Going on yoga or meditation retreats or weekend getaways is a wonderful way to unwind and refocus. But these aren’t things we can do every day, said Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and author of the book Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity.
Fortunately, there are many ways we can live more mindfully on a daily basis, she said. Below, you’ll find tips on everything from meditating for a happier day to breaking out of autopilot.
1. Connect to your senses.
Being mindful is being more aware of the moment. It’s using our senses to pay attention. In her book Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating & Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food, clinical psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, features this exercise to help readers reconnect with your senses and basic physical sensations
- “Notice the ebb and flow of your breathing.” Focus on the moment, right now.
- Start with what you see around you. Say to yourself “I see…” “Identify colors, shapes, and contrasts in hues and textures. Close your eyes and reproduce what you saw as an image inside your mind’s eye.”
- Next, focus on what you hear. Say to yourself, “I hear…” Describe the sounds.
- Do the same for what you smell, taste and touch.
She also adds another layer: your feelings. She suggests saying “I feel…” and identifying what you’re feeling right now.
2. Meditate in the morning.
Meditation is a powerful way to practice mindfulness. In her book Small Bites: Mindfulness for Everyday Use, Dharma teacher Annabelle Zinser shares a guided meditation to help readers “create the conditions for happiness as you begin each day.” This reminds us, she writes, of our best intentions for the day.
Breathing in, I’m aware I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I’m aware I’m breathing out.
Breathing in, I’m aware of the whole length of my in-breath.
Breathing out, I enjoy the whole length of my out-breath.
Breathing in, I will do my best today to create the conditions for more peaceful experiences.
Breathing out, I smile.
Breathing in, I vow to be aware of my positive traits and regard my weaknesses with compassion.
Breathing out, I refrain from judging myself.
Breathing in, I vow to see the positive traits in others and regard their weaknesses with compassion.
Breathing out, I will refrain from judging them.
Breathing in, I open my heart to myself and to others.
Breathing out, I vow that my words and actions will be guided by kindness, compassion, and encouragement.
Breathing in, I’m ready to forgive myself and others.
Breathing out, I will try to solve every conflict, however small it may be.
Breathing in, I’m aware of the preciousness of my spiritual practice.
Breathing out, I smile.
If these words don’t ring true for you, write your own meditation, and recite it every morning.
3. Savor the sips of morning.
As you take your first sip of coffee, tea or another favorite beverage, use it as an opportunity to savor the moment, Bush said. Close your eyes, breathe and feel the sip moving from your mouth, down your throat and into your belly.
4. Rethink red lights.
For most of us, red lights are not relaxing. They’re the opposite. Stopped at a red light we might feel angry or anxious, especially if we’re running late.
Instead, pause, and take several deep breaths. “Drop down into your heart,” and “send little energy waves of goodwill around you,” Bush said. This could be as simple as saying, “I hope you have a great day” to the other drivers or pedestrians. This small gesture “opens your heart, and when you’re more open and compassionate, you feel more peaceful.”
5. Make handwashing mindful.
The most mundane activities can become mindful moments. Bush calls this practice “Go with the flow.” Every time you wash your hands throughout the day, take that moment when the water hits your hands to breathe and feel the sensation of the water against your skin, she said.
Add a statement that resonates with you. Bush gave these examples: “I go with the flow,” “I align myself with spirit” or “I flow in the universe.” This is an opportunity to “surrender into the moment, into the flow of your day and life.”
6. Break patterns.
Rather than living life on autopilot, change things up. As Patti Digh writes in her book Life Is A Verb: 37 Days To Wake Up, Be Mindful And Live Intentionally, “Every day, place yourself against new themes.” This might include anything from taking a wrong turn to reading a magazine you normally wouldn’t read to eating at a different restaurant to eating something else for lunch, she writes.
7. Count blessings at bedtime.
As you’re naturally thinking back over your day, identify three things that you’re grateful for, Bush said. You don’t need to write anything down, she said. But simply reflect. “This trains your brain to scan and look for things that are positive, and puts you into a place of gratitude for falling asleep.” (This also helps with sleep hygiene.)
You don’t need to overhaul your life to become more mindful. Pay attention to the present moment, whether you’re washing your hands, wishing someone goodwill or trying something new. Every moment is an opportunity to awaken our senses and focus on our world.