Integrating Mindfulness in Daily Life
Many of us have certainly heard about how beneficial mindfulness can be for our physical and emotional health. It helps us reduce stress, enhance cognition, and allows us to be more in tune with ourselves and our surroundings. Despite how much we know about its benefits, it can still be intimidating to do when you’re not sure where to start - many of us shy away from the word “meditation” when it leaves us feeling like we have to devote a lot of time and effort to do it.
However, getting grounded and in touch with yourself doesn’t have to be complicated. Mindfulness is simply defined as the basic human ability to be “fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”. This ability already exists within us and requires no special skill - all you need is to learn how to access it.
Before trying it, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Meditation is not just for the mind
Contrary to what some may think, the point of meditation is not to “manage” or “remove” our thoughts from our minds. It is, instead, to take a moment to ground ourselves and pay attention to where we are and what’s going on. That begins and starts with tuning into our body - for example, we observe our breathing, the sensation of air blowing on our skin, and passing emotions or thoughts.
2. Don’t worry about doing it “perfectly”
Many of us have or will experience some of these passing thoughts during a meditation exercise, particularly in the beginning:
“Am I doing this right?”
“What am I supposed to be thinking right now?”
“Why can’t my mind turn off?”
Believe it or not, these thoughts aren’t a sign of failure. As mentioned above, you’re not stopping the thoughts, you’re simply allowing them to flow and redirecting as necessary. The point of a grounding exercise is to observe what comes through - without judgment or harshness. Attempting perfection during an exercise meant to release stress will add pressure to your meditation. Release expectations, particularly as you start. You are developing a skill that will improve over time. Allow yourself moments where your thoughts wander, observe them, and bring the focus back to your breath when you can.
3. Grounding can be done in 5-10 minutes
While it would be great to do a 30-minute, longer meditation session, for many of us that is simply not possible. It’s actually better to start with shorter sessions for a few different reasons.
First of all, shorter meditation sessions are still effective. Especially when you are just starting to meditate, it is best to build up and gradually increase. Second, it is easier to maintain the habit when it is a smaller time commitment. The idea that there is no big planning nor big time investment encourages us to start. Once you feel ready, you will naturally sit for longer. Rather than focusing on how long you can sit, prioritize quality over quantity. A few minutes of mindful breathing and awareness will do far more for you than a longer session where you are straining yourself to stay focused.
10-Minute Grounding Exercise
Now that we’ve discussed how to approach mindfulness, here is an exercise Dr. Webb recommends strongly, as she emphasizes this helps to “dial into the present moment by using the body and five senses - taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight”. By using the 5-senses approach, we look to focus on different aspects of our body. Choose a time during your day when you have a moment to yourself and utilize this guide as you go through each of the senses.
1. Get comfortable
Pick a quiet spot where you feel comfortable, indoors or outdoors.
You can either sit upright or lie down. If you feel you might fall asleep while lying down, sit in a comfortable chair with an upright back, get a meditation cushion, or fold a pillow and sit cross-legged on it.
Start with your breath. Take 10 deep breaths, counting to five during each inhale and exhale. Let your lungs fill up as you inhale, and then slowly exhale through your nose, allowing your shoulders to drop. Repeat. *note - if you find yourself losing focus during the exercise, bring yourself back to your breath before continuing.
2. Close your eyes
Close your eyes to help you focus. If you don’t want to close your eyes, focus on one, simple visual cue to not overwhelm you. This could be an object out in front of you.
If it helps to visualize while your eyes are closed, you are welcome to. Otherwise, don’t feel that you need to have any specific image in your mind - it’s okay to sit in the stillness!
Start taking deep breaths through the nose.
Observe any smells and focus on how detailed you can get
The smell of the room?
Something you cooked?
Shampoo from your hair?
Take a deep swallow, engaging your taste buds.
Notice what you taste:
Take a moment to listen to all you hear.
Notice loud and quiet noises:
Voices? Construction? Cars?
Birds outside? Lawnmower?
The low hum of appliances?
Go through your sensory experience of your body from head to toe.
Think about your hair. How does it feel on your scalp?
Heaviness? Absence? Tension from ponytail?
Move down to thinking about your face.
Are you wearing glasses? How do they feel on your nose and ears?
Are you wearing contacts? How do they feel in your eyes?
Wearing makeup? Can you feel it on your skin?
Focus on your posture. Are you slouching? Do your shoulders feel tight or relaxed?
Feel the clothes on your back. Examine how they feel:
Soft? Loose or tight? Heavy or light?
Fabric gathering around your arms? Loose?
Think about your pants or shorts.
Comfortable? Stretchy? Tight?
Focus on the contact around your feet.
Are you wearing socks or shoes?
Do you feel air contact on your feet?
Feel and focus on each point of contact you’re sitting on (back of a chair, pillow, ground) touching your skin.
If you’re touching the ground, focus on each point of contact and how it feels.
While it may feel strange to focus on each aspect of your body in such detail, this exercise is designed as a way to reset and bring the focus back to parts of ourselves we often forget about. As you practice this routine a few times, you can modify or change what you focus on over time. If you find it more calming to focus on one sense than another, feel free to spend a few extra minutes on it. The main point of this exercise is to become more in-tune with your own body, which also means reflecting on which parts of the exercise brought you more or less calmness and adjusting as needed.
Just like anything else, this takes practice. But as you begin to implement mindfulness in your daily life, you may find that it starts to feel like second nature over time!
Jaret, Peter, et al. “What Is Mindfulness?” Mindful, 23 Nov. 2021, https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/.
Combs, Devon. “How to Meditate in 7 Simple Steps.” Vacayou Magazine, 11 Mar. 2022, https://vacayou.com/magazine/meditate-7-simple-steps/.