Imagine, for a moment, that you’re driving a car.
There are two lanes, but no other cars are in sight. You’re racing down an empty highway.
Along the way, you pass by beautiful landmarks, wondrous moments of magic, and even a little danger.
But you’re not looking at what’s beside you, so you miss the landmarks and all of the magic. You’re looking straight ahead, racing as fast as you can.
For most of us, this is how we live out our life.
We’re constantly racing, trying to get ahead so that we can arrive at the imaginary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The problem is, we haven’t recognized that the pot of gold has long since been emptied, sprinkled out along the road we’ve been traveling all this time. And, worse, we wouldn’t recognize the real gold even if we saw it.
So we live out our life stressed, anxious, and maybe even depressed, all because we can’t bring ourselves to stop and breathe, be fully present for those we love, and to simply take in what’s around us. To listen when our body is trying to tell us that something is wrong or to be there for a loved one when all they need is our presence.
Every day, there are golden moments we can treasure. Whether this is a child’s smile, a feeling of confidence when we realize we’ve stood up to fear, or a simple moment alone listening to the trees sway in the wind, every day holds with it gifts that we can receive and be present for.
If we know how to listen.
Mindfulness gives us that power.
It gives us the power to listen deeply to our body, our mind, and to those around us whom we love. It allows us to become present to our life in a way that transforms the very nature of our everyday experiences.
And the best part? It’s simple and easy to practice mindfulness in a variety of ways that fit conveniently into modern life including eating, walking, simply waiting, and even cleaning.
Here are 5 mindfulness exercises to help you realize peace in your everyday life.
1. Mindful breathing
The simplest of mindfulness exercises, mindful breathing can be done anywhere and everywhere and therefore offers itself as a form of solace in the midst of a hectic day.
You can breathe mindfully:
- As a type of formal meditation within the comfort of your home
- In a waiting room or elevator
- At work from your desk or on a break
- In your car at a red light
- Or when you’re lying down in bed
And these are just a few of the more common examples. There really is no limitation to where and when you can practice mindful breathing. For that reason, the practice is both very powerful and very convenient.
Keep in mind that most mindfulness practices follow the same basic structure.
To practice mindfulness you:
- Turn your attention to something, usually something which is a simple, continuous movement you do with a part of your body.
- Place a soft focus on that continuous movement. Generally, you count each movement to help you concentrate.
- Acknowledge non-judgmentally when your concentration is broken by a thought, feeling, bodily or other sensation. Don’t treat these lapses in concentration as bad, they’re a natural part of the practice and by simply noticing them without judgment (even if they interrupt your count) you know you’re doing it right.
- Return to your point of concentration. Whether that’s your breath or something else as we’ll talk about in a moment.
In the beginning, you’ll likely lose your concentration about every 5 seconds. Whether that’s remembering that you need to call your boss about work or to schedule an appointment for next week, thoughts will bombard you.
It might feel like you’re doing something wrong (most people think they are), but you’re not. In the beginning, especially, you’ll be interrupted constantly (more often than not by racing thoughts). Your job is simply to acknowledge them, notice them as clearly as possible, and then return to your point of concentration.
Mindfulness is a practice of acceptance and so by practicing and acknowledging that which arises in a spirit of non-judgment, you learn to accept what arrives in front of you with a sense of strength and fortitude.
To practice mindful breathing then, simply follow these 4 steps:
1. Be mindful of your breath
Become aware of your breath. The idea isn’t to concentrate until you pop a vein, simply place a soft focus on your breathing and allow yourself to breathe naturally without attempting to control your rhythm.
2. Count each breath
Once you’ve paid attention to your natural breathing for a few seconds, begin to count each inhale and each exhale as one, counting up to 10 to yourself in this way.
3. Acknowledge what arises
Counting your breath will be easier said than done as already mentioned because thoughts and other distractions will arise and pull you away from your count. When this happens, acknowledge the thought, feeling, or sensation and then go back to your breath and start the count over from 1 (even if you hadn’t reached 10).
Keep in mind that the point isn’t to count to 10, it’s simply to do the practice, whether that’s being mindful of your breath one moment or acknowledging a thought which arose the next.
4. Return to your breath
Your only job now is to return back to your breath. How many times do you do this? As many as it takes. Continue to return back to your breath every time you lose your concentration until your session is done.
There’s nothing more to it. Simply be mindful of your breath, count, acknowledge what arises, and always return back home to your breath.
Use this simple but powerful practice as a way to return home to yourself when you’re having a difficult day or simply to find a moment of peace in the chaos.
Stay In Touch!
2. Mindful walking
The practice of mindful walking is a personal favorite. We walk everywhere, every day, and we so rarely ever pay attention to what is going on around us when we are.
When we’re walking, we’re focused on the destination. Where we are going and opposed to where we are. We’re always living in the future, looking forward to what is to come and rarely (if ever) appreciating the present moment.
With mindful walking, we can do just that.
And the practice has countless applications. You can practice mindful walking when:
- Walking to or from your car or any other destination
- Grabbing the mail
- Walking down a hallway
- Going for a short walk outside
- Or even going for a run for exercise
The practice of mindful walking is very simple and straightforward and, given that fact that we can do it any time we’re walking, it’s a highly convenient practice:
1. Follow your steps
Walk naturally and simply pay attention to the rhythm of your steps. Notice the lifting, swinging, and placing down motion of each step.
