There are so many ways to be mindful and so many tips on how to live mindfully, but incorporating it is the hard part.
Simply put, living mindfully means living in the present. In the book, Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright, he writes “To live mindfully is to pay attention to, to be ‘mindful of’ what’s happening in the here and now and to experience it in a clear, direct way, unclouded by various mental obfuscations (obscure things in the mind). Stop and smell the roses.” A very modern, western and 21st century interpretation of the Buddhist teachings, but it works for “us” nonetheless.
The ways we can lead a more mindful, more aware life become easier as we consciously make the mindful changes in our day to day. We live in a world that prioritizes materialism over mindfulness, a world that focuses on how fast we can achieve something over the long-term effects it will have on our well-being. Here, I offer you to step back and adopt practices that call out to you. Your mind and soul will thank you for later. Here are some nuggets on ways to be more mindful.
Practice noble silence
During my yoga teacher training I was introduced to one of the most potent ways (in my opinion) to be more mindful, noble silence. From the moment we woke up (around 6:30am through morning meditation, pranayama and asana and to breakfast), until 10am we were to be in noble silence. Our noble silence meant no speaking, drinking or eating, checking our phones, listening to music, reading- basically no form of stimulus that would awaken the mind outside of the necessary things it took to get to the shala (walking, hearing the traffic, hearing other people talking etc.) The clarity this gave me is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
A few months out of yoga teacher training and I am still incorporating pieces of that practice into my daily routine. Not as much as I should, but hey – its all a practice.
Adjust your notification settings
Ways to be more mindful in the 21st century: adjust your notification settings! You must do this, I beg of you. Not just social media notifications but any other apps you use and email too. There is no need to see when someone likes your photo, sends you a Snapchat, or when you match with someone on Bumble LOL (no I don’t use Bumble, colossal waste of time). I went through and did a deep clean of my notifications and now I only see what I feel requires immediacy.
I got rid of any unnecessary notifications from apps, I unsubscribed from email lists that no longer served me, and I put my phone on do not disturb from 9pm to 6:30am.
Do not disturb is an easy feature on the iPhone to turn on or off whenever you need to. I’ve had it turned on for about a year now because I found myself going down a rabbit hole whenever I would get a notification at night. It wouldn’t just be one text message. It would be a text message, then a ‘quick’ scroll through Instagram which was never quick, then I’d pop over to Facebook, TikTok- the list was endless. So now with do not disturb in place, I don’t receive any notifications. However, you can customize it so that you can still receive calls from certain people or receive call notifications when someone calls repetitively (in case of emergency).
Receive only notifications for things that are important to you and you will be surprised at the weight that lifts from your mind.
There is no secret to practicing gratitude and it is one of the easiest ways to implement mindfulness into your daily routine. You can start implementing a gratitude practice by simply writing down what you are grateful for, every single day. Start with the things that come to mind first, typically the most obvious ones like “I am grateful for the food on my plate.” “I am grateful for clean water.” “I am grateful for the roof over my head.” Whatever comes to mind first, write it down.
As you progress in this practice think harder. Think of the little everyday things that we fail to notice on a regular basis. “I am grateful for my hard drives working so well.” “I am grateful for my soft bed sheets and pillow cases.” And then, incorporate the things that don’t seem like things you’d be grateful for, the things that bother you normally. “I am grateful for the rain because it helps with my productivity and it is good for the plants in my garden.” Or, “I am grateful for traffic because it lets me listen to more music and finish podcasts.” And, “I am grateful I live at home because it allows me to spend more time with my family and cats.”
There is no wrong way to practice gratitude so grab your writing utensil, paper and get to it!
Write in your journal
I started journaling about two years ago now. In the midst of some heavy soul searching I found it as a way to feel through my thoughts and feelings rather than sorting through them in my mind. Journal entries don’t have to be profound or ground breaking, you don’t have to come to a revelation, you only need to feel. Through writing your thoughts and feelings down they become real and you can no longer ignore them, as if you’re forcing yourself to deal with them.
I typically journal at the end of the day. But sometimes I find myself writing down feelings throughout the day. Writing things that bring up anxieties, feelings of comparison, things that make me happy and so on. Eventually, I am able to see patterns and eliminate the negative feelings or sources of these feelings more easily.
Observe your surroundings with all of your senses
We have five senses, hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling, though there are studies showing we could potentially have up to 21. We tend to think of our senses as separate when really, they’re all woven together to deliver our reality and perception of this world.
So, wherever you’re sitting take in your surroundings. Close your eyes and really listen. Open your eyes and observe the world around you and its vibrancy. Take a deep breath in through your nose, what scents do you smell. Exhale through the mouth and notice what flavors you taste. Use your hands and touch textiles, your skin and the surfaces around you. Observe what they feel like and what their temperatures are. Utilizing all of our senses in tandem takes work but when you begin to use them together, the experience is heightened and you are brought to the present moment.
