When we go through busy phases of life (or if life feels chronically consuming for us), our intentions to practice mindfulness and meditation frequently get put on hold. When our time feels limited as it stands, taking a moment’s pause seems like the last thing we can afford. However, when life feels all-consuming, mindful step-backs tend to be precisely what we need and truly long for.
Mindfulness and meditation frequently get lumped together; however, the two are not quite the same. For busy people in particular, understanding the difference can break the illusion that we don’t have the time we need to practice mindfulness.
Though meditation typically entails longer steps away from the world around us, mindfulness is something available regardless of the length of time we can set aside for stillness. As mindfulness is simply the art of paying non-judgmental, compassionate attention in any moment, the time required for practice is as flexible as water.
As we explore simple mindfulness techniques in the midst of our busy days, we don’t only find a moment’s respite from our to-do list. In addition, we gain focus, energy, and clarity that supports us in effectively managing the demands of life.
The techniques listed here are simple practices that can be interwoven into your day from morning to night. For each of us, our daily schedules look different and so what will appeal to us varies. You might explore any number of these techniques in a given day, seeing where mindfulness helps you to rest, to reset, and to flourish.
- Waking Awareness
We can begin our daily mindfulness practice during those first few moments of transition from sleep to wakefulness. Upon waking, see if you can mindfully tune into the world around you rather than reaching for your phone or any other early morning distraction. Notice the sounds of the wind, rain, or birds beyond your window, the gentle rhythm of the breath, and the safety and support of the material world beneath and around you. By tuning in mindfully to our first moments of the day, we set the stage for deeper presence and awareness as we move forward.
- Mindful Bites
Our daily interactions with food are wonderful opportunities for mindfulness practice that doesn’t require us to carve out ‘special’ time. Mindful eating is simply the art of being entirely present with our food, our mind, and our bodies – before and as we consume each meal. Consider beginning a mindful eating practice at breakfast by noting:
- Hunger cues within the body,
- How your food engages all five senses,
- The speed of your consumption,
- The felt sensation of food as it moves through the body,
- Any distractions that might be present for you, and
- Your mental and emotional state as you eat.
As we become more aware of the way in which we eat, self-awareness begins to deepen. Ensure that you are practicing this compassionately and non-judgmentally as food is a complex topic for many of us. Overtime, this practice helps us to become more intimately attuned to our bodies, fueling our willingness to nourish our bodies in ways that support us.
- Walking Awareness
Another daily activity that even the busiest of people can bring mindfulness to is walking. As you walk from home to the bus or from your lunch break back to the office, pay attention to both the sensation of your feet hitting the earth and to the world around you. As we walk in this way, we become more attuned to the natural world, noticing the subtleties that we often overlook. From spring buds on bare branches to kind acts of strangers, little moments are witnessed and appreciated through mindful awareness.
- Two-Minute Breathing Break
While a two-minute breathing break does require us to set a bit of time aside, we can all find two minutes in our day (at least once) to take a moment’s pause. To practice, set a timer for two minutes, close your eyes, and begin to tune into the natural rhythm of your breath. Simply notice each inhalation and each exhalation, seeing where it might be deepened for greater relaxation. When the timer rings, take your time to come back, extending the practice for as long as you like. Notice how the body and mind may have shifted.
- Mindful Listening
Another practice that requires nothing extra of us, mindful listening helps us to become more present during our exchanges with others. While someone is speaking, whether friend, colleague, partner, or child, self-inquire:
Can I be more present here?
Can I listen without pre-formulating my response?
This is also a wonderful practice for difficult discussions. As we increase our willingness to truly hear another out, the response tends to be the same. We enhance our ability to find common ground where before we may have been too caught up in our own perspective.
- Mindful Stretching
Another practice for midday breaks, mindful stretching encourages us to first become aware of the physical tension we hold in the body and to then move through it. Unconsciously, we often held tension in our shoulders, our hips, the belly, and various other parts unique to our personal makeup.
To explore mindful stretching, begin either seated or lying down. Take a moment to scan the body, letting your intuition guide you to where movement, release, or a deep stretch is needed. Spend as long as you’d like to with this practice, moving the body in ways that feel safe, comfortable, and restorative.
- Five-Minute Tune In
When life is busy, both mind and emotions often become heavy, anxious, or cluttered (among all other intricate thoughts and feelings we might experience). A five-minute tune in is a great practice to explore when we feel an uncomfortable thought or feeling rising to our awareness. When this occurs, we can set a timer for five minutes (or longer), close our eyes, and move through the following:
- Begin by settling through the breath, noting the subtle sensations of each inhalation and each exhalation.
- Once grounded, see if you can become aware of your thoughts and feelings as an observer. Rather than becoming consumed by their stories, can you note them as separate energy bodies that do not define you?
- With each exhalation, see if you can soften the mind a little bit further. Ensure to practice non-judgment and compassion towards whatever arises.
- When the timer goes off, offer yourself a silent thanks for taking this self-care timeout. When you are ready, open your eyes.
- Evening Meal Gratitude Practice
Any meal is a great moment for gratitude practice; however, dinner time offers us the chance to reflect upon all we’ve been blessed with throughout the day. Whether eating on your own, with family, or with friends, see if you can invite a moment of silence to contemplate all you have to be thankful for. This helps to shift the mind from perceiving lack to acknowledging abundance, fueling our sense of peace and contentment.
- Mindful Journaling
If you enjoy writing or are open to exploring it, mindful journaling is a practice that can be explored for anywhere from a few minutes to many. It offers a chance to step out of the hamster wheel of thoughts we often find ourselves caught up in, expressing what might be weighing heavily on us through the written word. You can free flow during mindful journaling or you can use prompts such as:
- If I had one extra hour today, how would I nurture myself with it?
- What does ‘balance’ look like? How can I embody more of it (if needed)?
- In this moment, I feel grateful for…
- Bedtime Body Scan
Last but certainly not least, mindfulness can be interwoven with our last moments of wakefulness through a simple bedtime body scan. Beginning at the head, slowly draw your attention through the entire body, witnessing and gently softening any areas of contraction or tension where it is comfortable to do so. You might also invite your breath into each area you pass, deepening the energetic reach of this life force. Continue to the toes and then hold your entire body in soft, loving awareness. And, if you experience stress or ruminating thoughts before bed, you might deepen your bedtime practice by exploring guided meditations for sleep that enhance relaxation and release.
Above all, the most effective mindfulness techniques are the ones that work for you. We all have varying needs, preferences, and schedules and so our daily practices should reflect that. Whatever you choose to explore, remember that mindfulness is a moment to moment practice. Without setting much (if any) extra time aside, we can enhance our sense of self-awareness, peace, release, and contentment, recharging ourselves for the life that rests ahead.