Mindfulness practices have been scientifically proven to increase compassion and creativity, enhance decision making and even improve our sex lives. Our meditation practices are re-wiring and re-training our brain, as well as opening up new neural pathways and connections between our heart, mind and body. The practices are potent medicine, and we practice with the intention of the results infiltrating our everyday lives. Here are ten ways you can practice mindfulness in the many moments of your everyday life.
- Chew slowly
Ayurveda asserts that we should chew our food 32 times before swallowing, knowing that digestion begins first in the mouth. Counting the number of times you chew your food can make eating a meditative experience, whilst also improving your digestion. Chewing slowly allows the tastebuds in your mouth so send signals to the brain about what kinds of foods we're eating - proteins, carbohydrates, fats etc - which then sends signals to our digestive organs about the right amount and right type of digestive juices our body needs to process the foods. Invoking mindfulness whilst eating gives space for better connection inside our bodies, as well as creating a calm state for our body to absorb nutrients properly.
- Invoke your Senses
Pausing to mindfully engage with all of your senses during different moments in your day activates your full sensory body and enlivens your everyday experiences. While eating, this could involve smelling your food and trying to notice all the different smells at play. Touching your food with your hands or feeling its form and texture inside your mouth before chewing. It could be invoking your intuition to feel into what food your body is drawn when deciding what to eat - your body may just communicate to you whether it wants warming or cooling foods, the colours, textures or spices it craves. If you're out in nature, notice all the different smells around you, feel the texture of leaves and flowers, notice the air on your skin, the sounds of your feet walking on the Earth. Mindfully tapping into our sensory body and letting ourselves feel the full experience of whatever we're doing, brings a fullness in presence to our day.
- Mindful walking
Bringing your full presence into your feet, body and breath while walking is a beautiful meditative practice that is perfect to incorporate into your day. Whether walking on your lunch break, strolling through the park, or making your way to the bus stop, carve out a little extra time to walk slowly and meditatively. Paying attention to your breath, take full inhalations deep into your belly and exhale slowly. Keep your body relaxed, your shoulders down and your knees soft. Pay attention to your heel touching the ground, and how your body weight shifts as you move onto the ball of your foot. Notice how your foot feels as you lift it slightly into the air to begin the next step, and the difference in sensation between your foot which hovers, and the one on the floor. You can practice this slowly, taking a five minute break from your desk to walk up and down a hallway or in a circle around a meeting room. You could practice while baby wearing to rock your child to sleep. Or, if practicing while on the way to a destination, allowing yourself an extra ten or fifteen minutes to get there a little slower, but more mindfully.
- How is your Heart?
We ask each other multiple times a day "how are you?" without really expecting an honest answer. At one point during the day, try asking yourself, "how is my heart?". Bringing our attention to this space allows us to tap into what we are feeling in any given moment. This can be particularly difficult in a society which glorifies the mind and has us intellectualizing and bargaining with our feelings. We often think our feelings, try to logically debate what we feel and manipulate ourselves into masking and morphing our feelings on a daily basis. We're really well trained at it. So taking a pause in our day, especially during times of stress, to ask "how is my heart?" can bypass the mind and go directly to the heart of our feelings. Focusing on acknowledging what we are feeling, instead of why we are feeling. Try sharing this with someone else and asking "how is your heart?" and seeing where this question leads them.
- Art of repetition
Traditionally, midwives often knitted in the corner of birth rooms, until they were needed. The repetitive action of knitting, kept their cortisol and adrenaline down and induced states of meditative calm - which was necessary for the birthing woman to remain in a calmer state herself, as her nervous system is able to pick up on the state of others in the room. Repetitive practices like weaving, knitting, ceramics, and woodcarving can help us induce the flow state and combine an increase in skill with a state of relaxation.
- Recognising the Elements
Do you ever notice all of the natural elements that you interact with on a daily basis? Playing a game with yourself to acknowledge, and pay gratitude to the elements as they move through your day, helps us to feel more connected to the natural world and our part in it. You can begin by noticing the elements outside of you, the fire of the sun, the water you bathe in, the different ways of the wind on your skin and the earth beneath your feet, as well as the element of space and its importance in creating form and balance. You can also notice the way these elements move and change within yourself. The water within your body as you drink, the fire of your digestion, gas in your body and the muscular earth of your physicality. Notice the role of space, in your mind, in your day, in the moments in between. It's a special way to realise daily that we are made of the same elements of the natural world, that we are part of nature, connected and not alone.
- Mindful movement
The flow state can be achieved through mindful repetitive movement - creating an immersive state that invokes the balance between relaxation and skilled movement. Bike riding, surfing, running, swimming, dance, tai chi, and yoga can all induce this state. As well as fuelling your body with healthy endorphins through exercise, these activities can be practiced mindfully, repetitively, and induce states of complete immersion in the activity at hand. Incorporating an activity like this into your daily life will aid your meditation practice and improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
- Active Listening
When we are in conversation with people, we're often not really listening. When someone else is speaking, our minds can start racing, running over what we're going to say next, crafting our own story, searching for something to latch on to and argue with if things get heated, or just tuning out altogether. What if you tried to listen with your whole body, not just enough to trigger your mind chatter? Active listening involves mindfully being fully present with the person your speaking with. Looking them in the eye, watching how their face changes as they speak, noticing their body language, using your heart to sense and feel into how they feel while they ae speaking. According to research conducted by communications theorist Albert Mehrabian, 55% of our communication is body language, 38% tone of voice and 7% the words we use (unless we are talking about our feelings or attitudes - then Mehrabian says, the figures are not applicable). Trying to bring our presence into our body, out of the mind, when listening to someone, is the best way to offer someone our full attention and presence as they communicate with us, and may aid in reducing our reaction time to triggering words and foster greater understanding.
- Practice Gratitude
Creating a gratitude practice helps us to gradually notice more and more, those things in life which bring us joy. It's training our brains to pay attention, notice and appreciate the good things in life, like kindness, love, beauty, our resources, relationships and more. You can start a journal, or say what you're grateful for outloud, a prayer to yourself, before going to sleep. Look for the big and the small. For the things that involve nature, and other people - reminding you of your connection to others and the Earth. You could also incorporate a gratitude practice into your meal times. Before you eat, give a moment of gratitude to all the ingredients in your dish, the lands they came from and the hands that grew and tended to them. And then, chew slowly.
10. Full Body Scan
When you lay down to sleep at night, practice a full body scan - a mindfulness technique used to deeply relax the body and bring you into your parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to rest. Beginning at your feet, bring your awareness into your toes. You can scrunch them tight and then release them completely and feeling the difference between the two. Then, you squeeze your feet and ankles, releasing to rest. Follow this moving all the way up your body, squeezing and relaxing your thighs, pelvis, stomach, hands, shoulders, neck, face -and all the smaller body parts in between. This is also beneficial for releasing stress and tension, because it is training your brain and body to note the muscles switched on, and switched off. When we hold tight tension in some muscles like our shoulders, its because we aren't turning them off and they are perpetually switched on in response to stressors - the brain may no longer even realise they are on. For example, when someone tells you to drop your shoulders, and you weren't aware they were raised in the first place. A full body scan really helps to induce a deep state of rest and calm and is the perfect mindfulness practice to help you have a good nights sleep.