I want to build on the idea of observing your surroundings through all five senses in terms of mindful eating. Mindful eating places awareness on all the foods we are putting inside our bodies.
I am soooooo very guilty of eating on autopilot and eating extremely fast. Anyone else? When I eat like this I question whether or not I truly savor the experience, can I truly taste and smell the foods I’m putting in my body when I scarf them down? All too often we eat our meals in front of a screen instead of paying attention to the meal itself. A side effect of the go go go culture we know all too well.
Mindful eating removes the distractions we put in place when eating. By removing the distractions, we eat uninterrupted with our focus solely on the delicious experience on our plates. Eat slowly, savor the flavors and smells, notice the textures, close your eyes every now and then and reconnect with your senses and this habitual experience. Through retraining your mind, mindful eating aids in healing our relationship with food while quieting the mind. This leads to a delicious experience while we eat, every single time.
Also also. I want to just highlight how important it is to eat healthfully. Your body needs nourishment to function and it needs nutrient rich nourishment to function at its highest, most aware state. For me this means: dense greens, a lot of veg, water, tea, low carb, medium fiber, minimal animal protein, soups and stews, and low sugar and natural sugar if any at all (coconut sugar, maple syrups, agave and honey). Our bodies are all different so start to tune in and listen to what yours is asking for.
Focus on one task at a time
It is SO easy to feel overwhelmed, I mean I feel it as I type this. There are a million other things I need to be doing so my mind wanders to those things leading to feelings of stress. But by focusing on only the task at hand I am able to really hone in an specifically focus my energy. A few things help me with this are:
- Writing down what I need to accomplish in my planner or on the sticky notes app on my Mac and crossing them off as I finish them
- Closing tabs on the internet that are unrelated to what I need to accomplish
- Placing my phone out of my field of vision (notifications are distracting)
- Time block your schedule the night before
Use mantras and positive affirmations
Mantras are a new thing for me within the last two years! They are incredibly potent reminders to remain present, especially if you write them down in your workspace or another spot you frequent throughout the day (like your car, bathroom or kitchen). I also like to recite mantras and positive affirmations out loud in the morning when I first wake up. I’ll pick one the night before so I have it fresh in my mind first thing in the morning to recite before getting out of bed or checking my phone.
My favorite mantras and positive affirmations
- I am present.
- I am loved.
- It’s either this, or something better.
- I am doing great and I have come a long way.
- I am proud of myself and everything I have accomplished.
- Happiness is my true nature.
- Om gam ganapataye namaha / salutations to the remover of obstacles (Ganesha)
I make it a point at least once a day to get outside or at least, feel at one with the outdoors. Sometimes that means walking, running or sitting on the back deck. Any way I can feel the sun on my skin and breeze on my cheeks. If you literally cannot get outside, I created this guide on bringing the outside in. It includes tips for incorporating the outdoors inside your home.
One of my Instagram followers mentioned birdwatching as a means for bringing mindfulness into their daily routine. And the more I thought about it, the more I had to try it for myself. I found it incredibly peaceful, almost like a visual meditation observing how the birds come and go to the tree in my backyard. Little moments in nature are not little at all.
Use the 5,5,5 method
I’ve seen this method used a lot in relationship. Typically, when there is a disagreement each partner has 5 minutes to discuss their side or their viewpoint and the last 5 minutes are spent talking through it. Creating a safe space to feel and communicate. But this can also be translated into your everyday routine of self-care and mindfulness. Start with 5, 5, 5 for self-massage, 5 minutes in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. This lets you focus on working out any of the tension in your body and to drop-in. Another way of reminding you to be present in your physical body.
Incorporate mindfulness checks
Dropping into the moment, consciously paves the way for complete presence. I watched the Thich Nhat Hanh documentary on Amazon Prime and this is one of the practices incorporated in the monastery. Every 15 minutes a peaceful song plays on the intercom system and everyone in the monastery, no matter where they are, can hear the music playing. The music acts as a minute-long reminder to drop into the moment. Everyone stops what they are doing, to pause and be present with the task at hand, with where they are in that moment.
I’m sure you thought ‘wow every 15 minutes seems like a lot.’ Sure, for us it is a lot. But I encourage you to adjust it. Maybe do it every few hours. Set a gentle alarm on your phone and drop in for one minute every few hours.
Have dance parties + listen to music
Moving the body is medicine. And when you let go of the rigidity to be perfect and just feel the music flow, your body follows. Move freely throughout the day! If you’re feeling some pent-up energy or an anxious feeling in your throat or gut put your favorite song on, turn the volume up and just dance.
