When talking about mindfulness we probably have images in our minds of very fit and sporty people that sit cross legged on a yoga mat, maybe even in nature in front of a gorgeous sunset with their palms facing up and their thumb and index finger touching. And even though we might secretly confess that this image seems heavenly to us and that we wish nothing more than to immerse ourselves in that peaceful and quiet situation, seemingly without any worries and to-do lists, we directly sigh out and state that WE don't have the time for this.
Because this is the other dominant perception that we have of mindfulness exercises: they take too long and end up just being another item on our to-do list, increasing the pressure and stress and thus causing more harm than good. And who hasn't been there… we know deep down that we need some time to be present, be quiet, relax, chill… however you want to call it. And we have the best intentions to make this mindfulness time a regular thing. Like meditating every morning, or doing some breath work at the start of every working day before we switch on our laptops. We might even succeed in our goal for a couple of times but in the end it just appears to be unreasonable.
Very often we set ourselves up for failure. We want too much too fast and don't consider what it actually takes to take a couple of minutes every morning out of our routine to do a guided meditation - when just lying in bed for a little longer is so unbelievably tempting, or kids need our attention and care from the minute we open our eyes. Especially when starting a new habit it takes a lot of mental strength and motivation to consistently stay at it. What we need then is to start small, to have prompts that help us get started and to reward ourselves for our efforts. If you want to get more detailed insights on how to set yourself up for success with habits in general, read our blog post Just another blog post on habits and routines?
Another trick that helps us to actually stick with our mindfulness routines is to swap extensive sessions for small and bite-sized stints. Science has proven over and over again that the lower the threshold to start doing an activity, the higher the likelihood of you actually committing to doing it. The key is thus to incorporate your mindfulness activities seamlessly into your daily routine and thus lowering possible thresholds as much as you possibly can. When we talk about incorporating activities into our daily lives, you can think about the following ordinary moments:
- Brushing your teeth
- Driving in your car or sitting in public transport
- Doing the dishes or unloading the dishwasher
- Exercising and generally moving your body
- Before getting up in the morning
But which mindfulness activities are there besides the 20 minutes guided meditation or the 1-hour yin yoga session? In the end there are countless possibilities as anything really can be classified as a mindfulness practice as soon as you intentionally try to be as present as possible with any quiet(ish) activity. Here are our top 5 ways which are very easy to commit to and can be done for any length of time… varying from just a couple of seconds to several minutes or even hours…
Do a body scan
The aim of the body scan is to get more in tune with the sensation of your body, the tensions, the feelings of discomfort, or maybe even the pains. It helps in addressing things that go right and things that go wrong within your constitution. A body scan can be compared to a mental x-ray slowly travelling your body. Breathe slowly and pay attention to your different body parts, examining how they feel, acknowledge any tensions and pains and sit with the feelings that emerge, before moving on to the next part.
Breathing mindfully is one of the most basic but not less powerful mindfulness exercises there are. You "simply" focus your attention to your in-breaths and out-breaths, the natural rhythm of your breathing and how each breath makes you feel. Do you breathe through your nose or your mouse? Is your inhale longer or shorter than your exhale? Does your breathing rhythm give you energy or does it cost energy?
Listen actively to calming music
Listening to music in general has a very strong effect on your mood and your mental condition. And exposing your senses to calming tunes and soothing rhythms supports the quieting of your mind and your muscles. It is a great way to lower your stress levels and relax as your brain waves almost synchronise with the beat. The lower the beat, the lower your brain activity, bringing you in a very reflective and restful state.
Muse on things you are grateful for
The origin of the word gratitude is the latin word "gratia" meaning grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. Gratitude is vastly defined as your own willingness to see the value in your life which you experience but which is caused by external factors. Practising gratitude is an active process and a psychological strategy and it is counterintuitive to our general negative-bias. You can easily refer to our Intentional Journaling Guide for further information on how a gratitude practice can support your wellbeing.
Notice the sounds and sensations around you
To notice the sensations around you, you can focus your senses one by one on things that you can taste, smell, hear, feel and see. Scan your surroundings for things that pique your attention and interest and that make you naturally curious to observe their effect on you and your mind. Do that without judgement. There is no right or wrong. Take your sweet time and observe as many details as you want.
All those activities you can do as often and as long as you want and as you feel is beneficial for your mindfulness and wellbeing journey. If it is a couple of seconds while waiting for a friend, great. If it is a couple of minutes before getting up in the morning, also great. Take the pressure off your mindfulness routine by leaving long and heavy commitments aside and start incorporating short stints of being present in your daily routine.