- Theoretical insights:
What are the benefits of mindfulness meditation?
- Practical takeaways:
Tips to practice mindfulness
5 practical mindfulness exercises for busy people.
Mindfulness meditation? I have heard about it. It sounds interesting, but not for busy people and definitely not for my hectic days. You might resonate with these common resistance thoughts popping in our heads whenever you hear about this new trend. In today’s fast-paced world, we all tend to get carried away by the waves of daily pressure, stress, and never-ending tasks and responsibilities. How can we keep mentally and emotionally fit? How to manage our busy minds and declutter the mental noise? Is mindfulness a solution?
Even if we are aware of the science-proven benefits, we still tend to bring in our defence the definitive argument of time. How can we find time to incorporate mindfulness meditation on those insanely busy days? On those days when it seems we can’t afford the luxury to spare a precious minute to relax?
This article will give you some practical ideas and easy-to-use strategies you can apply immediately so you can enjoy the benefits of mindfulness training no matter how busy you are.
Mindfulness meditation: a “mental workout to benefit your brain”1
Have you ever wondered how many thoughts cross your mind daily? This is a fascinating topic that has sparked our curiosity to better understand how the mind works. Initially, we had come across staggering numbers ranging between 60.000 – 80.000 thoughts every day. However, these numbers were not scientifically backed, so we delved into actual research. The data we found is still significant and surprising.
According to the latest research2 from cognitive neuroscience published in the journal Nature, experts could detect an impressive number of 6200 thoughts every day for an average human mind! Researchers from Queen’s University exploited the technological advances in brain fMRI scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Using the method called ‘thought worms’, they identified transitions (neurobiological markers) based on specific neural signals when one thought ends and another begins. They tracked two groups of participants’ thoughts while watching movies and when they were at rest.
So, our minds nurture thousands of thought-worms daily. Obviously, we are not aware of all of them, only of a small fraction. What’s even more interesting, 80% of our thoughts are negative or repetitive patterns.
A 2014 study3 reported that many people would prefer electroshocks to being left alone with their own thoughts for a longer period of time.
5 simple and practical ideas for integrating mindfulness Meditation into our daily routine.
How can all these pieces of information help us? With our minds so full of fragmented pieces of conversations, worries, popping ideas, images, thoughts, it is no wonder that we end up so often in a room without knowing why. With our minds teeming with ideas, worries or plans, many of us experience frequent problems falling asleep.
The good news is that there are plenty of smart strategies and techniques to fit mindfulness into your daily routine.
Turn household chores into a mindfulness meditation exercise!
Maybe you haven’t thought about this simple trick, but it might be the right time to try it out. Any repetitive chore performed on autopilot can be easily shifted into a mindfulness activity by introducing the element of focus into the equation. You can concentrate on breathing deeply, slo-mo’ style, and then exhaling quickly. Alternatively, you can count your breaths or try box breathing while sweeping, vacuuming, doing the laundry, mopping the floors or watering the plants. The list could go on. Any automatic task which does not involve conscious decision-making while you are performing it works great. Now that you know, why not take advantage of these moments to integrate mindfulness?
Another important element is to pay attention to your senses and heighten them. Allow yourself to enjoy the sensation of the warm soapy water on your hands, to gaze at the bubbles when washing the dishes, to notice the sounds of the tap water dripping on the dishes.
Practice walking meditation.
Undeniably, walking is such a repetitive, habituated activity for many of us that we basically perform it on auto-pilot. The second we step out the door, we tend to get caught in the unceasing vortex of worries, plans, bits and fragments of random popping thoughts. Is this experience of mind-wandering a familiar scenario for you?
Walking can be a perfect opportunity to integrate various types of mindfulness practices. One of the aims of walking meditation is to synchronize different types of pranayama (breathing regulation) with stepping.
A traditional walking meditation practice exploits shifting your awareness on noticing sounds, smells, observing, acknowledging and letting go while trying to align your breathing pattern with your pace. A popular walking meditation promoted by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh is to take a step with each breath. Alternatively, you can inhale deeply while counting every two or three steps during your walk.
