Mindfulness is certainly gaining popularity, both as a buzzword and a practice. But let's face it, mindfulness isn't a new or even a complex concept — it's simply the practice of being aware of the present moment.
Numerous scientific studies have shown myriad emotional, physical, mental, and performance benefits of mindfulness, due to the cues this practice sends to the brain. And the good news is that practicing mindfulness is easy! As a mindfulness teacher in an elementary school, I've seen that my students (some of whom are as young as 5) can do it, and so can you!
Here are six ways you can tap into the power of the present moment every day:
1. Start your day with mindfulness.
The first few minutes of your morning set the tone for the rest of your day. Why not use them to center yourself before you tackle what lies ahead? When you wake up, before reaching for your phone to check your messages or the morning news, simply sit quietly for five to ten minutes, focus on your breath, and notice the thoughts rushing into your mind without responding to them. (Want to make your morning routine as mindful as possible? Follow these tips.)
2. Just breathe. Seriously.
Stress is bound to rear its head nearly every day. When it does, it causes your brain's amygdala to tell your body to react with the primal instincts of fight, flight, or freeze. When the amygdala senses stress, it can't tell the difference between real, physical danger and a tight deadline at work. In its effort to protect you, it blocks signals to the prefrontal cortex — the part of your brain that makes logical decisions.
Deep breaths send oxygen to the brain, which can calm the amygdala, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and increase your ability to think clearly. When you feel stress start to take hold, pause and take 10 deep breaths — counting slowly to five with each inhale and exhale. You might want to post “Breathe” on a piece of paper at your desk, in your car, or on your bathroom mirror as a reminder.
3. Catch yourself on autopilot.
How many times have you gotten in the car, reached your destination, and never even realized you were driving? Or sat down at your desk in the morning only to notice at 2 p.m. that you haven't taken a break yet? In our modern lives, we let too much go by without savoring the experience. But you can turn this habit around just by making an effort to be present to your body, your surroundings, and your feelings at regular intervals throughout the day. Choose a cue to help you remember to be present. This can be a reminder you set on your phone or a discreetly placed note card that you glance at throughout your day.
4. Focus on your senses.
If you are blessed to have all five senses in full working order, use them to your advantage by intentionally honing in on each one individually at least once a day. Look at a beautiful cloud formation, listen to a great piece of music, smell a fragrant flower, taste something delicious, and touch something soft. Really take the time to experience each sensation fully. Bringing your awareness to each individual sense will anchor you in the present moment and train your brain to focus.
5. Make mindful movements.
Those of us who work at desks all day can often become detached from our bodily sensations. To become present in your body, take frequent breaks throughout your day to jump up and down, shift from one foot to the other, or swing your arms. Pay attention to the way your body feels when you move and try to complement these frequent small movements with regular aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate. (Here are some more ideas to make those stagnant workdays a bit more active.)
6. Practice gratitude.
Frequent optimism lowers cortisol levels and trains your brain to choose positive thoughts and actions habitually. I suggest keeping a gratitude notebook with you at all times and setting aside a few minutes each day to jot down what you are thankful for.