In the same way that you concentrate on each inhale and exhale when breathing mindfully, you concentrate on the lifting, swinging, and placing down of each foot when practicing mindful walking.
2. Match your steps to your breath
Breathe naturally and notice how many natural steps you take for each in-breath and out-breath. The in-breath tends to be shorter, keep in mind, so the in-breath may be 3 while the out-breath could be 4.
This doesn’t have to be perfect, just seek to maintain some semblance of rhythm. By doing so, you bring the mind and body together in unity and enhance the practice.
3. Be mindful
The rest of the practice is the same as in mindful breathing, simply continue to be mindful of your steps and acknowledge what arises as you walk. Imagine that each step you place down is a declaration that, “I am here. I am awake.” and be present for your life as you place each step onto the ground.
3. Mindful eating
If you’re new to mindfulness, you may find it surprising that you can practice mindfulness while eating.
However, mindful eating is a very common and highly nourishing practice that is also very easy to adopt and in some ways even easier to get the hang of than mindful breathing or walking.
The flavors, aromas, and often beautiful appearance of food naturally pulls us into the present and gives us a strong anchor with which to hold onto when practicing mindful eating.
The practice of mindful eating can be a bit different from breathing or walking, but the foundation of the practice stays the same. To eat mindfully, simply:
1. Notice the food
As you begin eating, take a moment to notice the tastes, aromas, beauty, and textures of the food you’re eating. Truly appreciate the food in front of you, even if only for a moment. This helps not only cultivate a good habit but opens your awareness for the practice ahead.
2. Be mindful of each chew
In mindful eating, you place your concentration on the act of chewing each bite. Be mindful of the up and down motion of the jaw and feel free to notice the various tastes and other sensations occasionally as you do so to keep the practice fun and interesting.
3. Eat mindfully
Continue the practice in the same way as you would do with mindful breathing or walking, acknowledging what arises and going back your food each time.
For those new to mindfulness, mindful eating can be a great beginner practice to start with as the tastes and sensations that accompany the food truly make it an enjoyable and engaging experience.
Every day, several times a day, we sit down to eat. However, most of us do nothing more than shovel down our food so that we can get to where we need to go next. However, with mindful eating, each and every meal is an opportunity to find peace and balance.
Make mealtime into an occasion for mindfulness and you’ll experience the full benefit of the practice.
4. Mindful cleaning
If you thought mindful eating was interesting, you’ll either love or hate the idea of mindful cleaning!
However, the truth is, anything can be done mindfully. But some activities do lend themselves more easily to mindfulness. Mindful cleaning is one of those activities.
Most forms of cleaning, such as sweeping, wiping, dusting, and mopping require simple repetitive motions and very little mental activity. For this reason, they’re perfect for mindfulness and are a great way to turn a typically boring and mundane activity into a moment of nourishment.
To clean mindfully:
1. Become one with your tool
Once you’ve decided on your cleaning tool, start by experiencing it with your senses. Feel the soft texture of the sponge, hardness of the mop grip, or roughness of the cloth. Take a moment to really become one with your tool and sink down into this feeling.
2. Be mindful of the cleaning motion
In mindful cleaning, place your concentration on the continuous motion of sweeping, wiping, or scrubbing. Whatever you’re doing, focus on the repetitive motion just as you would your in-breath and out-breath in mindful breathing.
3. Clean mindfully
Continue to practice, bringing yourself back when you’ve become distracted and acknowledging what arises.
If we can be mindful while cleaning, we can be mindful during any moment throughout our daily lives. Use mindful cleaning to turn this once dreadful activity into a moment of peace and solitude.
5. Mindfulness of body
At the end of the day, we just want to lie down and go to sleep. I’ve been there, trust me.
However, even then (or perhaps, especially) we have the chance to bring peace and balance to our day with mindfulness one last time.
Mindfulness of body is a simple practice that involves scanning through the entire body with a keen awareness, noticing each area of the body with your mindfulness.
It doesn’t have to be practiced when you’re lying down for bed, it can be used when you first wake up to bring awareness to your body or simply while sitting in your chair at work. Like most other mindfulness practices it can be done virtually anywhere and at any time.
To practice mindfulness of body:
1. Turn your attention to the body
Start by turning your awareness to the entire body to shift your awareness. Then, focus in on the starting point: the top of the head.
2. Scan the body
In mindfulness of body, you’re “scanning” the body from the top down with your awareness. Start from the top of the head and slowly move down to the eyes, cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, back, etc. until you arrive at the toes.
There is a lot of flexibility in the practice and it can be done within a matter of minutes to as long as a half hour when done slowly.
By scanning, I mean focus in on that area of the body for between a few seconds to one minute and notice what arises. Are you feeling pain? Tenseness? Anxiety? Stress? Or are you feeling relaxed? Distracted?
3. Be mindful
Similar to the other practices, whatever you’re feeling, and whatever you notice, note it. Acknowledge it all and simply open yourself up to the entire experience, almost welcoming these sensations in a spirit of caring for each part of your body.
Realize the Peace of Mindfulness
Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to become more present and more aware of ourselves, noticing what once laid hidden beneath the noise.
However you decide to bring the practice of mindfulness into your life, use it to move beyond the stress and chaos of everyday life and into the peace and balance that exists in each moment.