Making Mindfulness an Enjoyable Part of Your Busy Life
Practicing mindfulness is good for the mind, body, and spirit
Practicing mindfulness is good for the mind, body, and spirit. In fact, science suggests that mindfulness techniques can reduce stress and promote overall health and wellbeing. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in a moment without distraction or judgment. We can be aware of our feelings and thoughts without getting stuck in them.
The idea is that if we can teach ourselves to live more mindfully, we won’t be held hostage to a never-ending stream of thoughts. We can learn to notice what’s happening in our mind and let it go without reacting. This is extremely helpful for those of us who struggle with intrusive patterns of thinking, stress, and challenging circumstances. But it can feel like a catch-22. Our lives already seem so busy and stressful that we may feel we couldn’t possibly find time for meditation and mindfulness. However, I encourage you to try these simple ways to bring the practice of mindfulness into your everyday life.
Mindfulness practices take many forms
It’s important to note that mindfulness practices have a wider range of forms than many people realize. Mindfulness doesn’t require setting aside an hour for yoga at the studio. It can be as simple as pausing for a moment, taking a deep breath, and feeling your body in relation to the space you are in.
Make mindfulness part of what you already do
There are fertile opportunities with the landscape of your day-to-day life that might lend themselves to focused attention, breath awareness and an intentional sense of retreat, respite, and reflection. It may be that it requires only a simple reinterpretation or slight modification of your day to bring mindfulness into your life.
Two potential opportunities for mindfulness enhancement are activities around health and wellness and those around spirituality or faith. Your time for exercise, your time to decompress before bed, or any other “downtime” activities might easily incorporate a few minutes devoted to mindfulness practices. The same is true of religious practices, which have long incorporated moments of reflection and meditation.
Make mindfulness enjoyable
If you don't enjoy your mindfulness practice, you're not likely to sustain it. Mindfulness should not be a chore to cross off the list but a moment of calm and relaxation to be eagerly anticipated. At Caron, we encourage people to customize their mindfulness practices in ways that they will feel drawn to enjoy, sustain, renew, and deepen.
The key word here is practice. As with any learned discipline, mindfulness must be practiced regularly, and it takes time to get good at it. The more you practice, the better you become, and even those who are expert must maintain their practice.
There is a saying in brain research, “that which fires together, wires together.” The more you do something, the more the brain creates pathways that reinforce that behavior. The goal in practicing mindfulness regularly is to have it become an automatic response to a stressful situation.
Find a time that works for you
Recovery traditions emphasize taking time to reflect at the beginning and end of day, and there's some wisdom to that. The start of the day projects ahead, while the end of the day is review. But each of us has our own circadian rhythm, so choose a time that works best for you, something that becomes part of your routine. For me, I’ve inserted a mindfulness practice in my morning routine, kind of like brushing my teeth. It's a bit of self-manipulation, but it works for me.
As an example of how this might work, even for the busiest of people, imagine a physician working long hours in a high-pressure medical situation. This physician’s day is so demanding, she doesn’t even like to wait for the elevator, preferring to take the stairs between the floors. As busy as she is, the staircase presents an opportunity for a micro-mindfulness practice, to introduce breath awareness as she climbs the stairs or to pause for a moment to clear her head and re-center before she opens the door to exit the stairs. This tiny micro practice wouldn’t require any more time in her day, but it establishes a pattern of mindfulness.
When I introduce people to this idea of adding micro practices to the course of a normal day, I often get asked whether walking the dog could be considered a mindfulness practice. My response is that it depends on how you approach the experience. If your thoughts are on the grocery list, your appointments, and the next items on your to-do list, that is not mindfulness. However, if you are fully in the moment, with your mind fully focused on your footsteps, your breath, the sound of the air and the dog walking beside you, then I think it's very much legitimate to see your dog walk as a mindfulness practice. Many wisdom traditions teach us that body and movement are integral to mindfulness. Think of yoga, Tai Chi, or even Sufi dances. Why not walking the dog?
I recently became interested in old fashioned ways of men's shaving. I bought a shaving bowl, a shaving brush and an old fashioned “safety razor,” which is not very safe at all. I was told this would be better for my facial skin, but what's happened is that grooming has gone from being a chore to something of a contemplative practice. It may be an activity that people might not have thought of as a mindfulness practice, but my perspective is that if you're scraping a very sharp instrument across your face, doing it mindfully is a very good idea.
My point is, there is a smorgasbord of diverse ways we can bring mindfulness into our everyday lives. There is a menu of different options for people to select from within wisdom traditions, contemporary wellness practices, and even formal mindfulness trainings. Sadly, many people have not been exposed to the idea that they can survey that broad landscape and customize their mindfulness practices into something that might represent a significant enhancement to their day-to-day life.
Mindfulness in recovery
Mindfulness is so valuable as a stress reducer that Caron makes it an integral part of our treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, which are often triggered by stress. Incorporating mindfulness practices in one’s day-to-day life helps people intercept that craving-to-use experience before it causes them to reach for a drink or other substances. That sense of powerlessness over such urges can be a real problem for those in recovery. Mindfulness practices not only reduce anxiety and assist people with depression, but they also help people develop what is called the “observer mind,” where they can gain some sense of distance from the urge to use and practice mindfulness techniques to let the urge pass.
The world we live in today can certainly feel overwhelming at times between the technology at our fingertips and the events unfolding around us. It’s important to have support strategies in place to keep your mental health in check. If you haven’t tried mindfulness, I strongly encourage you to give it a chance.
Those who are looking for resources to help them get started may wish to explore one or more of the following avenues:
- Ironically, our smart devices offer apps which are immensely helpful in providing libraries of mindfulness and other contemplative resources – chief among them are Insight Timer, Headspace, and Calm.
- Your faith tradition, if you have one, likely has some form of contemplative practice – ask your priest, minister, or rabbi, or use the internet to search the tradition’s formal resource libraries.
- Consider taking advantage of the many yoga, wellness, and other holistic service provider organizations that have sprung up in virtually every community in our land – take a class, join a group, or schedule a session.
Most importantly, enjoy the journey! Our best wishes to you as you explore and grow.
By Caron Staff