Most of us get interested in mindfulness when we are experiencing stress. We hope that mindfulness can help us de-stress. What many do not realize, is that it takes continuous practice to make your mindfulness strong enough that you can indeed benefit from it during stressful periods of our life. It is just like going to the gym. You need to keep going, to build the muscles. You also need to keep practicing mindfulness in order to build your mindfulness muscle. It is tempting to stop practicing when all is well. But then, when something happens that is really stressful, you cannot apply your skills. Your mindfulness is not strong enough.
‘But practice takes time, and I don’t have time’ you might think. That is only partly true though. Okay, formal meditation indeed takes time. And it definitely is beneficial. But there are so many other ways you can practice. Let’s explore some ways you can practice doing the routine things you do every day.
Taking a shower
When taking a shower, relax your breathing. Explore how it really feels, the water on your skin. What is the temperature? How does the skin feel where there is no water? Is it colder there? When using shampoo, can you feel the bottle in your hands? How much shampoo do you take? How does it feel when you put it in your hair? How does it feel on your hands?
Take your time making breakfast. Don’t multitask. Can you breathe and slow down just a little bit more? How relaxed are you making your breakfast? Can you relax a bit more? When you choose food to eat, do you choose with your mind, by habit, or do you feel what your body needs at that moment? Take a moment to be aware of the route your food has taken from the field to your plate. Where do the ingredients come from? Have they been produced in a way that respects the environment? That respects the animals involved? How will the ingredients nourish your body? When taking a bite, do you smell your food? Are you enjoying it? Do you feel the texture? Do you take time to chew? Do you stop when you have had enough?
Brushing your teeth
When brushing your teeth, does your mind wander? Or are you aware of brushing each tooth. Are you rushed, or are you taking your time in a relaxed way? Is there tension in your body?
We walk a lot during the day. Small walks (to the kitchen, the bathroom), longer walks (to the bus, walking our dogs), or we go for a walk in nature. Walking is an ideal moment to practice mindfulness. See this blogpost about mindful walking.
Doing household tasks in mindfulness
Pick a task that doesn’t require much thinking or planning, for instance doing the dishes or folding the laundry. Take the time to feel each item you use. How heavy is it? What is the texture? What does it look like? Are you pleased having this item, or do you think it needs replacement or repair? Are you performing your task with care, or indifferently?
We can pick any activity that doesn’t require much thinking to return to the here and the now. To relax and become aware of our breathing. To become aware of our body and the people, animals or objects you are with. When practicing like this, we can also pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that come up. Feelings of impatience for instance. Feelings of boredom. Thoughts about the day. Worries about things that have to be taken care of. A lot of distractions can and will come up when practicing. You can take notice of them and return to the present moment as soon as you become aware of them.
These are just a few examples of how you can incorporate mindfulness in your daily life. For me some of these are easier than others. I find it rather difficult to practice mindful eating. I have noticed however that I use food a lot to compensate for a low energy level. When I would better take a break, go for a walk. Seek time alone. Say ‘no’ to people, to name a few… Even though I fail continuously to eat mindfully, I will not quit practicing. There are moments when I am indeed able to eat mindfully, and I experience these moments more often. And because I keep returning to my practice, I’m slowly gaining insights about what personal issues I’m avoiding to look at by eating mindlessly.
Other examples, like doing household tasks, are easy exercises for me. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy doing these tasks, they become much more enjoyable with mindfulness and taking the time to relax while doing them.
Which of these exercises will you pick to practice with today? Maybe you can think of other ways to practice mindfulness. Be creative and playful. Enjoy your practice!