It’s no secret I love music. I make heaps of Spotify playlists for all kinds of moods and feelings. For me, music affects my mood. If I’m happy and listen to happy music, I stay happy, if I’m happy and I listen to sad or emotional music, my mood is brought down. Then, if I’m sad and listen to sad music I stay in that mood and my feelings grow stronger. If I’m sad and listen to happy music I tend to snap out of the sadness gradually. You see where I’m going? So, throughout the day just notice you’re feelings and what you need from outside stimulus to help improve your mood and mindset.
The mindful trifecta: meditation, pranayama and yoga
When thinking of ways to be more mindful, one saying pops into my head, yoga every damn day. This is the main way I incorporate mindfulness into my day to day. Although it’s all considered yoga, I’ll start with meditation.
Why meditate? I’m sure that’s a question you’ve asked. There are a few reasons to meditate, in my humble opinion:
- Spiritual renewal
- Feeling of oneness with source
- Find the basic truths of life
- To separate reality from illusion
- To gain a clear understanding of reality rather than a thoughtless, going with the motions, state
For all intents and purposes, I will not get into the nitty gritty of meditation as that is not the point of this post. The reasons outlined above are all reasons I have a meditation practice but I get it, it is hard. It is so hard to drop in when you feel your mind buzzing.
But focusing on your breath is the quickest way to eliminate an overflow of thoughts preventing you from meditating. Focus on the breath. How does it feel? Where does it go within the body? Is your breathing shallow? Is your breathing deep? Are there tensions you can send the breath to? Is the breath warm or cool? Allow whatever thoughts that come up to pass freely. This is the key to meditation. It is not to have an empty mind it is to let the thoughts pass and to have no attachment to them. If thoughts come in and your mind lingers, refocus back on your breath.
You could also incorporate the repetition of a mantra and recite affirmations. The practice could look like this:
- Focus on the breath as outlined above – 15 minutes
- Mantra repetition – 15 minutes
- Reciting affirmations – 15 minutes
Either all at once or in 15 minute intervals through the day. However, I find it most beneficial to sit in the morning, before breakfast, before checking my phone.
Keeping on with the yogic ways to be more mindful with pranayama. Pranayama or breath work is another way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Prana meaning life force or life energy, yama meaning discipline or control, and ayama meaning expansion or non-restraint collectively meaning breathing techniques that promote the flow of prana through the body, by removing restrictions and allowing the breath to flow freely. This is beyond deep breathing on occasion, it is a series of different breathing techniques that teach us how to breathe properly. Through the practice of pranayama we are able to:
- Develop stronger concentration and focus
- Provide a stronger oxygen supply to the body leading to reducing toxins and waste, promoting better digestion and increasing lung capacity
There are several different methods of pranayama and each should be practiced consciously and when you’re in tune with your body. Below are the three pranayama techniques I am familiar with.
- Sama Vriti: equal parts inhale and exhale, breathing through the nose (ie. inhale for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts). Eventually increasing the counts to a number you are comfortable with (I go up to counts of 8). Once you’ve reached your highest inhale count, stay there for 5 rounds and work your way back down to your base (my base is counts of three).
- Three parts yogic breath: inhaling through the nose first filling the belly, moving to the diaphragm and then the upper chest and exhaling in the same pattern. Through this practice, we are able to track the breath and energy through the body and encourage a deeper, fuller breath pattern over the shallow breath patterns we typically have.
- Nadi Shodhana: channel cleaning or alternate nostril breathing. Bring your hand into a ‘hang loose’ gesture by bringing your three middle fingers to your palm. Then, gently close your right nostril with your thumb allowing breath to flow in through the left and inhale, switch your hand so your pinky finger now closes the left nostril and exhale through the right. Then inhale through the right with your left nostril blocked, switch and exhale through the left finishing with an inhale through the left. That is one complete round. I recommend starting with 5-10 rounds of this and see how you feel before, during and after.
Perhaps the ‘ways to be more mindful winner,’ asana. The most well-known and most popular form of yoga. Asana is the physical practice of postures and this is what we know yoga to be today, at least in the west. When the student is in these postures a deep contemplation follows. The student has the opportunity to dissect their emotions, test concentration, find intent and faith, and find unity between the physical body and energetic body. B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, states, “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not need to look heaven-ward to find God for he knows that He is within.”
There are so many different forms of asana, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Yin- the list continues. Asana is a practice, just as yoga is as a whole, and through practice you will find what works and what doesn’t. For me, it’s a combination of Vinyasa, yin and restorative. Bikram every now and then. This concept of feeling through movement promotes a sense of healing unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
The list is probably endless when it comes to ways to be more mindful. I’m curious, do you incorporate any of these mindfulness practices into your day to day? Is there anything not listed that you practice?