Mindfulness in everyday life

In daily life we are often caught up in our thoughts and ‘lost’ to noticing our experience of the present moment or ‘here and now’. The human mind has developed strong habitual patterns which result in us going about much of our day as if on automatic pilot, to the extent that we can go about our activities without really noticing our experience of them. We can find ourselves thinking about the past, or worrying/feeling anxious about the future, with little awareness of the present. In contrast, when we choose to be mindful, we deliberately focus our attention on what is happening as it is happening, and this can help in two ways:

  • as an immediate method to help ground/balance ourselves in difficult moments e.g. when we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, tense, agitated or anxious. (see below)
  • in the longer term, to help cultivate calmness and open up our choices in how we respond to life situations.

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Whether we are looking for a method to calm ourselves in the moment, or practicing mindfulness in order to build up longer term benefits, daily life presents us with endless opportunities to ‘be mindful’. We simply pause in whatever we are involved in, and consciously choose to pay full attention to our ‘here and now’ experience.  In any moment, we can be mindful/aware of four different aspects of our experience, allowing ourselves time to ‘tune in’ and fully notice one or more of these:

  • body sensations and feelings e.g. notice the feeling of our breathing in and out, our feet in contact with the ground; our body in contact with the chair/bed; any particular sensations ( pleasant, unpleasant, neutral) in the body.
  • emotions e.g. notice whether we are feeling sadness, joy, anger, fear, neutral.
  • thoughts e.g. notice whether we are daydreaming, planning, dwelling on a (future, past) event.
  • experience through our senses ( sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) e.g. notice the look of a beautiful flower, sound of birdsong, smell of grass, taste of coffee, feel of warm sun.

Daily life activities such as washing hands, brushing teeth, taking a shower, chopping vegetables, preparing a drink, washing up, walking, all offer opportunities to be mindful. For example, when washing our hands mindfully, we become aware of the sight and sound of running water, the smell of the soap, the feel of warm water, the feel of rubbing our hands together. Our mind is likely to wander but we are not ‘getting it wrong’ when this happens, we simply guide our attention gently back to noticing our experience of the activity.

N.B. Many people find that tuning in to the rhythm of our breathing, or to the feel of our feet on the ground, or to anything our senses are picking up, are particular useful strategies to help ground/balance ourselves in difficult moments. For example, when feeling fearful or anxious, we can pause, and then either:

  • pay attention to the natural rhythm of our breathing, simply noticing sensations as we breathe in and out or
  • alter our breathing  to a fixed pattern, such as 7:11 breathing , where we count to 7 as we breathe in, and 11 as we breathe out i.e. we elongate the out-breath. An alternative method is to simply focus on the out-breath, and breathe out long and slow, as if blowing gently through a straw.

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