Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Mindfulness can really transform your life. There are lots of proven health benefits of being mindful and the ways you can do it throughout your day are actually very simple.
Just the other day I was sitting at home almost all day, the weather was gray, cold and rainy and I had no energy to go outside. Half-way through the day I lost all excitement to hang out with my friends or go to the gym and instead I thought I could try being productive, since I wasn't doing anything anyway. But I couldn't concentrate. I realized that I just needed to relax and recharge.
At first I just felt like curling up in front of Netflix and eating the leftover chips and lots of chocolate. Instead of doing that, I took a moment to really feel how I'm feeling. I stepped out of interacting with my quite negative thoughts at that moment and just observed them running through my head.
I reminded myself to stop stressing about next week, or stop being anxious about having barely exercised or not been very productive lately. Instead, I brought my mind to the present moment and, for the first time that day, I really focused on feeling what's actually happening in my mind and my body.
I realized that what I really needed was to do some home workout and later felt like drinking tea and reading a book. Instead of giving into my disorganized thoughts, junk food cravings and a brain-dead movie, I realized that my body actually wanted something that was good for me. I just needed to take a little time to really listen to it and allow it to come, rather than force it.
As you can probably see, even when you know about the benefits of mindfulness, it doesn't always come all naturally.
We all have worse days, where we just feel like giving in to our unhealthy cravings that often arise from negative thoughts and lack of energy (especially during the fall when we barely see the sun anymore).
However, it is really important to listen to what our body and mind actually needs. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you can become more efficient in doing this and resist your cravings and focus on what's truly good for you. All this is proven by science.
Mindfulness practice makes the part of the brain responsible for emotion processing, amygdala, less active, making you better at controlling your emotions (1).
Many studies have also proven mindfulness' effects on making the prefrontal cortex more active. This makes us better at controlling impulses and planning, with our future goals in mind (2).
Another study showed mindfulness' effects on empathy, which is associated with high emotional intelligence (EQ). Having a high EQ helps you improve your relationships in all aspects of your life (3).
Check out more benefits of meditation on the brain in my earlier blog post. Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness.
Of course, the more and longer you practice mindfulness in your life, the more pronounced these effects become. But it only takes eight weeks for your brain to show improvement (4).
Here are the five easy ways you can use to become more mindful every day:
1. Bring your awareness to your thoughts
Take a moment and just observe what's happening in your thoughts. Is your mind wandering around trying to occupy the silence? How are you feeling? Notice the amount of different thoughts that appear in your head. Instead of engaging with them, just observe them as they come.
Do you feel that you have an awareness of what's happening in your mind? It can feel as it's some sort of on a higher level, "above", or "behind" your thoughts. Did you know you had it?
I was surely surprised the first time I tried this. It was almost scary to realize that there's actually more to me than just my thoughts.
It's crazy that our natural state is not this, but rather the thought-filled mind, always wandering off to the past, remembering the good times or resenting the bad times, or off to the future, getting anxious over what's going to happen and keep planning ahead, thinking that we will be happy once we achieve our next goal.
You can start by trying to bring your awareness inwards, to the present moment and your thoughts a couple of times a day. You may have a specific object that reminds you of becoming aware of the present moment, or a time of the day that you can be mindful.
After a while of doing this, you will become more used to noticing what's happening in your thoughts as well as surroundings and will thereby become overall more mindful.
2. Focus on your breath
A great way to bring your awareness to the present moment is to observe your breathing. Sit in a comfortable position and just tune into your breath.
Observe your chest and belly expand with each inhale and contract with each exhale. Don't try to change your breathing, just observe your own breath.
Is your breathing shallow or deep? Where do you feel the air coming in and out? Does it get all the way down into the bottom of your lungs, making your belly expand, or does it not reach that deep, staying more shallow?
Once you've tried this in a comfortable setting, you can do this mindfulness exercise several times a day. You can really do it anywhere, even while walking or watching series. It's a great way to check in with yourself and give your body a little bit of attention that it needs.
Focusing on your breath is also especially helpful when you feel stressed, anxious, nervous or if you're having a mild panic attack. Read more about the effects of focusing on your breath for stress relief in an earlier blog post.
By tuning in with yourself and using your breath as an anchor, your sympathetic nervous system calms down and the "fight or flight" body's response of a stressful situation shuts down.
You can also try doing breathing exercises, which bring mindfulness by controlled breaths. One such technique is called 4 7 8, or relaxing breath.
The breathing pattern of this technique goes as follows (5):
Completely empty your lungs of all air
Breath in fully, through the nose for 4 counts
Hold the breath for 7 counts
Breathe out all the air for 8 counts, through your mouth, holding your lips slightly together, which makes a whooshing sound
3. Take a mindful walk
You can do this in any situation. For example, a mindful walk can just be while taking a break, walking to the grocery shop, or on the way to or from work.
