By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
When you hear the word mindfulness... what pops to mind? Is it hours of sitting with your eyes shut, still, trying to control a wandering mind? Mindfulness is a term that is thrown around a lot, most of the times at the wrong time and place. It is a term used a lot in psychology and wellness practices because of its immense health and mental benefits. Luckily, you don't have to be an expert meditator to practice being mindful. You don't even have to meditate, in the traditional sense.
Here are 8 ways you can practice mindfulness, and reap its rewards almost instantly:
1. Practice quick body scans
While you're brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or preparing your morning coffee, try to briefly notice how your body feels. Become more aware of where you are holding the most stress and consciously relax that body part. When we're overly busy, our bodies try to send us a message by becoming tense or even in pain. These signs are rarely even noticed, continuing to worsen. By scanning our body for tension or stress in tiny mundane moments, we work at increasing body awareness and decreasing tension.
The next time you're in a table with friends, family, or co-workers, make an effort to listen rather than come up with your next line or response. By making a conscious decision to listen instead of responding, you are letting your brain become at ease and truly in the moment. Not only are you consciously practicing mindfulness, but you're training your brain to quit scanning the environment and rest, for a change. It will also help you become a better listener, a skill that will improve your relationship with others and yourself.
Whenever you're lying on the sofa, waiting in line, waiting for an uber, eating alone, or at the DMV, resist the urge to check your phone. This is your brain playing tricks on you and looking for an outlet instead of just sitting in stillness. As a society, we have unconsciously denied ourselves the pleasure of doing nothing and being bored. We need constant stimulation, leading to agitation and contributing to stress. Rather than scrolling on your phone, put it away and notice your surroundings, sit in silence and wait. Pretend it's 1995.
When your wait is long, choose a book instead. Make it a habit to read for at least 20 minutes a day. It helps you disconnect and helps you slow down. This is a good habit to create before bed as it helps your mind get ready for sleep and invites the body to become more in tune with the moment.
5. Ground yourself by naming what you see
When you catch yourself being analytical and your mind jumping from one thought to the next, use your surroundings as an anchor. Start to scan the environment and pinpoint what you see. It should look something like this: "In the here and now, I am experiencing dim lights. In the here and now, I am experiencing a red car passing me by. In the here and now, I am experiencing the taste of warm coffee." This is similar to car games we used to play when we were younger where you would choose an object and your friends would have to guess what it is. This exercise can help anchor you to the present and get out of your head.
6. Embrace minimalism
Whenever you find yourself online shopping or at a store, before purchasing an item, ask yourself if you really need it. Not only does this exercise help train your brain to stop and reflect before you act, but it also promotes simplicity and helps you avoid unnecessary clutter.
Make it a habit to rid yourself of clutter in the home, office and car (the 3 places you spend the most time in). This habit ties in with #6, helping you de-clutter the mind by de-cluttering your environment. A messy environment can lead to a messy mind, and viceversa. The actual exercise of de-cluttering is mindfulness at work, as it obligates you to be in the present while reflecting on whether a certain item brings you joy or is it just taking up space. The effects of a de-cluttered space is worth it.
8. Move & Stretch
Moving the body is one of our favorite mindfulness exercises. You don't have to sit still to be mindful, you can move instead. Just be aware of where your mind is at when your body is moving. Pay attention to the body part you are stretching and moving rather than thinking about what you need to buy at the grocery store later on today. This is a good habit to incorporate into your morning routine, as it helps you quickly connect to your body instead of rushing through your to-do list for the day.
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Dr. Francesca Vazquez is the founder and editor of Ease to Wellness, LLC. She is a licensed health psychologist and vinyasa yoga instructor based in Miami, FL. She completed her training at Ponce School of Medicine, Jackson Memorial Hospital/University of Miami, and UF Health Cancer Center, specializing in health psychology & behavioral medicine. She has worked in spinal cord injury rehab, neuropsychology, pain management, stress management, mindfulness based stress reduction, psycho-oncology, healthy lifestyle counseling and addictions rehabilitation.
Currently, she runs Ease to Wellness while also working as a health psychologist at Adaptive Center in Miami, FL, providing healthy lifestyle counseling for her private clients, and running wellness workshops. She is also a regular contributor for websites such as www.mindbodygreen.com and a yoga instructor at Om Beats Yoga Studio.