So, another mindful habit would be to realize when we’re not “mindful” and show understanding toward ourselves. Remember, if you’re noticing what your mind is up to in the moment, then you're practicing mindfulness as well--it’s not only about focusing on one thing.