The point is that this walk should be different than the usual earphones-in-high-music-thinking-about-what-you'll-do-later kind of walk. Basically the opposite of the typical walk, where we prefer to distance ourselves from the present moment and try to be somewhere else, oftentimes in our thoughts.
During a mindful walk, you can focus on many things. One is to observe everything that you see. I find this especially easy to do now, during the fall, since the leaves keep turning different color each day.
By having a goal to observe the leaves change and notice when they start falling, not only do I train my brain to become more mindful, but I also see the beauty in the fall season each day and not just focus on the cold and darkness.
Another way is to tune in to your body sensations. As you walk, try to feel the firm ground underneath you. Feel the soles of your feet pressing against the ground. Do your steps make any sound? In which parts of your feet do you feel the pressure each moment?
A third way to walk mindfully is to observe everything you hear. You can either do this while walking slowly, or even stop for a moment and just tune into your hearing. Do you hear any traffic nearby? Are the birds singing? Is the wind whistling? Are there any raindrops falling down on the ground?
Really try to feel the sensations during your walk. It's easiest to start with just focusing on one sensation at the time and to really be present in it.
4. Bring your awareness during house chores
I know that this might not be the most exciting one. The fact is though, a big part of being mindful is to accept what is.
While many of us (I for sure) don't enjoy doing the dishes, vacuum cleaning the house or, the worst, cleaning the bathroom, these situations are really great ways to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.
Next time, while vacuum cleaning, try to become really aware of the moment. Try to see the dust leaving the surface as the vacuum cleaner touches it. Try to concentrate on how clean the floor is becoming and take joy in that. This way, vacuuming becomes a great mindful activity.
A more fun way to start incorporating mindfulness in house chores, at least for me, is to be mindful while cooking. Check out all the ingredients you're having. Think of where they came from and how they made it all the way to your kitchen. Notice the colors, the texture of them all.
As you chop the veggies, try to feel the smell that comes. Notice the shape they become. Notice when they start sizzling in the pan. Be there fully while cooking and feel all the amazing smells coming from your food. Taste the sauce you’re making and try to feel the spices that you should add.
5. Do a full body scan
The fifth way that I'd like to share with you is something that I've started doing this summer, after reading one of Eckhart Tolle's great books. In his book, "The New Earth", Tolle shared this mindfulness tip that's easy to incorporate in your every-day life.
It's so easy that you can do it anywhere. As you're sitting down and reading this post, you can try the body scan, by starting to tune in to your body.
Begin with your head. Do you feel any tension in your face? Is your forehead relaxed? Your jaw clenched? Do you feel any discomfort in your neck? Are you resting your chin on your hand? Just observe, without necessarily changing anything.
Now you can move on to your chest and shoulders. How is your breathing? Is it shallow or deep? How far into your lungs does it feel like the air reaches? How do your shoulders feel? Are they relaxed, or tense?
Now moving on to your arms, how are they feeling? Are they tensing your shoulders? Are you holding anything in your hands? How does your phone/laptop feel on your fingertips?
How does your back feel? Is your spine upright, or are you slouching while reading this? Are you sitting comfortably? Do you feel any discomfort anywhere along your spine, or any tension that you didn't notice before?
Moving on to your belly. Do you feel full, or hungry? Do you hear your belly making noises? Are you flexing your stomach or is it relaxed?
What about your legs? Are you sitting on a chair? Can you feel it pushing against your sitting bones? Are your legs crossed? Is there any tension in your thighs or calves? How are your knees feeling?
And finally, are your feet and ankles relaxed or tense? Do you feel the firm ground underneath your feet? Are you wearing any shoes?
These are only a few example questions that you can ask yourself while doing a full body scan. You can do it anywhere and anytime and in whatever way you want. The point is to really feel your body and the life and energy radiating through it.
I personally like doing the body scan in the morning, when I wake up, which gives me an easy opportunity to mindfully start my day.
Here are my five easy tips for incorporating more mindfulness into your life. The best way to start is to just focus on one of them and when you feel like you've got a hold of it and do it regularly, try one more. Keep adding them with time.
Don't try all of them at once if you're new to mindfulness since it might overwhelm you and possibly make you stressed if you feel like you can't master them right away. Afterall, there's no hurry in being mindful.
Let me know in the comments below, which one of the five ways to be mindful you're excited to start with, or if you already do any of them :)
Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence on mindfulness and more techniques that I will post in this blog.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog. Therefore you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on email@example.com
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness
1. Lutz, A., Jha, A. P., Dunne, J. D., & Saron, C. D. (2015). Investigating the Phenomenological Matrix of Mindfulness-Related Practices From a Neurocognitive Perspective. American Psychologist, 70(7), 632–658. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039585
2. Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(3), 449–464. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003
3. Hall, E. D. (2018). Building Emotional Intelligence for Better Relationships. Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/conscious-communication/201806/building-emotional-intelligence-better-relationships
4. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
5. Fletcher, J. (2019). How to use 4-7-8 breathing for anxiety. Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324417.php