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Six easy ways to practice mindfulness, a psychologist’s guide
Forget safron robes and mantras. Here's how to be more mindful without even trying.
If you’re new to mindfulness, the idea of sitting down for a 20-minute meditation might seem a little intimidating. But what if there was a way to get those much-touted brain benefits simply by doing a task that you already do every day?
Enter passive mindfulness. “With mindfulness we talk about formal and informal practice,” says clinical psychologist and mindfulness consultant Dr Richard Chambers. “Formal is meditation, informal is just doing things mindfully, like the mindfulness of eating and talking and baking. If you’re not ready for meditation, you can engage with mindfulness through those informal, everyday tasks.”
When it comes to being more mindful, though, he says it’s not what we do but how we do it.
“If people are at home baking and the TV is on and they’re smashing a series on Netflix, that’s not mindfulness,” he says. “But any time we connect with the senses, it brings us into the present – that’s mindfulness.”
Mindfulness hacks: How to be more mindful every day
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a kind of focused, non-judgemental awareness that involves paying attention to the present moment. It can be practised anywhere, at any time. Meditation, on the other hand, typically refers to formal, seated meditation practice.
Why is mindfulness so important right now?
The benefits of mindfulness, particularly during a crisis or a period of extreme stress, should not be underestimated. “It is a very strange psychological time, with people experiencing a lot of loss, anxiety and disconnection,” says Richard. “Mindfulness helps us manage that anxiety, but also helps us to stay present and reconnect with what’s important.
“In times of uncertainty, it’s a way for us to connect with things we can control – what we give our time and attention to and how well we look after ourselves. These are protective factors.”
Instead of relying on TV, food and alcohol to help you feel numb, Richard recommends focusing on activities you find enjoyable. By immersing yourself, you’re giving your mind a break from reality, rather than avoiding it entirely.
“There are two types of people in world right now,” he explains. “Those who can’t wait to get back to life as usual, who are putting everything on hold and just biding their time, watching TV, shopping and disconnecting. Then there are the people who are staying present – who are willing to sit with the anxiety or whatever they’re feeling and deepen their connections with people around them, and with the things they love. The people who don’t avoid how they’re feeling, who stay present, are happier and healthier in the long term.”
How to start being more mindful
Want to be more mindful but don’t know where to begin? These are Dr Richard Chambers’ top tips for getting started.
- “Drop the excuses that you’re too busy.” If the coronavirus pandemic has given us anything, it’s time. It’s all about making mindfulness a priority. To quote Nike – just do it.
- “Start small. Aim for five minutes.” With so many of us working from home or cooped up indoors, even five minutes of focused breathing is a great place to start.
- “Do it every day on a regular basis.” This is the number one pro tip for establishing a routine.
- “Tie it in with an existing part of your routine.” Whether that’s while you shower, while you have breakfast or while you’re blow-drying your hair, making mindfulness part of your routine is key to creating a long-term habit.
- “Use a guided practice and just do it.” Richard has myriad mindfulness resources and free meditation MP3s on his website, or you can download an app – such as Smiling Mind. Once you start noticing the benefits over time, you’ll wish you’d started sooner.
Six easy, informal ways to be more mindful
Go for a run (or a walk)
As well as being good for your physical health, running can be a great mindfulness activity. But instead of jumping on the treadmill and running in front of the TV, go for a run outside. Make it more mindful by... Leaving your headphones at home. The aim here is to tune into the activity and be aware of your body, your feet as they hit the footpath, your breath and the thoughts, feelings or emotions that come up during the run. (More: These are Steve Moneghetti's favourite runs in Victoria.)
Get your bake on
When it comes to trends, the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to one of the biggest. Across the globe people have been baking for boredom, with banana bread, sourdough and lasagne emerging as some of the real winners from the self-iso-inspired baking bonanza. Make it more mindful by... tuning into the sensory qualities – the tastes, smells, textures and sounds – as you whisk yourself off to a more present place. (Plus: 13 biggest sins of baking.)
Eat dinner at the table (instead of the TV)
As far as rituals go, this is one of the best. And you can make it even more beneficial by turning off the TV and really zeroing in on the delicious meal. Make it more mindful by... eating slowly, being aware of how the food smells and tastes, and taking time to really enjoy the process. That goes for work lunches, too. Instead of sitting at your desk and scoffing your food, take a break from the screen and pay attention to enjoying your meal, rather than multi-tasking.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be practised alone, either. It’s something you can bring to your everyday interactions and conversations. Mindful listening involves listening without judgement or interruption. Instead of half listening and always thinking of what you’re going to say next, make it more mindful by... focusing on the conversation and the message and ensuring the other person feels heard and understood. This will help you improve communication and also foster deeper relationships.
Wash the dishes (or do other household chores)
Loathe doing the dishes? It turns out you can use your time at the sink to clock up some extra mindfulness time. A recent study found that even an everyday task as mundane as washing up can have positive mental health benefits if done mindfully. Make it more mindful by... simply focusing on the task at hand – paying attention to how your body feels standing at the sink, noticing the warm water as it pours onto your hands, smelling the soap or watching the bubbles begin to foam. If your mind starts to drift off, bring it back to the present moment. You could apply this strategy to cleaning, vacuuming and even de-cluttering, too.
Take a shower
The shower is one of the best places to start when it comes to working a little more mindfulness into your day. As well as already being part of your routine, your daily scrub sesh might be one of the few moments in your day where you get to be alone and have some peace and quiet. Make it more mindful by... leaving your phone out of the bathroom, laying your clothes in a neat pile rather than scattering them all over the room, and paying attention to the water as it washes over you. This is also a good opportunity to reflect on things for which you are grateful.