Mindfulness is all the rage these days. Within the last twelve months, I’ve found John Kabat-Zinn, the ‘father’ of mindfulness practice in the US, quoted or referenced in a self-help book, a birthing book, a parenting book, and a business-coaching book!
Last week we talked about the concept of ‘quieting the mind’ and we mentioned how engaging our “Task Positive Network” can help us do that. Because the Task Positive Network contains regions of the brain that operate both the ‘Internal Sensor’ and the ‘External Sensor,’ engaging it is one way of bringing us solidly into the present.
As noted above, one primary goal of Mindfulness is also to bring us to the present moment. A former meditation teacher I had summed up the reason for doing that perfectly. She said, “We can’t change the past and we can’t change the future, the now is the only time where we can actually effect change.”
We can only change the now, and yet many of us are a bit lost in our Default Mode Network; rehashing events and conversations of the past or planning the future. Although there’s nothing better for developing present-moment awareness than establishing a regular sitting meditation practice, some people are simply not ready.
In light of that, here are three easy ways to bring ‘Mindfulness’ into your daily experience without sitting criss-cross applesauce or saying a single Ohm;
You might be surprised by how much you walk each day. There is a type of meditation, walking meditation, in the mindfulness / insight canon. This typically requires walking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and bringing attention to each individual movement associated with the simple act of walking.
While I certainly recommend everyone try it at least once, it isn’t necessary to have done walking meditation to practice mindful walking. When we practice mindful walking, we aren’t trying to change anything about our walk – we’re just observing it.
We can observe ourselves walking in a myriad of ways – one of the reasons why mindful walking is such a pleasure to do! For example, when we walk we can bring our awareness to the bottoms of our feet. We can wonder at the difference in sensation when our feet our connected to the Earth or when they are ‘in the air’ between steps.
It’s winter here in Chicago and I practice mindful walking over the ice and snow! Bringing my awareness to the bottoms of my feet as I step on new-fallen snow has certainly saved me from slipping more than once.
When the bottoms of our feet get a bit boring, we can bring attention to the cadence of our walk; the rhythm. Do we walk to a type of beat? Is it even or irregular? When we walk very slowly (as with walking meditation) it can be hard to keep our balance, yet when we walk at our regular speed we find balance in the momentum of our walk.
When we watch a child learning to walk, one of their biggest challenges is determining how to distribute weight optimally – this isn’t a mental challenge, but a physical one. Most of us have been walking so long we take this natural shift in weight for granted. Spending a few moments just observing that beautiful balance we find when we walk at our natural speed can be a lovely exercise in present moment awareness.
If those two ideas aren’t enough, we can draw our attention to our various muscle groups when we walk. How does it feel to walk just bringing awareness to our thighs, for example? Or our glutes? What if we focus on our shoulders as our arms swing back and forth?
How often do we “multi-task” eating? We grab something to-go, sit at our desk (or wherever) and chow it down while we work, surf the internet, or do anything but actually pay attention to the food in front of us!
When we eat a meal ‘mindfully’ we’re bringing our awareness to this under-appreciated activity. Similar to mindful walking, there are many ways to eat a meal mindfully. In her book Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke describes an exercise of mindfully eating a raising while we think of everything that had to come together to put that raisin in front of us; the farmer growing the grape, the drying of the grapes into raisins, the distributors bringing the raisins to a store, etc.
I confess, this isn’t my favorite way to mindfully eat – as it still keeps me in my head, but it is one option and certainly something to try. The other ‘mindful eating’ exercise is more sensory in nature. We bring our awareness to the texture and taste of what we’re eating. We can attend to our muscles as we chew – some foods require so much chewing that our jaw may get sore!
I have found, when I eat meals mindfully, I start to really notice how they taste! Too often, I’ve purchased ‘food’ items that are over before I’ve even appreciated the taste of them; a donut, for example. When we eat ‘unconsciously’ we’re less satisfied.
When we eat mindfully, in contrast, when we bring our full attention to how food actually tastes, we may notice when all we’re eating is just sugar or fat versus a meal with depth of flavor. A candy bar is more enticing, but when we eat mindfully – we may find that a raw red pepper has a more full-bodied experience to offer.
Posture is something we can always ‘check in’ on – in fact, you can do it right now! When we mindfully attend to our posture we can notice if we’re slouching, or tensing our shoulders or neck muscles. Many of us unconsciously tense up while we’re working – the more often we bring attention to this, the more likely we are to relax those muscles regularly and save ourselves from soreness later.
It takes less than a minute to bring awareness to our posture. Although there aren’t as many different avenues of awareness as found with mindful walking or eating, it is such a fast and easy check that we can do it at any time; in a meeting, sitting at our desk, even lying in bed at night!
A ‘posture check’ would be an easy alarm to set for a few times a day on a cell-phone. After only a few instances, your mind will be conditioned, when the alarm goes off to start automatically bringing attention to your posture.
I hope one day you start a regular meditation practice. Scientific studies on the benefits of meditation on our health and well-being are piling up. However, even if you are unable to bring regular sitting meditation into your life at this time, the tips in this post can be a way to start bringing more mindfulness into your daily life.
Tune in next Wednesday when we start a five part series on Energy, a concept I have referred to often on the blog.