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What if we told you that you can be busy AND practice mindfulness?

Chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve heard the term “mindfulness,” as it has been a hot topic in the mental health world for the past decade. Based on a growing body of literature, daily mindfulness practice can help you to manage stress and improve your overall mental and physical health. Despite the buzz surrounding it, you may have no idea what mindfulness is or how to incorporate it into your already busy life.

So, let’s start with a basic definition. Mindfulness, as defined by modern day mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” And what exactly does that mean? Well, let’s break this definition down a bit:

Paying attention “on purpose”

Mindfulness involves consciously turning your awareness to any thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions you might be experiencing at that moment. Mindfulness differs from awareness in that we might be aware of being irritable, but that does not necessarily mean I am being mindful of my irritability. That is, in order to be mindful, you need to be purposefully aware of yourself, and not just vaguely or habitually aware.

Paying attention “in the present moment”

Left to itself, the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts. How many times have you been reading a book or article only to get to the bottom of the page and realize you have no idea what you just read? Or have you ever noticed how often you spend time thinking about the past or predicting the future? Both these examples illustrate the mind not being in the “present moment.” Thus, mindfulness involves purposefully directing out awareness away from thoughts about the past or future and towards the present moment. This is often done through an “anchor,” such as the breath.

Paying attention “non-judgmentally”

At the core of mindfulness is the ability to remain non-judgmental. To put this another way, mindfulness is an emotionally non-reactive state. You don’t judge thoughts, emotions, sensations, or feelings as “good” or “bad.” You just simply note them arising and passing, just like leaves on a stream. As a more concrete example, whether it is a pleasant emotion (e.g. happiness) or a more painful experience (e.g. sadness), both emotions are treated the same way when being mindful.

Now that we have a better understanding of what mindfulness is, here are a few ways to add it to your busy life:

1. Take a single mindful breath whenever you’re stopped at any red light.

Use this unavoidable, natural pause to take a single mindful breath. You might be surprised by how much tension you are unconsciously holding your body from rushing around all the time.

2. Take your first two bites or first two sips, mindfully.

Dedicating a whole meal to eating mindfully might seem like a daunting task, but just two bites or two sips might be less intimidating. To eat mindfully, you will just pay attention to the sensory experience of your food or drink (i.e. taste, smell, texture).

3. Take one mindful breath whenever you sit down to start a meeting.

This idea is similar to the red-light example, but instead of using the light you’re going to use the start of any meeting. Again, you will take one mindful breath to ground yourself and focus your awareness to the present moment. This can be done with phone meetings as well as in person meetings.

4. Your choice – Link a single mindful breath to any behavior you do at least once a day.

Maybe you don’t have meetings regularly and want another idea of how to add mindfulness into your day. Essentially, you can add a mindful breath to any behavior you do at least once a day. Here are some ideas:

  • When you wake up in the morning

  • When you shower

  • Before going to bed at night

  • When you are washing your hands

  • Before or after checking your emails.

  • Download a mindfulness app

There a few great (and free!) apps out there that can help get you started on a daily mindfulness practice. All the apps listed below are compatible with iOS and Android operating systems:

  1. Insight Timer

  2. Calm

  3. Headspace

  4. Stop, Breathe, & Think

  5. Aura

  6. Breethe

Original Article by Alice Boyes, Ph.D.