The awesome thing about mindfulness as an effective way to improve your mental health and wellbeing is that it doesn’t have to be an intense formal practice. You can work informal mindfulness exercises into your every day life. Just think about how two minutes of mindfulness practice here and there while going about your daily routine add up at the end of the week – it’s often more than if you had sat on a meditation cushion for half an hour. Creating your own mindfulness exercise is a really good solution on several levels.
So if you are considering introducing mindfulness exercises into your everyday life, then this page is for you. The following steps are designed to get you started, they are not meant to be a definitive guide to mindfulness practice.
Establishing a routine
Your first step will be to plan how regularly and for how long and in what situations you will practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is best practiced regularly, you can think of it like building muscle, the more regular your exercise the better you will improve your strength. An easy way to improve the likelihood of regular practice is to include mindfulness into your existing schedule. Before bed can be a good starting place, as there are likely to be less distractions and it might only mean turning the television off 15 minutes early. Alternatively, if you’re a morning person, you can practice when you wake up.
You might start by trialling mindfulness for 10-15 minutes once a day, with the intention of working up to around 30 minutes a day, as you notice the benefits. If you only manage a few minutes or miss a few days, don’t despair, just start again!
Choosing a place
Generally you want to find a spot that is relatively comfortable and free from distraction. However, some people practice mindfulness travelling on public transport or taking time out for a drink of tea or coffee at a café.
Getting started – Identify an anchor
Since you will be teaching yourself to improve your ability to focus on the present moment, you need to choose an anchor to the present moment. This will allow you to identify when your attention leaves the present moment. Breath, is the common one, but any of the 5 senses will work, that is; taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound.
Focus on being present
Once you’ve chosen your anchor, your aim for the next however many minutes will be to simply be present in the here and now. To attend to the identified anchor, perhaps focussing on noticing breath entering your body, travelling to your stomach and being exhaled from your body. During this time, exercise an attitude of openness and curiosity towards thoughts, feelings, sounds, smells, touch, taste, as you become aware of them.
Notice thoughts that appear
Thinking will come and go as you do this exercise, when you notice thoughts, your aim will be to gently note what the thought was about and then return attention to the chosen anchor. It is your minds job to produce thoughts and to bring our attention to troubling and worrying thoughts (we typically have 13,000 thoughts a day). What you have choice about is how you respond, what thoughts you choose to engage with and spend your time with and what actions you take. Mindfulness is about improving your ability to notice when your attention is wandering and refocus, not to have complete control over your thoughts. If you find yourself evaluating or judging your experience, simply notice that you having the thought of evaluating your experience and return to your anchor (by doing so your focus returns to the anchor, not on evaluating and judging).
Notice feelings that are around
Feelings will also come up when doing this exercise. They can come up in the form of physical discomfort, or as emotions that may seem to come from nowhere. When they do, try making space for them, allowing them to come and go as necessary. Again the aim is to notice what just took your attention and then redirect your focus to the present.
Return to your anchor when you become distracted
A common experience is an experience of ‘frustration’ at how easily your attention wanders, this is what our minds do. Again, in these situations the aim is to return your attention to the anchor whenever you notice yourself becoming distracted.
Doubt is part of the experience
There will be times when you doubt your ability to practice mindfulness. This again is understandable, the mind’s job is to produce thoughts and focus on worries. Remind yourself that practicing mindfulness is challenging, and that there is no such thing as failed practice. See if you can step back from the judgments your mind makes about your practice, and just notice the different tactics it uses to distract your attention.
Re-orient yourself to the day
When you have practiced mindfulness for the preferred amount of time, re-orient yourself to the day. Identify what your priorities are and where you are going to put your energy for the rest of the day. Maybe you have an appointment, meal to cook, job to fix or place to go.
Below is a step by step example of mindfulness practice
- For 20 minutes each day, just after waking up in the morning, sitting on my back porch, I will be mindful.
- Get comfortable with good posture, and close eyes or fix them on a non-distracting spot.
- Bring attention to the feeling of breathing. Follow the breath from the point it enters your nose or mouth, down into your lungs and then out again. Notice the sensation of the rising and falling of your chest caused by your lungs moving.
- As soon as you realise you have been distracted by a thought or feeling, make a mental note of what distracted you, and return your attention to your breath.
- You may find it challenging to not get involved with your thoughts. However the more you practice observing your thoughts and not becoming fused with them during mindfulness exercises, the better able you will be to apply this to other parts of your life.
Identifying personal challenges
Mindfulness can be used to identify particular personal challenges or areas that are troubling for you at present. After practice, you might write down any thoughts or feelings you found challenging or important. It is likely that these experiences are the most pervasive. Ask yourself if you are able to simply notice these thoughts during the exercise, but without getting into a conversation with them. This may be an uncomfortable idea, so then the aim will be to just sit and notice the discomfort while stepping back from the thought. Identifying these areas of concern can be helpful in identifying areas of change you wish to make in your life. In doing so, the idea is not to live a discomfort free life, but one that fits your identified life values and life purposes.
Creating a focus
Write down the areas of your life that are important to you. Then add to this list the sort of habit you want to cultivate in you life. Mindfulness will assist you to check in with you and have more control over how you act in different areas of your life. Mindfulness can help you:
- Give your full attention in social, familial, and business situations.
- Improve concentration.
- Keep your cool in arguments.
- Improve health (i.e: lowered stress and blood pressure).
- Experience unpleasant emotions and memories while still remaining in control and not getting overly caught up in them.
Alternatives to formal mindfulness
Some useful alternatives to formal mindfulness practice involve incorporating it into day to day activities: you can pay attention to your bodily movements while walking, talking to people by giving them your full attention, or doing chores like washing up or cleaning. Practice paying attention to every detail of the chore, and when thoughts come up about how annoying it is, acknowledge them and refocus attention on your activity. With a bit of creativity, you can incorporate mindfulness into any part of your life, and that is one of the aims.
The idea of mindfulness is to enhance our awareness of what is happening within us and around us. It is to become more aware of the many thoughts and feelings that we experience everyday and to feel more able to choose how you act and where you put your energy.