What does it mean to be mindful?
Being present, attentive and non-judgmental of the present moment can happen in many different situations. One way is through formal mindful practice, which includes awareness of the breath, a body scan, mindful eating or mindful walking.
There is significant research showing the benefits of such a practice. From reducing stress and anxiety to lowering blood pressure and treating heart disease.
However, there are other simple, yet as effective ways to engage in mindfulness. Informal mindful practices, for example, introduce mindful experiences throughout your day. These are particularly helpful in managing the stresses and pressures of day to day life.
By applying an informal activity to these experiences you train your brain to step out of autopilot and back into the present moment. We can view such practices as meditation tools, tools to use whenever the need arises.
These tools give you the ability to check-in with how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what behaviour you are engaging with at any given moment.
Informal Meditation Tools
The meditation tools below are simple and easy to apply to any situation. I use these more often than my seated practice and have felt the benefits immediately. These tools are surprisingly good at teaching you how to be mindful, less judgmental, less reactive and more empathetic toward yourself and others.
The 3-Minute Breathing Space
The three-minute breathing space is a tool you can use in between your busy day. It is a wonderful way to pause and reconnect with the present moment.
Begin by sitting or standing with a posture that promotes a sense of being awake and alert, not stiff. Close your eyes and take three slow breaths in and out.
Minute 1 – What Is Your Experience Right Now?
- Become aware of your thoughts, what is going through your mind right now?
- Notice what feelings are present and turn toward them (pleasant or unpleasant).
- What body sensations do you notice (tightness, tension, pain)?
- Simply observe what is happening, there is no need to try and change anything you are experiencing.
Minute 2 – Focus on the breath.
- Now redirect your attention to your breath.
- Becoming aware of the sensations of breathing.
- Feeling your breath move in and out of your body.
- Use your breath to bring you into the present moment.
Minute 3 – Expand your attention.
- Now expand your awareness to notice the whole body.
- Noticing your facial expression, posture, and the environment you are sitting in.
- Keep breathing as you do this.
- When you are ready, open your eyes and take in the room.
- Bring this awareness to the rest of your day.
This 3-minute breathing space is adapted from Williams, Teasdale and Segal, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy For Depression, 2013
3-Minute Breathing Space Audio
R.A.I.N – A Four-Step Mindful Exercise
The RAIN practice is a great tool to use when you feel overwhelmed and need to practice mindfulness and self-compassion. You can use RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or you can use it to soften and work through challenging experiences. This exercise has four simple steps – Recognise, Accept, Investigate and Non-identification.
R – Recognise what is going on
- Acknowledge any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that are present.
- If you feel comfortable you can label these experiences.
- This looks like, “I am worrying about…”, “I am feeling anxious” or “My shoulders are tense and I am clenching my jaw”.
A – Accept the experience as it is.
- Typically when unpleasant experiences arise we react by judging numbing or avoiding them.
- Now you allow your experience to be as it is.
- This doesn’t mean you like what you are feeling, rather you lean into the resistance.
- This looks like, “I am feeling anxious again, this is okay”.
I – Investigate with kindness
- Investigate the experience with compassion and curiosity.
- Ask yourself, “What is going on inside of me?” , “What triggered this reaction?”, “How am I experiencing this in my body?”, “What do I need right now?”, or “How can I offer myself some kindness?”
N – Non-Identification
- You are not your thoughts, emotions and sensations.
- You have the ability to distance yourself from your experience, develop insight and then return back to the breath.
- Change the thought of, “I am useless” to “I am thinking that I am useless”. Notice how this change in language feels different.
- Then with compassion say to yourself, “I am human, I make mistakes and I am experiencing a moment of suffering”.
This exercise is adapted from Michele McDonald -Vipassana Teacher.
R.A.I.N – Deal With Challenging Experiences
S.T.O.P – A One Minute Mindfulness Technique.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.Viktor E. Frankl
The STOP technique can be used as a tool to step into that space between stimulus and response. It gives you the opportunity to pause before you react, and in that space, you are brought back into the present moment.
It is only when we are in the present moment that we can decide whether to engage or disengage from habitual, which are often unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
S – Stop
- Stop what you are doing or pause for a moment.
T – Take a breath
- Take a few slow and deep breaths. Your breath is your anchor to the present moment and is available to you at any time.
O – Observe
- Observe your experience as it is.
- What thoughts, feelings or sensations are present?
- What do you feel? What are you doing right now?
