The benefits of meditation — awareness and a feeling of calm — can be achieved by engaging in what’s called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness can help us develop patience, greater self awareness in ourselves and others, and openness. A new study published last month in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging , suggests that meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy.
Here are 10 ways to practice mindful living throughout your day.
1. With your child. “While bathing your child, notice whether you’re thinking of other things or rushing the ritual. See if you can ’show up’ for this experience. To find more tips on how to interact mindfully and increase happiness in your child’s life, see the blog Raising Happiness by Christine Carter from the Greater Good Website.
The benefit: A safer, more satisfying experience; creating a special memory for you both.
2. With a friend, spouse, or coworker. When you find yourself wanting to prematurely end a conversation, examine what it is about the exchange that is causing you to want to move on. Are you anxious to find a “better,” more exciting conversation partner? Are you thinking about something else? Instead, make an effort to fully listen and then react honestly to what the other person is saying.
The benefit: Becoming a better listener, knowing yourself, and building patience.
3. With a stranger. Become aware of the judgments you automatically form without a lot of basis. “For example, if the person you encounter is attractive to you, do you immediately start to assign positive attributes to him and create a mental storyline about him?” asks Bonus. The opposite can be true, as well, when you meet someone you’re not attracted to. Try to be aware of your reactions.
The benefit: A less judgmental mindset. If you suspend opinions before you get to know someone, you’re open to the opportunity of seeing that person for who he or she really is.
4. During exercise. Note when your breathing becomes labored, when your temperature rises, and when fatigue or pain sets in. You will be able to get out of your head and really be in your body, letting yourself enjoy movement and being in your body.
The benefit: The more tuned in you are to physical cues when placing extra demands on your body, the more familiar you’ll become with your body’s limits; knowing your physical boundaries can help you respect them and, if you want, gently push them.
5. At work. For one minute each hour, stop everything you’re doing and focus only on your breath.
The benefit: Not only are you giving your mind a chance to take a break (just as you’d give your body a rest after hiking for an hour), but you return to your work refreshed. “Letting go of a stressful situation and allowing yourself to just ‘be’ for a moment can bring about a new perspective and allow yourself to come back with more energy and creativity.
6. While eating. Many of us eat unconsciously, shoveling food into our mouths, rarely tasting much beyond the first bite. Instead, eat slowly, tasting each bite, thinking about how the food got to the table, and appreciating how it fuels your body.
The benefit: The more aware you are about how and what you eat, the healthier your food choices become and the more relaxing mealtime will be.
7. During your leisure time. Connect with nature. Gardening, biking through the park, hiking — all these things put you in harmony with the natural environment and allows you to see the world which is bigger than your immediate problem or stressors.
The benefit: The goal of mindfulness is to be fully present; it’s easier to achieve this state when you’re in a natural setting. Being in nature takes you away from the ticking of the clock and the 24/7 stimulation of our smart phones (turn off your phone). By getting into nature and unplugging from technology you come into your inner calm.
8. When you experience a negative emotion or physical pain. When we feel physical or emotional pain, the instinct is to rid ourselves of it as quickly as possible, whether it’s by taking aspirin for a headache or suppressing anger. However, true mindfulness doesn’t discriminate — you want to be aware and accepting of the “bad” stuff as well as the “good” stuff. The next time you feel sick or upset, allow yourself to fully feel it and accept it as your present mental or physical state.
The benefit: It’s easier to work through something you’re paying attention to rather than ignoring. In addition, the more comfortable you become with a sense of fear, for example, the less anxiety you’ll have when it surfaces the next time.
9. While watching television. Many of us view shows mindlessly. Check your physical and emotional response as you watch: Does a news report make you anxious? Does a loud commercial make you cringe? Do you tend to watch TV only when you’re tired or depressed?
The benefit: The more aware you are of your responses to television and how you “use” it, the more conscious you can be in choosing to watch programs that are relaxing and gratifying.
10. Anytime. Practice the ‘philosophy of slow. For example, when cooking, choose a recipe that takes longer to prepare, like a stew or when drinking pick a tea and see if you can really savor the warmth of the liquid and the distinct flavor of the tea.
The benefit: Doing something slowly diminishes your stress level, builds patience, helps us appreciate things that don’t offer “immediate gratification,” and often produces better, more satisfying results.
Being present in each moment feels counterintuitive — we are so conditioned to review our past and plan our future. But as mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “If you want the future to be different, the only place that you can stand and work with it is here and now.” In other words, bringing awareness to this moment will positively affect the next one. www.intuitivelywell.com