We have all heard of the benefits of mindfulness by now, and with the availability of many wonderful apps to help you get started you may well have a simple daily practice in place already. Many meditators however wonder how to be mindful when going through life.
Once you understand the basics of mindfulness and concentration meditation you start realizing that indeed it is possible to live in a mindful state. This is of course easier said than done, and that is why we walk you through some exercises you can try to increase your awareness throughout the day and with that increase your connection to the present moment rather than finding yourself living in an internal world of thoughts and rumination all while living life on autopilot.
You may find yourself feeling more content as you start realizing that the tasks you may have previously taken for granted can provide you with more insight into life if you focus your attention.
As with all things, it is probably a good idea to practice and implement one exercise at a time rather than attempting them all at once, (unless you feel confident that you can). Although we have specific exercises here you can apply the principles to almost any task of your choosing and still find benefits.
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Exercises in Walking Meditation
Most of us walk, and a lot of us try to gain that 10000 steps a day recommended by a variety of health experts. How often though are we aware of our walking? Even at a basic level, we take walking so for granted that we rarely put any thought into the actions we take as we walk and navigate the world.
Below we discuss a few exercises you can try incorporating into your daily walks, and best of all, this is an add-on to something you already do so you don’t need to commit any additional time to it.
Simple Walking Meditation
As you walk focus on the movements your body makes. Where is your weight?
As you step, feel the ground under your foot. You can think a simple mantra like:
Saying Right in your mind, as you step your right foot and left as you step your left foot forward.
It sounds simple, but it is deceivingly difficult as it forces us to focus on an activity we completely automate normally.
If you awake to realizing your thoughts have drifted, don’t worry, smile, and remember that you are training your mind and bring your attention back to the object of your meditation, the sensations of walking.
Alternative mantras you can use as you walk are;
I have arrived, I am home.
The latter mantra is recommended by world beloved meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who advises we should practice arriving in the here and now as we walk and that we are at home in the world wherever we are.
Walking to Notice
Consider this; when was the last time you really looked at your surroundings when going on a familiar walk, such as your commute to work or school?
Next time you head out for your daily walk, either for exercise, to work, the grocery store or even taking out the trash choose one of your senses to focus on.
Look at your surroundings, you can note things you see such as “Tree, person, sky” or just experience them nonjudgmentally. Keep your concentration on what you are seeing, how is it different from what you remember or how you imagine it?
If you find your mind drifting, bring your attention back to your vision. You can use a mantra or a concentration aid to help you stay in the now if you find it helpful.
You can do the same with your other senses, such as smell, hearing. Of course, if you are walking outside you need to keep some level of concentration on making sure you are safe, so these might be easier practiced if you sit down on a bench or the like to start.
Walking with Loving Kindness
Loving-kindness is a different type of meditation aimed at fostering connection and compassion. You can bring an element of loving-kindness to your walks, as you can wish passers-by, animals, and even trees well on your route.
For example, say as you are walking through a park, you see a duck with her ducklings, you are immediately filled with warmth towards them and want to wish them well, so you can think;
Dear Duck Family, I wish that you stay well, healthy, happy and safe in the pond.
You can work toward more challenging cases, as you practice for example you can direct well-wishing thoughts to other people who pass you. As you deepen this practice, you’ll find that you can send unconditional positive regard towards more people and beings. This will bring you a great source of calm as you for example will be able to wish bees and spiders well knowing they also play a part in the ecosystem instead of reacting with haltered towards them.
A classic loving kindness mantra is as follows:
May they be happy
May they be safe
May they be healthy
May they be peaceful
You can use this, part of it, or any other positive reassuring phrase you like. For example, it may be difficult to remember all of these so you may focus on one or two of them, and you may change them depending on the object of your meditation. The most important thing is to actually focus on trying to feel a positive feeling and focusing on it.
