Ever fallen into the “busy trap?” You know, when your brain is racing at high-speed 24/7, your calendar’s overbooked, and you have literally no free time whatsoever. Ironically, that’s exactly when you should probably slow down, recharge, and reset. And a mindfulness practice can help you do just that.
With mindfulness, you are better equipped to understand yourself because it encourages you to practice being fully aware and conscious. It may involve specific meditation exercises, or simply encourage a present mindset during all interactions or activities. But either way, mindfulness promotes calmness, productivity, and rest. Here’s what you need to know about mindfulness in general, as well as a couple of key ways to be more mindful starting today.
What do I need to know about mindfulness?
“Mindfulness isn’t about perfection,” says Beth Stebner, author of “Stop. Breathe. Chill. Meditations for a Less Stressful, More Awesome Life.” “You don’t need a fancy room, a thousand thread-count pillow imported from Tibet, an essential oil diffuser, or anything else besides a willing attitude and an open mind.”
Ko Im, a New York City-based wellness guide and certified meditation instructor, agrees. “Mindfulness doesn’t have to be sitting on a cushion and being extremely still,” she says. “It can be integrated into your life and show up when you most need it.”
Start by being conscious and aware of what’s happening at a given moment. Then, try to “listen and see without judging,” suggests Im.
The best part? Mindfulness is possible anywhere, anytime. “You can practice it on an overcrowded subway car, while you’re eating your #saddesklunch, or waiting in line at the grocery store,” adds Stebner. Even though mindfulness isn’t a “magic bullet,” as Stebner puts it, “it’s a way to approach daily, often stressful situations in a mindful way.”
How can I start practicing mindfulness today?
Start by setting aside a few quiet minutes to breathe, says Aaptiv trainer Sonja Rzepski. Find a comfortable, relaxed position. Then, take three breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, she says. Set a timer and invite your mind to clear as you simply pay attention to your natural breath.
“You do have to be willing to put aside your busy lifestyle, even for five minutes,” says Stebner. “That means logging off of social media and focusing on the here and now. Block off five or ten minutes each day—preferably at the same time—and allow yourself to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing is key to mindful meditation. Observe without additional thought or judgment, and you’re well on your way.”
And if your mind starts to wander toward your to-do list or the show you want to watch later, Stebner says that’s okay: “Forgive yourself and calmly start over.” Or, as Im puts it, “Simply begin, and then begin over and over again.”
Does mindfulness lead to better health?
“Mindfulness is really about being in the present moment at all times,” says Stebner. “So that means that you can apply your practice whether you’re eating dinner or washing dishes or killing it at spin class. When you’re eating, think of mindfulness as a way to check in with your body. What is it telling you it needs? More water, fewer chips? Or it could be telling you to cool it with the HIIT classes and take a day off.”
It’s true mindfulness can make a direct impact on exercise, as well as your relationship to food. One study suggests people who practice mindfulness during workouts may experience better maintenance of an exercise routine as a whole. Another indicates mindfulness may help with weight control or weight loss, and a 2016 study explores how mindfulness could correlate to increased satisfaction with respect to physical activity.
Meditation is already known to help ease anxiety, depression, and pain, among many other potential benefits, but Rzepski also mindfulness creates a quality of being relaxed, clear-minded and optimistic. This contributes to the way we think, feel and even experience our bodies.
“Mindfulness reminds us to eat a balanced meal, stop drinking if it’s not helping us and find flexibility in our movement, whether we need to amp it up or slow it down,” says Im. “It’s about listening to your body.”
What are a few ways I can be more mindful on a regular basis?
If you want to practice mindfulness, Stebner emphasizes the power of small adjustments in your daily routine or changing how you approach stress. She encourages people to try waking up 10 minutes early and using that time to focus on breathing to center yourself.
Our experts also shared several other ways to be more mindful, such as through eating, walking, limiting the use of electronics and breathwork.
- “When you’re eating a meal, think about your food. Focus on the taste, where it came from, how it was prepared, and the different complexities of flavor. It’ll help you appreciate it more while allowing your body to register whether or not you’re full.” – Stebner
- “A regular meditation practice is great, but also spend time away from electronics (at least 2 hours in the day), to make more time to be fully present with friends, family, and coworkers. Really listen without judging, and pay attention to what elevates you in life, because most likely that is when you are already being more mindful without even trying!” – Rzepski
- “A walking meditation is one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness—by strolling through a park or around the block, you’re actually connecting body and mind.” – Stebner
- “As hard as it is in today’s modern, fast-paced, fraught world, we can become more mindful when we can return to our breath, single-task more and connect with ourselves and others in meaningful ways, so you can come back to being the lovely human you are.” – Im