The practice of mindfulness has been a hot-topic in the mental health world these days– and it is no secret that many people are quick to jump on the mindfulness train. As a clinician, I notice many clients wanting to learn more but feeling confused about where to begin.
To break it down for you, the nuts and bolts of incorporating mindfulness in your life on a regular basis, let’s start with a definition. What exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of being in the present and bringing one’s awareness to what is happening in front of you at this very moment.
Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; such a state of awareness.
So, you’re supposed to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and experiences – now what?
Practicing mindfulness in every day life can be tricky. Let’s look at right now for example- as you are reading the words in this article, consider your thoughts. What are you thinking about?
Perhaps you are thinking about what comes next as you skim through the article. Maybe you wore an itchy sweater to work and are currently noticing how uncomfortable it feels on your skin. Or maybe you fought with your partner this morning and you can’t stop thinking about it.
Take a second and reflect – what is on your mind? Are you able to really read these words and stay focused?
These are examples of how our thoughts can interject in the moment and distract us from the task at hand. Now, consider how often you find yourself thinking about something other than what you are currently doing. It can be hard to stay focused on the present especially when we have so many gears turning in our lives. I’d like to share with some strategies for applying mindfulness to everyday tasks:
1. Washing the dishes.
BORING, right? Maybe you enjoy doing the dishes, but more than likely, you are just going through household chores and crossing it off your list. Next time you are doing dishes, pause to reflect on all the steps that are involved while noticing how your senses are involved. When you are scraping the excess food off of the plate, bring your attention to the motion you use to do so. Do you use a sponge or scrubber brush to remove sticky substances or do you use your hands? Notice the sensation. Are there certain motions that work better than others? Feel the temperature of the water as it crashes onto the plate. If you applied soap, maybe a certain scent fills the air around you. Take that in.
What is it like to be reflecting on the process of washing your dishes this way? How might this activity seem different to you now that you are directing your awareness to it?
2. Workouts @ The Gym
One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness is while working out. Why then? It is sweaty and loud and there are so many distractions… this is precisely why. When we are prone to distractions or self-criticism, these moments are excellent for re-centering our body awareness.
So, you are at the gym in the middle of a workout. You are on rep 7 of 10 squat jumps and your mind is entirely checked out. This is a perfect time to reel it back in, here’s how:
As you look into the mirror, what do you see? Be your own witness. Take a moment to notice the form your body makes when you bend your knees, sitting back deeply into a squat position. Feel the distribution of weight into your heels as you sit back and the air underneath your feet as you jump into the air. Become attuned to the pace of your breathing – at what point are you inhaling and exhaling? What sounds do you notice when you land on your feet or jump into the air from your squat? Are you listening to music? If so, what tunes are in the background?
If a thought comes up and interrupts your sequence, acknowledge that thought and push it aside for right now. It can wait until you are done with your 10 reps or maybe even your entire workout.
3. Bathing & Showering
Showering or bathing is part of your routine – so consider it another chance to practice mindfulness. Showering is an especially rich opportunity to engage in mindfulness because there are so many bodily sensations being activated during the process. What makes this shower different from an ordinary shower?
That would be the presence of intention. “Intentional Showering” involves a shift in awareness to bodily sensations that may not be attuned to on a regular basis.
First, consider what time of day are you showering. If it is early in the morning, how might that feel different from if it were later in the day or evening? Notice how much light is present around you as you shower. How might the experience be different with varied amounts of light? What items surround you in the shower? Maybe there are shampoo bottles or maybe there are rubber duck toys or fluffy loofas - how might these sights shape your experience?
Now bring your attention to the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. As you begin cleansing yourself, direct your awareness to the motion in which you are cleansing. Pause for a second. Maybe you use a washcloth, a loofa, or your hand. Is there a particular order you follow while cleansing your body? What sounds are present as you shower? Do you listen to a radio, sing, or shower silently? What scents are present for you as you cleanse? As you notice each of these sensations, I invite you to reflect – how might this change your showering/bathing experience?
Mindfulness is called a practice for a reason. The more often we engage in the practice, the more opportunities we have for learning and growth. When we pause to thoughtfully reflect on our lives in a slow and intentional way, we train ourselves to appreciate the power of living in the present.
I encourage you to incorporate a daily practice for at least a week. Perhaps you have your own ideas or unique ways of incorporating a mindfulness practice that are a better fit for you? Go for it. Run with them. Let me know how it goes – I’d be honored to hear your feedback.