As with all things practice makes perfect. You won’t be wishing spiders health and longevity today if you’ve spent a lifetime being afraid of them, but you might be able to in a couple of months once you’ve had some practice with easier subjects.
Mindfulness During Activities of Daily Living
We all complain about our chores, homework, renovation projects but what if we didn’t waste energy on fretting, worrying, being angry about having to do, or any energy at all on them apart from that required to actually complete the task? What if we practiced being present for that task – even one we may not enjoy so much?
Well, best start with one task at a time. Maybe a medium difficulty one and go from there. Below we will give you ideas for bringing mindfulness to common daily tasks that we all pretty much have to do on a daily basis.
Mindfulness of Eating
We all eat. If we don’t eat for long enough, we die. Practicing mindfulness while eating at least once a day can bring great benefits for presence, feelings of interbeing, and connectivity. To have a mindful meal, try following these principles;
- Notice the smell and how your food looks even before starting to eat
- If available to you, try eating in silence without the TV on and just focus on the experience of eating
- As you start to eat, feel the implement in your hand, is your fork heavy? Is it cold? Do your chopsticks feel smooth?
- Really focus on the flavor of the food, the consistency, how it feels to chew and swallow it. As you eat a spoonful of rice, give that rice your full attention.
You may eventually start having deeper thoughts as you do this – such as; where did the rice come from? You may find yourself grateful to the people who grew the rice, the soil that provided it with nutrients, and your partner for cooking it if they did.
You may find that you are grateful over having rice to eat.
One wonderful thought is that the rice grew with the help of the soil, water, and the farmers with energy from the sun. Now that energy is nourishing you and providing you with the necessary energy to live your life.
Over time, you’ll find that you enjoy and appreciate your food more and that you can stop eating when you’re full. You might change how and what you eat, giving more consideration to the environment and other creatures in your food choices.
Mindfulness of Hand Washing
We all wash our hands a good number of times a day, so why not take the opportunity to really home in on the experience. As you go to wash your hands:
- Feel the faucet as you turn on the water stream, is it heavy? Cold? What design is it?
- As the water touches your skin, notice the temperature
- Feel the soap on your skin, does it smell of anything?
- As you lather your hands, feel one washing the other, maybe you take a second to massage one hand with the other with the soap
- As you finish, consider what a fantastic thing it is to have strong functioning hands, and clean water to wash them with.
Mindfulness of Washing the Dishes
As you wash your dishes you can apply similar principles to what we have discussed so far;
Feel the soapy water on your hands, how does it feel? What temperature is it?
Give each dish your full attention while you wash it, feel its weight, see the dirt disappear off it as you scrub it clean. What is it made of? How did it get to be in your kitchen?
Of course, the thoughts you will have might not be consistent and repeatedly stating that you have ceramic plates isn’t going to make you more mindful. Just focus on the sensation and if you notice yourself having deeper more connected thoughts or questions, great, if not, just enjoy washing the dishes.
You can apply this to all other cleaning activities such as tiding, mopping, hoovering, hanging out the laundry. Just be with whatever activity you choose and if you notice your attention wavering bring it back.
Mindfulness of Showering and Brushing Teeth
Yes, you can be mindful while enjoying a shower or brushing your teeth, here is how:
As you take a shower, focus on the sensation of the water on your skin. Lathering your body, give the body part you are washing your full attention, feeling your hands on it, the soap, the temperature and pressure of your skin.
As you brush your teeth, focus on how the toothbrush feels in your hand, the taste of the toothpaste, give each area of your mouth your full attention as you clean it. Be aware. You may find that you brush one side much longer than the other, or the inside more than the outside of your teeth. This awareness can then help you take better care of your oral health.
You can be mindful if you bring your full attention and presence to whatever activity you are engaged in. This will in turn bring you more presence and attention in your daily life which will help you feel more content and aware instead of existing on autopilot.
We wish you luck on your mindfulness journey, and remember to be kind to yourself, no one became an expert in a day.