The unparalleled benefits of practicing mindfulness; improved concentration and cognition, and combating anxiety and depression, just to name a few; have been touted by health experts far and wide in recent years. Yet, while the impacts are so damn good, the practice its self can be just that damn bit harder to master. This notion of turning off our minds, letting thoughts come and go, and just being 'present' is always so much easier to say than do.
At the studio, we get a lot of questions from students about how to best incorporate mindfulness and meditation practices in their daily lives, at home, and in the workplace. The funny and infuriatingly taunting thing about mindfulness is that you can do it literally anywhere. But it's just kinda hard to know if you're doing it right, and well, sticking to a routine is much harder than we let ourselves admit.
One of our biggest pieces of advice to our students is that mindfulness is worth doing badly. Even if you feel awkward and the stream of distracting thoughts seem neverending, the primary act of sitting with yourself for a minute, two, fifteen or twenty is really damn effective.
Before we even get into the 6 way to practice mindfulness every day, let's just touch on the elusive, 'doing it right'. For whatever reason, most of us have this thought that practicing mindfulness or meditation should be in some way profound, that we should feel like we're floating, that if we were to catch ourselves in a mirror we'd actually have morphed into Yoda or a skin-head Monk. In reality, however, meditation is simply the practice of sitting with ourselves, letting our minds get lost in thought, noticing when that happens and bringing our attention back to our 'anchor' (breath, sound, body sensation). That's it.
So how do you do it every day?
1. Focus on your breath
In yoga, we talk ad nauseam about breath and the practice of pranayama, but the thing is, there is a bit of method to our madness. Our breath, that thing that we use to intake the oxygen that fuels our entire body, is directly connected to our nervous system.
The single most effective way to begin and continue your mindfulness and meditation practice is to focus on your breath. Whether it be a specific pranayama practice, or simply taking notice of your natural breath. You can do this at virtually any moment of your day, in dedicated mindfulness time, on your way to work, at lunch, on hold, doing the grocery shopping. And the best part, no-one else has any idea what you're doing. It's a secret little you-time.
2. Take advantage of traffic lights
Tedious everyday tasks like commuting to work and running errands are a total drag. We've got lists and they need to be checked, the route of least resistance and most efficiency needs to be found, and we've only got so much time. It's in amongst all the hullabaloo that finding ourselves, the present moment and practicing a little mindfulness is the most important.
So next time you feel yourself getting carried away about the mound of tasks piling up on your plate for that day, take a hot minute and press pause on your crazy brain. When you have to stop your car at a traffic light, catch public transport or wait in a queue, bundle up your thoughts, cuck 'em to the back of your mind as best you can and take a deep breath. Focus on simply getting your breath to your belly and back out, notice the sensation of your belly and lungs filling up, pushing out, and then deflating as you exhale. Let the errands, demands, and check-lists come into your mind, acknowledge them, and then let them go, focusing your mind back on your belly and breath.
3. Savour the flavour
Drive-throughs, energy bars, 'nutritional' milkshakes, we've become really good at cramming our daily calories and nutrients into compact parcels intended to be scoffed down between meetings, errands, phone calls, and all the other crap being flung at as on a daily basis. It's like we've forgotten just how bloody delicious real food is!
So, as a daily mindfulness practice, we want you to pick up your sandwich, look at it lovingly and bite into it slowly. Chew slowly and chew a lot, try to identify all the individual items used to make this meal, breath in the aromas, enjoy them. If it's lunch try to avoid sitting at your desk, dinner, avoid the TV, instead find a comfy seat and relax. Bring your mind to your food, how it looks, smells, tastes, feels and makes you feel, it's such an easy, and enjoyable, way to bring your mind into the present.
How cool is it that we can eat our way to mindfulness?! You can do this with any meal, in any setting, and just like focusing on our breath and body sensation, no one else knows what we're up to.
4. Check in with your body
Practicing a full-body scan, or check-in, isn't just a great way to bring your mind into the present, it is also a wonderful first step to practicing self-awareness and self-compassion. With your eyes closed, start from your toes, give them a little wriggle, make sure they're still there, notice how they feel, are they cold, did you bang one on the doorway in your midnight stumble to the toilet? Maybe they're just regular old toes. No matter what they're doing/feeling, take a little note, jot it down in your little mental notebook and move on.
Start slowly traveling up your body, ankles, calf muscles, knees, hips, you get the gist. As you go, give your body a little wriggle, notice if you're feeling sore, tight, tense, flexible, whatever it may be, just notice it, you don't have to do anything, and definitely don't worry about 'fixing' it.
The primary purpose of this exercise is to bring the awareness of your mind into your body instead of all the other daily crap that inevitably effects your body. Two great places to practice this little exercise are in bed when you're waking up or going to sleep, or in the shower. If you manage to consistently practice the body scan, you'll soon start to notice all sorts of little changes in your body, the practice fosters your self-awareness and above all your self-compassion.
5. Give moving meditation a go
Sometimes sitting down perfectly still is just not going to happen. Instead, try developing a short yoga sequence, we recommend a simple Surya Namaskar (sun-salutation) on repeat. What you're aiming for here is a physical practice that takes zero mental effort, no thinking about what comes next, or mentally preparing for a big balance or strong pose.
Of the practices, this one requires the most amount of consistency, but soon you'll notice that the posture flow becomes second nature. It's in this sweet spot that your mindfulness comes to the forefront. Your mind will find space to wander (good), and your physical practice will help you bring it back (even better).
Practice makes perfect
No matter which method appeals to you the most, they all need to be practiced consistently in order to reap the benefits. Some studies suggest the optimal length of time required to reap elusive benefits of mental fortitude, concentration, and enhanced cognition is 20 minutes of solid mindfulness daily. If you're only dipping your toes into mindfulness for the first time, or are trying to develop a stronger practice, 20 minutes is daunting and frankly unattainable on a consistency level for beginners.
Our advice, go easy on yourself, start with five minutes, and work your way up, find the method or combination of methods that work for you and stick to them. And remember, it's worth doing badly because eventually, you'll get it right.