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The benefits of meditation -- awareness and a feeling of calm -- can be achieved by engaging in what's called "mindfulness." Mindfulness can help us develop patience, trust in ourselves and others, and openness. Here are 10 ways to practice mindful living throughout your day:
1. With your child. "While bathing your child, notice whether you're thinking of other things or rushing the ritual. See if you can 'show up' for this experience," suggests Katherine Bonus, founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. "If you allow stress or distractions to impact the way you touch and talk to your child, you may be fueling a very different and unintentional experience for yourself and your child."
The payoff: A safer, more satisfying experience; creating a special memory for you both.
2. With a friend, spouse, or coworker. When you find yourself wanting to prematurely end a conversation, examine what it is about the exchange that is causing you to want to move on. Are you anxious to find a "better," more exciting conversation partner? Are you thinking about something else? Instead, make an effort to fully listen and then react honestly to what the other person is saying.
The payoff: Becoming a better listener, knowing yourself, and building patience.
3. With a stranger. Become aware of the judgments you automatically form on a flimsy basis. "For example, if the person you encounter is attractive to you, do you immediately start to assign positive attributes to him and create a mental storyline about him?" asks Bonus. The opposite can be true, as well, when you meet someone you're not attracted to. Try to be aware of your reactions.
The payoff: A less judgmental mindset. If you suspend opinions before you get to know someone, you're open to the opportunity of seeing that person for who he or she really is.
4. During exercise. Note when your breathing becomes labored, when your temperature rises, and when fatigue or pain sets in.
The payoff: The more tuned in you are to physical cues when placing extra demands on your body, the more familiar you'll become with your body's limits; knowing your physical boundaries can help you respect them and, if you want, gently push them.
5. At work. For one minute each hour, stop everything you're doing and focus only on your breath.
The payoff: Not only are you giving your mind a chance to take a break (just as you'd give your body a rest after hiking for an hour), but you return to your work refreshed. "Letting go of a stressful situation and allowing yourself to just 'be' for a moment can bring about a new perspective and give rise to a solution," says Dan Howard, Spiritual Awareness Coordinator at Canyon Ranch, a resort located in Lenox, Massachusetts. "It's like trying to remember someone's name, only to remember it later when we're not thinking about it."
6. While eating. Many of us eat unconsciously, shoveling food into our mouths, rarely tasting much beyond the first bite. Instead, eat slowly, tasting each bite, thinking about how the food got to the table, and appreciating how it fuels your body.
The payoff: The more aware you are about how and what you eat, the healthier your food choices become and the more relaxing mealtime will be.
7. During your leisure time. Connect with the timeless rhythms of nature. "Gardening, biking through the park, hiking -- all these things put you in harmony with the natural environment," says Sally Helgesen, author of Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work (Free Press, 2001).
The payoff: The goal of mindfulness is to be fully present; it's easier to achieve this state when you're in a natural setting. To boot, being outdoors takes you away from the ticking of the clock, and the ringing of the telephone (turn your cell phone off!) -- the distractions of modern life that fragment our attention. And the serenity of nature can help you tap into your inner serenity.
8. When you experience a negative emotion or physical pain. When we feel physical or emotional pain, the instinct is to rid ourselves of it as quickly as possible, whether it's by taking aspirin for a headache or suppressing anger. However, true mindfulness doesn't discriminate -- you want to be aware and accepting of the "bad" stuff as well as the "good" stuff. The next time you feel sick or upset, allow yourself to fully feel it and accept it as your present mental or physical state.
The payoff: It's easier to work through something you're paying attention to rather than ignoring. In addition, the more comfortable you become with a sense of fear, for example, the less anxiety you'll have when it surfaces the next time.
9. While watching television. Many of us view shows mindlessly. Check your physical and emotional response as you watch: Does a news report make you anxious? Does a loud commercial make you cringe? Do you tend to watch TV only when you're tired or depressed?
The payoff: The more aware you are of your responses to television and how you "use" it, the more conscious you can be in choosing to watch programs that are relaxing and gratifying.
10. Anytime. "Practice the 'philosophy of slow,'" suggests Helgesen. For example, when cooking, choose a recipe that takes longer to prepare, like a stew.
The payoff: Doing something slowly diminishes your stress level, builds patience, helps us appreciate things that don't offer "immediate gratification," and often produces better, more satisfying results.
Being present in each moment feels counterintuitive -- we are so conditioned to review our past and plan our future. But as mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, "If you want the future to be different, the only place that you can stand and work with it is here and now." In other words, bringing awareness to this moment will positively affect the next one.