People often tell Zen teacher Jay Chozen Bays, M.D., that they’d love to practice mindfulness. But they’re too busy. They have too much going on. You probably feel the same way. After all, it’s another activity to add to your already full schedule. It’s another activity to feel guilty about not doing. And who wants that?
Thankfully, you can easily include mindfulness in your life. Yes, it requires a switch in perspective. But you don’t need to be on a meditation cushion for an hour to savor the benefits.
Bays, also a pediatrician, wife, mother and grandmother, understands what it’s like to have a bustling life. She created a wonderful deck of cards, aptly called Mindfulness on the Go: 52 Simple Meditation Practices You Can Do Anywhere, for practicing mindfulness in the small moments of our days.
Bays has a beautiful definition for mindfulness: “deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you—in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment.”
Below are 10 of my favorite practices from Bays’s deck, which you can try right now and during many moments throughout your day.
Listen to sounds. Several times a day pause and simply listen. According to Bays, “Listen as if you had just landed from a foreign planet. See if you can hear all sounds as music being played just for you.”
Notice trees. Notice their different shapes and heights. Notice their different colors, branches and leaves. (If there are no trees where you live, focus on cacti or bushes or grass, Bays writes.)
Notice the wind. “Wind has many forms,” Bays writes. Of course, there is a gust of wind, which has many varieties. There’s movement in our breath, when we smell something and when we blow on a hot beverage. The air moves when we walk. It moves inside appliances like dryers and refrigerators.
Use your non-dominant hand. Use your non-dominant hand to perform ordinary tasks, everything from brushing your teeth to combing your hair to writing to eating.
Feel the bottoms of your feet. Become aware of the tiny sensations on the bottoms of your feet, along with the surfaces they’re touching. Pay attention to the temperature, to the warmth or coolness. Bays suggests doing this especially when you’re getting anxious or upset, because shifting your attention in this way helps you to feel more anchored and stable and maybe even serene.
Feel the earth beneath you. “The Buddha observed that you can pour any liquid, pleasant rose water or unpleasant sewage, onto the earth, and the earth remains solid and immovable,” Bays writes. It is firmly beneath us. Become aware of this often. Use your senses of sight and sound to pay attention. When you’re not outside, use your imagination to feel the earth beneath the floor.
Notice the color “blue.” Notice blue, and its variations, everywhere in your environment. Notice it in the sky. Notice it at work on your colleague’s suit. Notice it in a vase at your best friend’s house. Notice it on your commute or at the grocery store. Notice it in a surprising place.
Focus when entering new spaces. Opening the door and walking through are largely unconscious movements (unless we’re somewhere we’ve never been). According to Bays, “This is one example of how we move through much of our day like sleepwalkers, navigating through the world while caught in a dream. As we learn to become present, bit by bit, the gap closes and life becomes more vivid and satisfying.” As such, before walking through a door, pause—even for a second—and take one breath. Focus on the differences you might feel in each new space you enter today.
Breathe with your phone. Every time your phone dings or rings or buzzes, pause and take three mindful breaths. Or set an alarm to go off several times a day, such as every 53 minutes, and take several breaths then. As Bays writes, this is like “a pause that refreshes.”
Appreciate your hands. Several times a day, watch your hands as if they belonged to a stranger. Watch them as you’re typing and making lunch. Watch them as you’re brushing your teeth and washing the dishes. Watch them when they aren’t doing anything. Focus on all the seemingly mundane but magnificent things our hands help us to do.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword. Which means we might dismiss it. We might write it off as the latest fad to follow (and we don’t follow fads). But mindfulness really can help us to lead calmer, more fulfilling lives. It can brighten the most humdrum of moments because we realize the real wonder these moments hold. Pick an exercise that resonates with you, and see what happens.