P – Proceed
- You can either proceed with what you were doing or with the new information you have just gained you can decide to do something that will support you in the moment.
- Talk to a supportive friend, do some exercise, journal or take a nice long bath.
The STOP exercise was developed by Jon Kabat Zinn
S.T.O.P – One Minute Meditation
W.A.I.T – A Mindfulness Practice For Waiting In Line
Think about how much time you spend waiting. Whether it’s waiting in line at the bank, waiting in the car to collect your kids, waiting in traffic or waiting for dinner to cook.
Now let’s be honest, we spend A LOT of time waiting, and most of the time we feel irritated while we do it. That is why waiting provides the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness.
W – Watch
- What is happening right now?
- Observe, what can you see, smell or hear?
A – Accept
- Accept your experience as it is.
- If you are waiting in a long line, what can you do about it?
- Just let it be.
I – Investigate
- What stories are you telling yourself right now?
- “I wish this line would hurry up, I have to be somewhere important”, “I’m always waiting for the children, why are they taking so long?”
- Evaluate your thinking, is the story true? What evidence is there to support it?
T – Tend
- You may indeed be in a hurry or your kids may be taking there time.
- Tend to yourself by practising self-compassion or gratitude.
- Take a moment to breathe, and if you have to leave and return do that.
- Tend to others around you, say something kind to another person.
This exercise was adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
W.A.I.T – A Short Meditation
Other Informal Mindfulness Activities
Sometimes we overthink what a mindfulness practise needs to be. For many of us, seated meditation can feel overwhelming, but in reality, mindfulness does not need to be complicated or serious.
Below I have outlined some other informal mindfulness activities. Here mindfulness can be combined with any routine chore or behaviour. These are simple and effective techniques, but just as powerful as seated meditation.
Mindful communication involves applying the principles of mindfulness in the way we communicate with others. It is simply, being present, attentive, non-judgmental and compassionate when we listen and speak.
- When we listen mindfully we listen openly and attentively.
- Ground yourself, using your breath before you start communicating.
- Turn off any devices, give the person your full attention.
- Avoid interrupting, advice-giving, assuming or planning a response while the other person is speaking.
- Listen to where the other person is at, you don’t have to agree with them, you just have to listen.
- Listen to learn.
- Again bring yourself into the present moment using your breath.
- Be mindful of your tone and body language.
- Pause and take time to think before you speak.
- Pay careful attention to what you are saying.
- Be respectful, truthful and authentic.
Most of us spend hours in our car commuting to and from work, this can be tiring, frustrating and stressful. Practising mindfulness while you drive is not only a better use of your time, but it can make this tedious chore more enjoyable.
- Before you start driving take a few breaths and bring yourself into the present moment.
- Switch off the radio for a while.
- As you drive, bring awareness to your body. What sensations do you notice?
- Notice your attitude and feelings while driving. Are you feeling competitive or angry toward the other cars on the road?
- Notice the traffic around you. What can you hear, see or smell?
- Breathe, relax and slow down.
Showering is a wonderful opportunity to engage in mindfulness. Try the following to make your shower a meditative experience.
- Before you get into the shower, bring yourself into the present moment and set an intention for the next few minutes.
- As you shower engage all your senses.
- Smell the soap, watch the water move along your skin, listen to the water as it sprays against the floor or walls.
- Notice how the water feels on your skin and how this feeling changes as you add soap.
- Close your eyes and let the water run over you.
- Take a few moments to breathe.
Cleaning is not usually an enjoyable experience but it is something we all have to do. When you apply mindfulness to this daily chore, not only do you end up doing a better job but you learn to find meaning in ordinary experiences. So, whether you are washing the dishes, sweeping the floors or doing the laundry apply the following principles.
- Take a few breaths before you begin.
- Bring yourself into the present moment.
- Engage all your senses, what do you notice?
- Touch – What do you feel (temperature or textures)?
- Sight- What can you see (patterns, colours, shapes)?
- Smell- What can you smell?
- Sound – What can you hear?
- Practice gratitude – What can you be grateful for today?
Mindfulness is a way of life.
Mindfulness is not an exercise you try once and forget. Mindfulness is the way we interact with ourselves and with the world around us, it’s a way of life. When we adopt the principles of mindfulness and incorporate them into our daily life we strengthen self-control, trust in ourselves and self-compassion. As a result, we are more relaxed, less reactive and kinder to the people around us.