“The mind is just like a muscle — the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets and the more it can expand.” - Idowu Koyenikan
The act of being mindful is simply being present and aware. Even if that seems like an easy task, think about how often you find yourself zoning out in the middle of a meeting, conversation, or even during your commute.
So much of daily life can feel like autopilot, but practicing mindfulness can help us refocus and relax, which can have a big impact on our daily lives. Some research is even suggesting that mindfulness activities may help rewire the brain’s physical structure.
When you think of “mindfulness” you might jump straight to meditation, but it’s not the only activity that helps you practice mindfulness.
To get the most out of your own practice, think about something that you can easily integrate into your routine. It’ll have the best chance of sticking, and you’ll end up enjoying it a lot more.
That may be meditation, but it also might be an evening walk around the neighborhood. Mindfulness can look different to everybody.
Below are a few ways to make it work for you.
Wind down with a coloring book
There’s a sense of zen that comes with finishing a coloring page, and scientists are starting to figure out why: it’s an activity that features repetition, lets us express creativity, and is fairly low stakes.
The act of picking out your colors, finding a coloring technique, and filling in the page keeps you engaged and aware -- but without pressure to be perfect.
“Adult coloring requires modest attention focused outside of self-awareness,” says Cleveland Clinic psychologist Dr. Scott Bea. “It’s a simple activity that takes us outside ourselves in the same way cutting the lawn, knitting, or taking a Sunday drive can all be relaxing.”
By shifting awareness into the present moment with a coloring page it becomes a sort of meditative state and relaxes the brain. Try picking out a page from the Ink+Volt Inspirational Coloring Book and giving it a try. Bonus points for the phrases throughout the book that will surely lift you up along the way.
Set a daily intention
What is your routine like before you start the day? If you’re not setting an intention, give it a try! At its core, it’s just a little reminder that you can come back to throughout the day, whether you’re working, running errands, or taking a day off, having an intention centers you and helps you to be in the moment.
Take a few moments each morning to ground yourself and think about what you may need that day. An intention can be as simple as vowing to be a good listener, showing kindness, or finding the positive in hard situations.
Pick a journaling prompt
One of the most effective acts of self-care is as simple as picking up a notebook and pen. Journaling comes with a host of benefits, from relieving stress to even speeding up wound recovery. Dumping your thoughts on a page can be more powerful than you think!
Researchers believe that the organizational process of journaling is likely the reason it makes such a good mindfulness activity. You’re recalling an event or idea in your mind and translating it to the blank page in front of you. While it may seem like the words are just flowing out of you, the act actually requires quite a bit of focus and mental presence.
There’s no right or wrong way to journal; a guided practice can be just as beneficial as a plain notebook.
If you’re particularly stuck, try a “brain drain,” suggests author Julia Cameron. Your writing doesn’t have to sound smart or be eloquent. You just have to put your thoughts on the page.
Try a breathing exercise
Take a big inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Sometimes the best mindfulness activities are the easiest.
Breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to help create a sense of calm and boost mindfulness. Some research has found that breathing exercises have improved insomnia, decreased anxiety and even helped to support the body’s immune system.
“Breathing is massively practical,” Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book Breathe, told the New York Times. “It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.”
Researchers believe that conscious breathing sends signals to the brain, which then adjusts the nervous system to create that calming feeling. If you’ve ever tried meditating and found you can't focus or it’s just not the kind of mindfulness practice that you can easily introduce into your life, try a few breathing exercises. It may surprise you how helpful they can be.
Being still in such a busy world is not easy, especially when so many things are vying for our attention.
Taking a few moments, without any electronics or distractions, to be still is the easiest way to be mindful. It requires no tools or props. You just need a comfortable place to sit or lay. Gently close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let your thoughts wander without judgment.
Meditation can be an intimidating term, but if you think of it as simply being still, then it’s a lot easier to get through. You don’t need to meditate on anything in particular or try too hard to avoid any thoughts. Just the act of being still is enough to have an impact. If your brain does start to wander, just let the thoughts pass by.
Don't aim for 10 minutes of stillness on your first try. Start out easy! Try for one minute of stillness by setting a timer, and build up from there.
The act can have profound effects, like easing anxiety. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said such a practice is particularly good for worriers.
“You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” she says.