The term “mindfulness” is thrown around a lot in our day-to-day lives. You may have heard a yoga teacher or even a social media influencer encouraging you to be “mindful” of your breath, your bodily sensations, or your emotions. But what does this mean exactly?
Misconceptions about “mindfulness”
Mindfulness can be defined as: the simple act of noticing. When you are in a mindful state, you are paying close attention to your current sensations, feelings, actions, and the space around you. Rather than drifting from one activity to the next with wandering thoughts, being mindful means you are tuned in to the task at hand with all your senses engaged and involved.
Some common misunderstandings of mindfulness are that it involves thinking very hard about something or moving very slowly through a task. While the thinking mind helps to initiate the mindful practice (such as reminding yourself to “tune in to the motions of your hands”), from there on out mindfulness allows for an anchoring in the body and a sense of alertness that can actually quiet down the inner chatter. Similarly, some mindfulness exercises may involve slowing down at first (such as pausing to take three deep breaths), but many can be done at any speed and do not require an adjustment to the pace of normal daily tasks.
Lastly, mindfulness does not consist solely of formal activities like seated meditation. In addition, mindfulness can also be practiced informally, occurring at any time, any place, and around any other people.
Power of "presencing"
Mindfulness can prove to be a powerful tool to return oneself to the present moment. As the holiday season approaches, we can expect to spend additional time with family or alone during time off from work and school. These situations may bring up younger parts of ourselves as we are reminded of childhood traditions. On the other hand, being around family may bring up concerns for the future or uncomfortable memories of loss. All of these thoughts stir up a variety of emotions and physical sensations that can pull us away from the present moment. Mindfully returning to the task or conversation at hand can help keep your system in balance and prevent the overwhelm of racing thoughts.
Below are some examples of informal mindfulness-based exercises that can be applied in various situations. They do not require one to set aside any designated time, but rather can be performed in the here & now of day-to-day life or even during a difficult holiday event.
1. Rest your hands
Allow your hands to completely relax. A few times per day let them rest in your lap in complete stillness. Our hands are constantly busy and bringing them a moment of quiet can be an effective exercise for quieting the mind and remainder of the body as well.
2. See the color blue
Look around your environment for any sights of the color blue. Besides obvious places like the sky, bring awareness to the subtle appearances and all variants of the color around you. This may be particularly helpful during a difficult family conversation or a lonely evening that results in your system feeling flooded by emotion.
3. Notice smells
As often as possible, become aware of the smells in your environment. Sniff the air intentionally. If there are limited smells around you, consider dabbing some essential oils on your wrist to return to as a grounding technique throughout the day.
4. Entering new spaces
Bring awareness to any shifts between spaces by pausing and taking one deep breath after passing through a doorway. Consciously leave behind whatever needs to be left behind (energy, conversations, thoughts) as you step into a new room or a new setting. This is easiest to do during transitions from outdoors to indoors. Do not feel discouraged if you forget to engage in this practice occasionally between rooms!
Some visuals may come in handy to gently remind yourself to engage in practices like these. For instance, you may write a letter “D” on the back of your hand to remind yourself to be aware of doorways. Alternatively, if it’s a safe space to do so, you may leave sticky notes around the house with a brief prompt referencing the exercise.
It is never an easy feat to resist the urge of constant distraction and wandering thoughts. Small exercises of informal mindfulness, however, can serve as a quick and useful tool to bring the body and mind back into the present moment and grant your thinking mind a moment of peace.
By: Hailey Bean
Mental Health Counseling Intern
Bays, J. C. (2011). How to train a wild elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Shambhala Publications.
Eisler, M. (2023, August 1). What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness? Chopra. https://chopra.com/articles/explaining-the-difference-between-mindfulness-meditation