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Incorporating Mindful Practice into your Everyday

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

We all know the benefits of mindfulness but how can we cultivate mindfulness without meditation?

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.

Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are my top 5 benefits from a very long list which extend across many different settings.

  1. Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness practice boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Practicing mindfulness also improves sleep quality.

  2. Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.

  3. Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.

  4. Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.

  5. Mindfulness affects the way we see ourselves: More mindful people have a stronger sense of self and seem to act more in line with their values. They may also have a healthier body image, more secure self-esteem, and more resilience to negative feedback.

I am a huge believer of mindful practice but not necessarily meditation, in fact I prefer a practice I call "mindful activities" or "informal mindfulness practices." These are the everyday activities of life that support the cultivation of mindfulness.

For example, I like to cook. I have learned a great deal about how to work with my mind as a result. I know, for example, that I need to pay attention to what I am doing with my body when I prepare a meal. When chopping for example, I pay attention to where my fingers are on the knife, how I flick my wrist up and down with each cut of the knife. I attend to the placement of each piece of food to get the most suitable portion size for that part of the recipe.

At the same time, I also pay attention to my mind. I know that if I am thinking too much about what I am doing or getting distracted by memories of how I have made mistakes in the past, I may mess up this present creation. I believe I have learned something about how to let go of thoughts and come back to the present moment.

In addition, I have learned the important lesson of not holding my mind and my body either too tight or too loose. As with all activities, if I try too hard to get everything right, I will become tense and awkward. If I don't try at all, it won't work well either.

Finally, I know that I also need to let go of the dish once it's completed, no matter how it turned out. If I try to do exactly what I have done before, I won't be present for the next dish.

All of these things I have learned are principles of good mindfulness practice:

  • Paying attention to the moment-to-moment details of experience

  • Paying particular attention to the body and one's experience of it

  • Recognising the experience of mind and not getting caught in memories of the past or plans for the future

  • Trying neither too much nor too little

  • Letting go of distractions and paying attention to the present moment

  • Noticing one's experience without judging it

If you like the idea of everyday mindfulness its best to identify the activities that you already engage in that can become occasions for practicing mindfulness. Most people have a number of possibilities. Practically all sports can work: basketball, netball, soccer, swimming, yoga and so on. Other physical activities can be used, too: biking to work in traffic, walking the dog, going for a jog, buying groceries, picking out what to wear, putting on make-up, driving the car. I also particularly love mindful eating, really engaging with the food without distraction. What these activities have in common is the opportunity to pay attention to sense perceptions in the present moment: what one can see, hear, smell, taste and/or touch.

When we engage in these activities, especially if we are willing to let go of distractions like listening to our iphone or playing the car radio, they give us the chance to tune into what is happening right now. We can pay attention to our sense perceptions, our emotions, and our thoughts.

With all of these activities, we begin by setting an intention to be mindful of our experience. It's best to pick a particular activity as your mindfulness practice. Getting too ambitious and thinking we can bring mindfulness to everything right away is, for most people, trying too hard.

As always, it is important to be gentle but also steady. So pick a particular activity and set a particular amount of time when you're going to use it as a practice. Then, gently pay attention to the sensations in your body; note your sense perceptions, your emotions, and your thoughts as they come and go. Notice when you hang on to a feeling or thought. Let it go when you can. If you forget that you're practicing mindfulness, just start again without giving yourself a hard time.

There's really no limit to the different activities that can become opportunities to practice and cultivate mindfulness. Happy practicing!

Petra xx

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