Being in the moment. It’s a simple concept. But in today’s fast-paced, high-stress, media-saturated world, it’s an often overlooked and underappreciated state of mind. American storyteller Louis L’Amour once said, “Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remember what has gone.”
That’s what mindfulness is all about — relaxing and focusing your full attention on what you’re feeling right now. Here, discover what it means to practice mindfulness, some of the benefits you can experience and ways to incorporate mindful activities into your daily life.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your mind on the present moment, achieving a calm state of heightened or complete awareness of your feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations and surroundings free from judgment or interpretation. The opposite of rushing and multitasking, mindfulness involves slowing down, relaxing and paying full attention to a single, low-stress activity.
A widely accepted stress-management technique, mindfulness encourages developing a deeper utilization of the five senses — acknowledging what you see, smell, taste, hear or feel — in the present moment and appreciating and accepting the feelings that surround those sensations.
The hardest part about practicing mindfulness is remembering to incorporate it into your daily life. Luckily, it’s a natural activity that anyone of any age can do. And there’s so many ways to do it that it’s just a matter of discovering what you find most comfortable and enjoyable. You can practice mindfulness day or night; indoors or outside; sitting, standing or lying down; or by yourself, with a friend or as part of a group. The possibilities are endless. All you have to do is set aside at least five to 10 minutes per day (or as much time as you want) and start training your brain to focus on the present.
The most important thing to remember when practicing mindfulness is to not judge yourself when you realize your mind has drifted away. Just relax and bring your attention back to the present. The more often you do it, the more natural staying in the moment will become. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels and how much you’ll notice about what you’re feeling, experiencing and everything that’s happening around you.
Those who practice mindfulness can experience a variety of physical, mental and social benefits. For starters, it reduces the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) and risk of chronic stress, hypertension and heart disease, as well as improves digestion, blood circulation and brain and cognitive functions.
Engaging in mindfulness activities also can ease depression and decrease feelings of loneliness, increase your quality of sleep and ability to focus, relieve chronic pain and inflammation, boost immunity and energy levels and regulate blood pressure.
Mindfulness also helps improve social skills and gives people a variety of ways to meet new people. Overall, those who focus on the present become better active listeners, have a more positive outlook on life and develop happier and healthier relationships with themselves, friends and family members.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness — all you need to do is find a quiet, comfortable, nonjudgmental space where you can focus on being in the moment. Think about some activities that would make you feel most at ease physically, mentally and emotionally, such as:
Walk slowly — this isn’t the time to increase your heart rate or worry about logging a certain number of steps. Focus on the experience of walking — the wind blowing through your hair or against your skin, how your feet feel in your shoes and the way your muscles move as you walk. Use your other senses, such as sight and smell, to acknowledge and appreciate your surroundings. Also find out if any local parks near you have a mindfulness walk, which offers prompts for ways to practice mindfulness along a designated path.
The rhythmic strokes and feeling of weightlessness offer the perfect opportunity for you to practice mindfulness. Focus on long, slow, purposeful strokes and deep breaths, as well as how you glide through the water.
This form of meditation brings your attention to your breath, focusing on how your body feels as air enters and exits your body. One common breathing exercise is the belly breathing technique, which can be done in as little as two minutes. Start by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Inhale a large breath of air and hold it for four seconds, then exhale slowly.
Find a quiet spot to relax and sit or lay down. Close your eyes and deliberately pay attention to each part of your body, starting from the tips of your toes and slowly working your way up your body all the way to your face and fingertips. Take comfortable breaths through your nose while trying your best to stay focused on the various sensations or feelings associated with each part of your body.
Writing can be a very beneficial and healthy way to process and express your emotions free from judgment without getting overwhelmed. Those who practice this technique often feel a sense of release as their feelings flow from their mind through their hands and onto the page. If you’re not sure how to begin, a structured mindfulness journal or writing prompts, such as positive affirmations, can help get you started.
Although this activity has always been popular with the young and young-at-heart, coloring has quickly become an activity for all ages to enjoy with coloring books for a variety of interests, from popular television shows such as The Golden Girls to religion, gardening, animals and much more.
Whether you go for a walk, tend to a garden or set up a bird feeder, spend time reflecting on the sights, sounds and smells you experience and find appreciation in the beautiful, natural world happening around you.
Choose music that is calming and relaxing and engage in some mental downtime. Close your eyes and focus your mind on the various notes and how the music makes you feel.
Multitasking is mentally and physically draining. When possible, give one activity your full attention, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, grooming a pet, doing laundry or answering an email. When you eat or drink something, slow down and focus on the look, taste and texture of the food and how each bite makes you feel.
Take time throughout your day to engage in activities that aren’t planned or serving a purpose, but they make you happy. If you have a pet, play a game of fetch or take them for a short walk around the yard. Make a craft, work on a puzzle or put on some music and dance or sing.
Purchase a diffuser and fill your home with calming scents, such as lavender, rose, jasmine, orange, chamomile, lemongrass and more. Try body lotions or other self-care products that include your favorite essential oils. Or take a bath and include a couple scoops of scented Epsom salts.
Turn off the TV, close your laptop and set aside the tablet or smartphone. This goes hand in hand with reducing multitasking, but it also increases self-worth, reduces stress and allows you to be in the moment.
Each night, write down a few things you’d like to accomplish the following day. You don’t need to plan out every hour, but give yourself a few goals, such as taking a 20-minute walk, reading a book for 15 minutes, making your bed, calling a friend or loved one, eating a healthy lunch or meal prepping for the week.
Cooking and pottery classes are just a few examples of ways to engage in social mindfulness activities that promote a focus on being in the present.
Whether you prefer to stretch your muscles by yourself, with an instructor or as part of a group, yoga is all about quieting the mind, focusing on breathing and developing a deeper understanding of yourself.
Mindfulness is a practice in which anyone can participate and reap the benefits. Are you looking for ways to engage in mindfulness activities with a group? Ask your Upside Manager about various health, wellness and enrichment classes or programs available in your community.