Mindfulness: “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” (Merriam-Webster dictionary).
One thing I’ve learned from the Covid-19 lock-down is that we’ve been moving too fast to really savor and enjoy life to the fullest. The complete elimination of all outside extracurricular activities for the children and for ourselves forced us to slow down. We had no social life or entertaining other than a weekly Zoom quiz night. Life slowed and we got back in touch with the simple pleasures of life. I had time to bake bread, tidy up the garden, read thick books, and take long walks on the seafront.
In slowing down, I fell into the practice of mindfulness naturally – really focusing on the present moment with calm awareness and a sense of gratitude to be alive and well. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that calms the mind and it leads to greater happiness while reducing stress, anxiety and worry. Once you learn that you are not your thoughts and start to observe your monkey brain firing off one crazy thought after another, you can become the observer, noticing the environment around you, including your own thoughts. You can practice mindfulness while washing the dishes or taking a walk. You don’t have to sit still in a lotus position and meditate, although that certainly works to calm and focus the mind as well.
The benefits of mindfulness are many—reduced stress, better health, better sleep, more focus, greater productivity and creativity – to name a few. And, the great thing about mindfulness is that you can practice it anytime, anywhere.
Here are a few tips to bring more mindfulness and happiness into your daily life:
1. Create a gentle morning routine.
Get up earlier and stretch, make the bed, do a round of sun salutations, take a shower, get dressed, but with grace and ease (no rushing or multitasking). How can you create the ideal morning routine? Perhaps you add a few minutes of journaling while you sip a cup of tea on the balcony. Maybe you go for a walk with the dog around the block and focus on the birdsong or the flowers growing.
What is the perfect way to start the day? Begin incorporating those elements into your morning routine to get your day off to a calm and centered start. If you have children, what does an ideal morning with children look like for you? I like to get up early and make them banana, egg and oat pancakes so they start the day with some protein. Prepping the night before can make mornings less stressful. If I’m calm and focused, the kids tend to be as well. If I’m stressed, they pick up on that and get stressed too.
2. Have a mindful lunch break.
First, observe your hunger level. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being starving and 10 being stuffed, how hungry are you? Take a moment to tune into your body and notice the sensation of hunger. Is your body craving a particular food? Now, pick up your food and notice it. What color is this food you are about to eat? Can you smell it? Now take one bite. Really savor the experience. Notice the texture, the flavors. Notice your saliva start to flow. Now start to chew. Does the texture and flavor change? Take your time and really taste this morsel of food. Finally, swallow and notice the feeling as you swallow. After taking your time to eat mindfully, take a walk and observe your surroundings. Take in the sounds, sights, and smells.
3. Show up ten minutes early to every appointment, both business and personal.
Use the extra time to do a mini meditation. Turn off your phone, observe your surroundings, then find a place to sit comfortably, close your eyes and start with a scan of your body, noticing what you are feeling, any aches, pains or tension. Take a few deep breaths and relax. By building in short mini meditations throughout your day, you’ll feel calmer, more focused and relaxed. In addition, by being early you automatically reduce the stress of arriving just on time or worse, late. It is good to periodically withdraw and recharge. One of my clients would take a few minutes sitting in the store room at the office surrounded by the paper clips, pens and office supplies. It was the only quiet place he could find!
4. Find your own pace.
Everyone has their own rhythm. Some people naturally speak faster, walk faster, while others prefer a slower, more deliberate pace. Find a pace that feels right for you and don’t get tempted by those around you. If you are a night owl and really come alive at 2 AM, discuss this with your boss and suggest a later start time. A friend of mine negotiated an 11 AM start as she didn’t really wake up until then and didn’t want to waste her company’s money paying for a groggy employee.
6. Eliminate distractions.
Clear the clutter, eliminate the petty annoyances, cut the noise, and avoid the people who drain your energy or waste your time. It is much easier to focus and be mindful in a conducive environment. One of my clients realized she couldn’t think clearly in a noisy, busy open floor plan office environment and negotiated the option to work from a local coffee shop nearby so she’d be on hand for impromptu meetings.
7. Take a break before you return home.
If you’ve had a busy or stressful or frustrating day, it is easy to bring those feelings home with you. Rather than bring stress into your home, what if you could make your home a nurturing, loving, peaceful space? Protect this space by clearing any negative thoughts and feelings before you enter the door.
Take a few minutes in the car to jot down any issues that are troubling you or frustrations. Write in your calendar when you’ll handle them. It might help to call someone and share your frustrations or vent a few minutes. Then, do a body scan, take a few deep breaths and just focus on your breath for a few minutes until you feel calm and centered. Think about who you want to be for your family and bring that love and joy into the home when you enter the door. Another client takes a walk around the block to clear his head and leave his work stress behind so he can relax and enjoy his kids and family.
Enjoy the present!