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The Magic of Being Mindful Every Day (Yes, You Can Do It!)
Many of us rush through our days on autopilot, going from one errand, family obligation, or social event to another. In fact, Harvard researchers have found that we spend up to 50% of our lives distracted by past or future concerns rather than in full awareness of our surroundings at any given moment. This frenetic activity taxes our brains and our bodies.
One solution is to practice mindfulness, a form of meditation that requires you to simply pay attention. Unlike other meditative practices in which you're encouraged to empty your mind of thoughts, "mindfulness means being intentionally present in whatever you're doing, with an engaged curiosity of some kind," says Elisha Goldstein, a psychotherapist and the author of . Mindfulness can be challenging—most of us aren't accustomed to bringing our attention continually to the present moment. But practicing mindfulness, even if it's for only minutes at a time, has been shown to trigger brain changes that reduce anxiety and depression, relieve stress, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, and even ease pain. We've collected 11 quick and easy exercises to help you on your way to experiencing the rewards of a mindful life.
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Take a few moments before rising to decide on an intention for your day. Then, before you do anything else, sit up in bed and focus on the rhythm of your breath for a minute or two. Ask yourself, What qualities would I like to cultivate today? "Let whatever answers that come up wash over you like a wave, and keep returning to that question as your focus," says Lodro Rinzler, a meditation teacher and cofounder of MNDFL meditation studios in New York City. If one answer strikes you as particularly meaningful, commit yourself to doing your best to stick to that plan for the day. (We spoke with nine successful people—doctors, entrepreneurs, authors, conductors, and more—to discover the morning routines that help them seize the day.)
Andrea De Santis
Becoming mindful of your breathing while waiting for water to boil or food to cook is a great way to squeeze a mini-mindfulness meditation into your daily routine, says Kristen Race, creator of the Mindful Life program.
Start by finding a place in the kitchen to stand or sit quietly. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale deeply. For 3 to 5 minutes, simply pay attention to your breathing, following the movement of the inhale and exhale. For those few minutes, resist the urge to make a salad or set the table. If your mind wanders, return it to focusing on your breath.
Later, when you sit down to your meal, savor it slowly and mindfully, with all your senses engaged. Notice how your food smells and tastes, what it looks like, and how it feels in your mouth. (Mindful eating helped this woman lose weight and love food.)
Instead of checking your e-mail or browsing Facebook while you're in the checkout lane at the supermarket, meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg recommends practicing a simple exercise in loving-kindness meditation, which focuses on generating warmth and compassion for others.
As you're standing in line, notice the people around you and silently direct good wishes toward them. You might choose to address all your thoughts to one specific person or to address many people either at once or individually. Your good wishes can include things like I hope you're happy and I wish you good health. When you're finished, notice how you feel. Do you feel lighter or more joyful? Are you more aware of what's going on in your environment?
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The most basic mindfulness practice is to focus attention on your breath whenever you notice that your mind has wandered. You can apply this same principle to staying on task when you need to finish a project, says David Levy, a professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. When you sit down to work, set a clear intention for what you'd like to accomplish. Whenever you feel yourself getting distracted, take a breath and bring your attention back to the task at hand. (These eight foods and drinks will help you stay focused.)
When you're outside, try a scavenger meditation from Danny Penman, coauthor of . Collect three to five objects that catch your eye: a leaf with lovely veins, a smooth rock, a pretty flower. Then find a quiet place to sit and examine the items, focusing on one at a time. Pay close attention to the feelings and sensations each object evokes, and try to relate them to something else in your life. Does the object bring back a certain memory?
On a stroll
This mantra-based walking meditation can turn an unhurried stroll into a powerful mental reset. As you're walking, start by taking a moment to "return to your senses," says Goldstein. Slow down and tune in to your surroundings, then shift your attention to the movement of your body and your breathing. Each time you take a step, silently repeat the word here as a reminder to yourself to stay in the moment.
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Another option is to create a mantra of your own and sync it with your breath. As you inhale, repeat something you'd like to welcome into your day—perhaps energy or joy. As you breathe out, silently repeat a word describing a feeling you'd like to release—like stress, anxiety, or fear—and imagine yourself letting it go with each exhale.
This is the ultimate stress-relieving yoga pose:
On a brisk walk
Practicing mindfulness can turn your exercise regimen into a full mind-body workout. A study published last year in the journalTranslational Psychiatryfound that combining meditation and aerobic exercise can reduce depression and ruminative thinking by up to 40%, making the combination more effective than either activity on its own.
As you walk, Race suggests, focus on sounds you hear in the environment, whether that's cars going by on the street or dogs barking in the park. Commit to staying completely focused on what you hear for 5 to 10 minutes. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sounds of the present moment.
Andrea De Santis
On the road
Traffic doesn't have to be stressful and raise your blood pressure. You can practice patience and awareness using a method adapted by Goldstein: STOP, which stands for Stop, Take a few deep breaths, Observe, Proceed. (Try using essential oils in the car to make your commute less stressful. Here's how.)
You can use this practice anytime, including while you're in your car waiting at a red light. Once completely stopped, take a moment to inhale and exhale deeply. Then ask yourself, How's my body doing right now? Am I tense? How do I feel emotionally? For the last step, ask yourself: What's the most important thing for me to pay attention to right now? Where do I want to bring my awareness?
At a social event
The next time you're catching up with a friend, either in person or on the phone, take a few minutes to share a mini-meditation on gratitude called Three Good Things. Derived from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, it's a simple but powerful exercise that can help you cultivate a greater awareness of the positive moments in your life and your friend's.
Each person simply states three positive events or interactions that happened that day. It's not enough to think these things to yourself, says Race—the real power lies in sharing them with someone else. You can even make it an ongoing practice by starting an e-mail or text thread with a friend and sending each other your lists at the end of each day.
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"In the research that's been done on this, we see that after just a few weeks, people have less depression, greater happiness, lower burnout in their jobs, and improved sleep quality," says Race. "It's a pretty profound practice that takes only a few minutes."
At a family event, try an active listening meditation to become more present. As you focus your awareness on what someone else is saying, also notice that person's body language, vocal quality, and intonation.
Why this works: Often when we're in conversation, we're focused on our own responses rather than on what the other person is saying. But when you stop thinking about what you're going to say next, you start truly listening, says Goldstein. "It's quite relaxing, because any stress and anxiety felt in social situations is usually a result of thinking and rehearsing," he says. "Focusing on just listening turns the volume down, and you start to process what's being said."
Going to bed
Practicing mindfulness in the evening is a great way to quiet a racing mind and prepare your body for sleep. Try a quick body scan: As you're lying in bed, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your body. Starting with your toes, move your attention slowly upward, bringing it to each part of your body. Notice any sensations or tension in each area, then allow that part to relax completely. By the time you reach your head, you'll be ready to doze off.
Video: Peace Is Every Step The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life Audiobook
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