Life is full of distractions, but that doesn’t mean your mind needs to be distracted by worries, anxieties, and troubles that bring you out of the present and keep you from accomplishing the things that are most important to you.
The practice of mindfulness is relatively simple, can be done from nearly any location once learned, and works miracles by helping you become aware of your surroundings and current responsibilities without becoming reactive or overwhelmed by what else is going on in your life.
Research reveals that when you practice being mindful, you give yourself the power to stop negative thoughts, reduce stress and anxiety, boost your working memory, focus better on the task at hand, become less emotionally reactive to negative events, become more adaptive when presented with negative information, and improve your relationships with others.
Becoming mindful takes some time and practice but is simple to learn. And once you know how to do it well, you can use it anywhere you go, in any task you perform: while doing the dishes or performing other household chores, while writing a paper for school or work, before giving a presentation, while taking a walk, and more.
The best way to start is to learn mindful mediation. Once you can meditate mindfully, you can start being mindful while doing other things. As you learn, remember that mindfulness is much like reading, writing, or playing an instrument: you improve over time, and the more you practice, the better you become.
There are a number of ways to mindfully meditate. The one offered here is a basic method you can modify as you like.
1. Decide how long you want to meditate.
Your first few sessions can be short, perhaps 10 or 20 minutes. You can then work your way up by adding time in five-minute increments. Once you’re well-practiced, sessions can last for as little or as much time as you’d like. Many people find that it takes 45 minutes to have a productive session and master becoming mindful. Set a timer just before starting if you are worried about your ability to meditate for a set amount of time.
2. Find a place to sit.
Find a quiet place to sit—on the floor with your legs crossed or on a straight-backed chair. If using a chair, make sure the bottoms of your feet are touching the ground. You can leave the lights on or sit in natural light; just make sure there are few distractions around. (See the end of this article for ideas on creating an ideal environment for mediation.)
3. Check your posture.
Straighten your upper body in such a way that you are comfortable and not stiff. Rest your arms naturally on the top of your legs without hunching forward. Drop your chin slightly so your gaze is downward. Close your eyes if you’d like.
4. Focus on your body.
While deeply breathing in and out, focus on each part of your body, starting with your feet and working up to your chest. You can think about the weight of each body part and how it feels—whether it is tingling, still, cold, or warm, for example.
5. Focus on your breath.
When you get to your chest, shift your focus to your breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose and let your belly expand as it fills with air. Breathe out through your mouth. Mentally visualize your chest or belly filling with air and then relaxing; try to think of nothing but this process. You can choose to count to four in your mind as you inhale—allowing the inhalation to take all four counts—and then count back down as you exhale.
6. Practice grace when your mind wanders.
Invariably, your mind is going to wander. When you notice that it does, don’t judge or berate yourself. Instead, return to the process of focusing on your breathing.
7. Widen your focus with intention.
Once you’ve cleared your mind by focusing on your breathing, intentionally widen your focus. First, become aware of sounds around you and focus on them—the rushing of the wind, the ticking of a clock, the chirp of a bird, the hum of traffic in the background. Next, become aware of the sensations around you—the warmth or coolness of the air, the aroma surrounding you, and so on. Finally, let yourself focus on an idea.
8. Embrace and consider each thought.
Let yourself think about a single idea without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to wander, criticize, or ruminate, note the distraction and then return your focus to your breathing and work your way back up to the idea.
Once you begin practicing mindfulness in situations other than mediation, the ideas you consider should pertain to the task at hand. For example, if you want to be more mindful as you interact with your child, think about your child. If you want to be more mindful as you work on a specific project, consider that project. If you want to simply be more mindful throughout your day, in every task you do, let the idea you focus on be whatever it is you are doing—brushing your teeth, petting the dog, taking a walk, and so on.
9. Fully open your eyes and lift your gaze.
When the allotted time has ended, open your eyes if they were closed and lift your gaze.
Don’t worry if it takes a number of tries before you feel comfortable meditating or if you miss a session. Simply try it again.
Once you can meditate mindfully, you should be able to reach a state of mindfulness without sitting in position, lowering your gaze, and closing your eyes. As noted in step 7, you can achieve mindfulness in any situation by focusing on a central idea. You can then then practice mindfulness when you feel frazzled and need to refocus on a project, a specific event, or spending time with a loved one. Spending 20 minutes meditating mindfully about a project before you begin can save you hours of distraction later. Likewise, being mindful during an event or time spent with a loved one can remove distractions and worries.
Enhancing Your Environment
Mindfulness can be enhanced by creating a supportive environment for meditating. (A supportive environment will improve any situation, really.)
To enhance your environment, try one or more of the following:
1. Maintain a pleasant temperature.
It’s easier to meditate in a room that is slightly cool than one that is too hot. You don’t want to freeze, however, so make sure the air isn’t too cold. Sometimes just wearing a sweater or having a fan going to circulate the air is all you need to maintain a suitable temperature.
2. Remove visual and audible noise.
Meditate in a place that isn’t distracting. Turn off distracting noises or lights. Consider adding white noise or music suitable for meditation if you find these things relaxing. Make sure your phone or other electronic devices are turned off or have notifications disabled.
3. Dress comfortably. If possible, dress in clothes that are non-restrictive and comfortable.
4. Diffuse essential oils.
Diffusing a calming blend of essential oils while you meditate can give you a sensation to focus on when the time comes and can also rid the air of any offensive odors, thus making the environment more relaxing. Simply add a few drops of one the following blends to a diffuser and run the diffuser during the length of your meditation session:
Meditation blend 1—Combine 3 drops each wintergreen, peppermint, blue tansy, and Roman chamomile in a small glass vial or roller bottle.
Meditation blend 2—Combine 3 drops each wild orange, clove, lemon, and cinnamon in a small glass vial or roller bottle.
Meditation blend 3—Combine 4 drops bergamot, 4 drops lemon, 3 drops basil, and 3 drops geranium in a small glass vial or roller bottle.