If you want to experience more, there are quite a few types of walking meditations, detailed here with step-by-step instructions and variations:
Theravada Walking Meditation
Zen Walking Meditation (Kinhin)
Thich Nhat Hanh Walking Meditation
Mindfulness Walking Meditation
Yoga Walking Meditation
Daoist Walking Meditation
Box breathing with mindful walking (Breathing 4-4-4-4)
You can adapt the number of steps according to your rhythm. No matter what type of mindful walking you choose, it is a chance to connect with nature, with you, with the present moment. To learn how to appreciate the simple and taken-for-granted pleasure of walking with proven cognitive and health benefits.
Empower your personal daily routine with mindfulness exercises!
Surprising or not, a simple daily routine like brushing your teeth can also be a chance to practice mindfulness. Feel your feet on the floor, the sensations of the toothbrush against your teeth, against your gums. Notice the cooling flavour of your toothpaste, the colour, the sounds of the bristles.
So, imagine the typical scenario of you entering the bathroom to brush your teeth. Instead of falling onto the slippery slide of random thoughts and worries, endless lists of to do-tasks, instead of getting lost, pause your bubbling mind for a moment. Why not try to gently bring your attention back to the body each time you realize the mind has wandered off? Here are some quick steps to follow:
- First, relax your neck area and the jaw and focus on breathing through the nose slowly and deliberately, as in a slow-motion style.
- Loosen your hand holding the toothbrush and notice the bristles move over your teeth and gums. Allow yourself to feel the fresh flavour of the toothpaste. What exactly can you feel? What can you see, hear? Try to be fully present and notice all these things.
- Inhale deeply, counting as much as you can as you rinse the mouth. Feel and enjoy the sensation of clean teeth. Actually, when you feel clean, your brain produces endorphins that help you experience a better mood.
- Feel gratitude for your teeth and their hard work, which allows you to achieve, taken for granted, actions such as chewing, speaking and smiling.
Take a mindful beverage break!
Have you ever experienced a mindful moment while drinking your favorite beverage? Be it in the morning when you start your day with your favorite mug (how we love our inspiring quotes) or later when you take a break. This simple relaxing moment can be turned into a mindfulness exercise.
Have a warm beverage of choice (tea, coffee) and simply sit down in a chair in a comfortable position. You can close your eyes to focus better. Feel the warmth radiating through the mug into your hands and take a deep breath. Notice the warmth, the rising steam, the color, the texture of the mug. Shift your awareness towards how refreshing it is to hold your favorite warm mug between your hands and fully enjoy the experience. Breathe deeply for a couple of minutes while letting these questions guide your senses:
How does the cup feel in your hand? Can you feel the texture, the thermic sensations?
When you take a sip, pay attention to the taste, heat, the flavor, the color, the weight of the mug. Has the temperature dropped?
Tips to improve your mindfulness meditation practice
Has the tea or coffee gone cold? Can you notice a change of taste? Do you feel an impulse to start your next urgent task? Can you feel sensations in your body related to this? It is essential to try to see the experience as a detached observer. Do not worry if you are overwhelmed with thoughts! Just make sure that you notice your random thoughts without judging them. Gently bring your awareness back to your beverage and the sensations you experience. To finish, you can transition back to your environment and routine with some soft grounding exercises after you’re done, like stretching your arms and back, wiggling your toes, or moving your feet on the ground.
Knowing some simple techniques to bring your awareness to your breath and refocusing your attention on the present moment can help you a lot! Imagine you will better manage your stress, experience less anxiety, a heightened sense of peacefulness, and feel more energized! So, there are plenty of great reasons to apply these simple mindfulness exercises, especially if you have a hectic life!
I hope you can enjoy these simple and effective ways to introduce mindfulness exercises in your busy life! Why not try them and enjoy the results in your tumultuous days!
1 Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., Brown, C. L., & Shaked, A. (2014). Social psychology. Just think the challenges of the disengaged mind. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345(6192), 75–77. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1250830
2Tseng, J., Poppenk, J. Brain meta-state transitions demarcate thoughts across task contexts exposing the mental noise of trait neuroticism. Nat Commun 11, 3480 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17255-9, available here https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17255-9#rightslink.
3 Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., Brown, C. L., & Shaked, A. (2014). Social psychology. Just think the challenges of the disengaged mind. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345(6192), 75–77. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1250830.