- Anya Szumowski
You Don't Have to Meditate to be Mindful: Five Ways to Practice Present Moment Awareness
Meditation has become the poster child of mindfulness, but believe it or not - you don't actually have to meditate to be mindful. In fact, there are plenty of other ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine that doesn't involve sitting with your eyes closed cross-legged on a cushion.
But first, what actually is mindfulness? Well, simply put, mindfulness is like being the boss of your brain. You know how your brain can run in circles, chatting away and never seeming to shut up? With mindfulness, we can learn to quiet our thoughts and find peace, even in the midst of chaos. It's a mental state of being aware in the present moment, noticing our thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and physical sensations in a non-reactive way, and without judgement. And the benefits are endless! Studies have shown mindfulness can reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression, improve focus and concentration, boost immunity, lower high blood pressure and chronic pain, increase emotion regulation, and enhance self awareness and the ability to relate to self and other's with kindness, acceptance, and compassion.
So now that we know the value of being mindful, here are some fun and easy ways to practice for yourself:
Take a silent walk in nature: There's something about being surrounded by greenery that can instantly calm the mind. Take a walk in a park or go for a hike in the woods. Focus on the sounds of the birds chirping, the rustling of leaves, and the feel of the ground beneath your feet. Allow yourself to fully immerse in the present moment and let go of any thoughts that are pulling you to the past or future.
Listen to music: Music has the power to transport us to a different place and time. Though have you ever been driving, listening to the radio, and halfway through the song you realize "what am I listening to?" We're pretty mindless, both when we drive and when we listen to music. Put on your favorite album and really listen to the lyrics and melodies. Allow yourself to fully engage with the music and let it wash over you.
Mindful eating: We all have to eat, so why not make it a mindful experience? Pay attention to the colors, smells, and textures of your food. Chew slowly and savor each bite. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus solely on the act of eating.
Engage in a creative activity: Painting, drawing, knitting - whatever your creative outlet may be, use it as a way to be more present. Focus on the colors, textures, and movements of your materials. Lose yourself in the process and let go of any worries or distractions.
Practice gratitude: Take a moment each day to reflect on what you're grateful for. It can be as simple as appreciating a good cup of coffee or as profound as being thankful for your loved ones. Whatever it may be, allow yourself to feel the gratitude and let it fill you up.
Mindfulness doesn't have to be complicated or intimidating. It's simply the act of being present in the moment and noticing the world around you. But remember, it's not just what you pay attention to that matters, but how you pay attention too. And the goal is with kindness. A study conducted by researches at Harvard University found that people's minds wander an average of 47% of their waking hours. So, it may be fair to say that your mind will wander in the middle of your mindfulness practice, and that's okay! This is not an indication that you're "doing it wrong". Allow yourself to notice those wandering thoughts, without judgement, and come back to the present moment.
Whether you meditate or not, there are plenty of ways to cultivate mindfulness in your daily life. Give one (or all!) of these practices a try and see how they work for you.
Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 491-516. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-042716-051139
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932-932. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1192439