Turns out, simple, everyday activities like eating or just breathing can be done mindfully.
From the moment you wake up, you’re on the move—and rushing. Rushing to get out of the house, rushing to finish work projects, rushing to pick up the dry cleaning, rushing to get home, rushing to prepare dinner, and before you know it, you’re back at the beginning of the cycle—never pausing once to reflect, let alone meditate.
Despite the fact that a recent survey found that 85% of people reported meditation and prayer helped them to effectively manage stress, for some the practice still carries a certain stigma.
“We hear ‘meditation’ and we think we have to sit on the floor with my legs crossed and fingers pinched,” says Keith Kaufman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Alexandria, Virginia. But in reality, people can mediate while they’re walking, commuting, and even working at their desks—without anyone even noticing. It’s called mindfulness meditation, “a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” and it’s been linked to physical, psychological, and social benefits, including boosting the immune system, reducing stress, easing depression symptoms, and more, according to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
“There’s a lot of informal [mindfulness] practice we can do,” Kaufman says. “It sounds so simple, checking in and pausing, but people have a really tough time with it. It’s a major ah-ha moment when people realize they really can pause.”
Mindfulness meditation really is just that: Pausing. Kaufman explains that even 10 seconds is enough time to take a breath (literally!) and, in turn, be more productive in the long run.
Ready to get started? Even if you don’t have a dark, quiet room to go to, there are plenty of easy ways to find moments of mindfulness. Try these 6 techniques (it helps to close your eyes while you’re doing them, but it’s not required):
1. Do a breathing exercise
For starters, take note of your breathing. Steven Hendlin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, California, suggests sitting upright in your chair with your feet planted on the floor, focusing your attention on your stomach. “Simply notice the rise and fall of your abdomen with each breath. Don't change your breathing pattern, just let your breath come naturally,” says Hendlin. To guide yourself, it helps to rest the fingertips of one hand on your belly.
2. Sit mindfully
Sitting upright in your chair, do a mental scan of your entire body to take notice of where you hold your tension, says Kaufman. Hendlin suggests beginning by focusing your attention on the sensations of your body on the seat. “Feel the pressure where your body makes contact with the chair,” he says. “See if you can notice all the subtle sensations of sitting in this chair, including how often you shift your body slightly from time to time to feel more comfortable.” What unexpected places in your body are holding tension?
Try this exercise throughout the day: It helps you stay in touch with the moment-to-moment sensations of your body in the chair, Hendlin says.
3. Really look at your desk
Hendlin suggests noticing some of the objects in your immediate surroundings—don’t think about them. Instead, just acknowledge, making no judgments about what you see (or how disorganized the area is). Take note of what objects are in your environment that you may no longer actually see because you've habituated to them. Now “let these objects ‘come back to life,’” describes Hendlin, as you observe them in a fresh way.
4. Follow your thoughts
Close your eyes, or stare at an object a few feet in front of you. “Now pay attention to your train of thought for at least three minutes. Without judging the contents of your thoughts, just notice the associations that come up on their own," suggests Hendlin. Acknowledging this “flow” of thought shows you what is concerning or interesting to you at the present time. “Paying attention to it periodically throughout the day for a few minutes can help you develop a reflective "time out" that can then allow you to re-engage with your work."
5. Play with your food
Try using your taste buds to center yourself, suggests Hendlin. Pop a lozenge or candy into your mouth and use your tongue to roll it around. Focus all of your attention on tuning into the flavor of the lozenge and the way it feels in your mouth. “Notice the difference in taste when you play with it versus when you let it rest on or under your tongue.”
6. Walk in nature
If you’re able to go outside for a few minutes, take a short walk and focus on something simple like, “the sun hitting your skin or the wind on your body,” says Kaufman. Taking stock of these small physical sensations helps your brain break up the (seemingly) never-ending stream of activity.
Want to learn more about staying calm in the face of feeling inconvenienced, defeated, and anxious? Check out some scientific secrets to staying cool here.