Perhaps, like me, you know how valuable it is to steady your crazily ping-ponging brain with a mindfulness practice. And maybe like me you’ve thought, hell no whenever an expert suggests that the way to do this is by meditating an hour every morning — and maybe even another before bed!
The good news from my own experience and those of many experts I have interviewed over the years is that, while a steady sitting practice is certainly valuable, you can get the benefits of peaceful stillness by sprinkling mini mindfulness practices throughout your day — minutes or moments at a time.
By practicing mindfulness in these scattered seconds, you’ll start training your mind to return to the glorious present where calm and peace reign, rather than anxiously flitting from the past to the future (aka from anger to anxiety).
You’ve Already Done This Many Times
Mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years because they work. But what may have been doable for seekers years ago — sitting for hours with other ascetics on a mountaintop or a meditation cushion — is not practical for most of us today.
Fortunately, you don’t have to put in anywhere near that kind of time to reap the benefits of mindfulness. And you don’t have to take my word for it; you can recall the times you have done this yourself.
When you’ve felt a serene sensation after closing your eyes and taking a deep breath in the middle of a harried work project, you have been mindful. When you’ve paused for a moment in the shower before shampooing and felt the tension run out of your body along with the water, you have been mindful. And when you’ve become so focused on the book you’re reading or the TV show you’re watching that you forgot what you’d been worrying about all day — yup, that’s mindfulness too.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Even physical conditions benefit from focusing in the here and now. Whether you have diabetes, arthritis pain, irritable bowel syndrome, or any number of diseases, research continues to find mindfulness valuable.
Incorporate Mindfulness Moments
So how can you get these positives without dedicating your whole day to it?
In my new novel Warrior Won, the main character Lorna asks herself this very question. She seriously needs to stay calm while waiting out the months of testing for whether something is seriously wrong with her unborn baby. But she also has a busy life — a husband, job, home, friends, and, most demanding, a 2-year-old daughter.
Lorna reaches for mini mindfulness and other spiritual techniques whenever she can to keep her sane. I do this too, in my own busy life.
You’ll want to look for triggers to cue yourself to be present. When someone is addicted to cigarettes, for instance, things in their day remind them to light up: their coffee break, finishing supper, or after sex.
Instead of smoking, you’ll be finding triggers that invite you to do something healthy and enlightening.
Here Are My 5 Key Mindfulness Moments That You Can Easily Adopt
#1 Pretend You’re Not Awake in the Morning
When my children were young, I would regularly awake to them sitting on my bed. “Mommy’s up!” they would gleefully shout as they started jumping, letting me know any hoped-for “me time” was out.
Since they usually waited until I opened my eyes, I realized I could access that peaceful place inside before starting my day only by pretending I was still sleeping. I kept my eyes closed for a minute or two, turning my focus to my relaxed in-and-out breath, or to the feeling of my pillow under my head, or to my body touching my blanket and bed.
Necessity was the mother of that invention, but it’s something I continue to do even today when they’re all grown, because there’s always something that would catch my attention — a conversation with my husband, mentally planning my day — and divert my intention to, well, intend.
#2 Pause When Your Butt Hits the Office Chair
Before you even sit down your mind is likely racing to the emails you have to write, the calls you must return, or the reports that are nearly due, which is what makes this mindfulness moment especially valuable.
In my novel Warrior Won, Lorna does a “five-senses meditation” before she dives into her job and, like me, she finds that this increases her clarity and productivity immensely.
As soon as you sit, bring your attention to where your back and thighs make contact with your chair, and how the computer keyboard feels under your resting fingers. Then open your nose and smell any scents (coffee? someone’s lunch? that general office mustiness?). Look closely at your computer (I bet you don’t even know what color the lettering is on the keys , even though you’ve typed on it for ages) and other objects in the room.
What do you hear when you really listen? Even white noise like your humming heater will suddenly come into focus. And if there’s something you can taste, do so with intense presence.
If you’re worried you don’t have these few minutes to spare before diving into your job, know that the lucid thinking you’ll bring to your work will more than make up for it.
#3 Don’t Dig into Your Meal Right Away
Mindfulness experts often use food to teach people to be more present. Pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn has students spend minutes ruminating on a single raisin.
That’s because the intense sensory experience of food makes it easy to focus.
Before you tuck into a meal, take 30 seconds to mindfully explore it. What does a spoonful of oatmeal actually look like? (Hint: fluffy tan snow.) What does green tea smell like? How does a knife feel in your hand before you cut your dinner?
Even if the majority of the meal is a cacophony of conversation, those few seconds set your connection to your inner peace that lingers on.
#4 Turn the Supermarket into a Listening Walk
I’m a big fan of “listening walks,” because they’re a moving meditation you can do anytime. And one of the easiest times is when you’re in the supermarket, because, aside from comparing brands of tuna, there’s not much you have to do there.
Open your ears as you walk through the store. Notice how much noise other shoppers make as they drop items into the metal carts; the sounds of the stock people organizing shelves; the conversations of those around you; the voice of the cashier asking if you want paper or plastic.
This will make you more present to everything. I remember when my son was young and we were shopping, I hadn’t noticed that someone was making a public announcement until he jumped up, startled, into my arms. Now that I do listening walks more regularly, that could never happen.
#5 Take Advantage of Wait Times
Waiting on hold calling your cable company; sitting in a doctor’s office; stuck in traffic; standing at a traffic light before you cross the street; waiting for your computer to print; pausing while the coffee drips through the machine.
If you stop and think about it, we spend a huge portion of our day waiting. Rather than get worked up about all this hold time, try to appreciate all the mindfulness moments they give you.
Just take a few slow, deep breaths. Or focus on your senses. Or bring your awareness inside your body, perhaps to the energy always moving inside your hands or feet (my own go-to mindfulness moment while I’m waiting).
By taking just these few minutes throughout the day to bring your mind to the present moment, you will soon find that your entire day is transformed.
Meryl Davids Landau is the author of the new mindfulness/yoga novel Warrior Won, which won first place in the Living Now Book Awards for inspirational fiction. Midwest Book Review calls it “one of the strongest spiritual women’s fiction pieces to appear in recent years.” Learn more at MerylDavidsLandau.com