Practicing mindfulness can be a simple way to reduce stress, feel more connected to those around you, and improve overall well-being. Mindfulness meditation is an effective technique, but there are many other ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Here’s how.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an awareness of what you’re sensing and feeling in the present moment, without passing judgment.
“It’s about paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with that experience,” says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Mindfulness involves a few core elements, according to a March 2017 study published in the journal Emotion. These include:
- Observation of internal or external stimuli
- Awareness of the present moment
How to practice mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn’t need to be a formal practice. It could be as simple as cluing into your senses when you bite into a decadent piece of carrot cake or noticing your thoughts or the physical sensations in your body, says Susan Bauer-Wu, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, president of the Mind & Life Institute.
Here are three tips for how to practice mindfulness in everyday life:
1. Focus on a single task
Try to keep your focus on what you’re doing at that moment, whether it’s washing the dishes, petting the dog, or playing with your children. “It’s a way of giving ourselves a mental break so it’s not just busy with ongoing thoughts and planning,” Bauer-Wu says.
Immersing yourself in one task — rather than trying to do multiple things at once — allows you to be more present, which Bauer-Wu says can help you personally but also can have a positive impact on others.
“We’ll be a better listener, a better coworker, a better partner,” she says. “Mindfulness impacts how you’re interacting with others and the choices you make.”
2. Pay attention to your environment
By listening for bird chirps or thinking about how a breeze feels when it hits your skin, you’re bringing your attention to the present moment.
Immersing yourself in nature can help you do this, but it’s possible anywhere. Go for a walk or look outside your window and note how the trees are swaying, or watch people move about.
“If you do that more and sprinkle your days with these mindfulness moments, the body has more time when it’s feeling relaxed,” Bauer-Wu says.
3. Notice your breathing
Simply noticing your breath and paying attention to each inhale and exhale can help you build mindfulness.
“If we’re taking time to bring awareness to our breathing, we get to slow down our thoughts for a few moments, and by doing that our bodies calm down,” Bauer-Wu says.
You can do this at any point during the day since your breath is always with you. It doesn’t have to be a formal meditation — though, focusing on your breath is the first step to learning how to meditate.
Mindfulness meditation guide
Mindfulness meditation is a formal way of training your mind to develop the skills of mindfulness, such as keeping your focus on a single task and building awareness of the present moment.
Here’s how to try mindfulness meditation:
1. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair.
2. With your eyes open or closed, pay attention to your breathing. Focus on the air coming into your nose and out your mouth. Also, note the rise and fall of your belly as the air enters and leaves your body.
3. Once you’ve successfully concentrated on your breath, expand your focus to other things, such as the sounds around you, the sensations in your body, or the thoughts entering your mind.
4. As you notice these things, try not to pass judgment. If you have difficulty concentrating, go back to focusing on your breath. That’s your baseline, and you should return to it any time your mind starts to wander.
Winston suggests beginning with just five minutes a day and working your way up from there.
“See how it’s impacting your life and maybe you’ll think, ‘Wow, I like this. Maybe I’ll go for 10,'” she says. “What’s most important is to do it consistently rather than for a long amount of time so it becomes a regular thing.”
The benefits of mindfulness
Research has found that mindfulness can benefit your physical and mental health in many ways. Here’s how:
Improve mental health
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found patients with a generalized anxiety disorder had reduced levels of anxiety and distress after practicing mindfulness through the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
MBSR is designed to promote mindfulness through eight weekly group classes, a retreat day, and daily at-home practices using audio recordings.
Mindfulness is associated with both lower levels of depression and anxiety because it can reduce worry and rumination, according to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology. But mindfulness isn’t only beneficial for people with diagnosed mental health conditions.
Reduce the risk of illness
Bauer-Wu says there may be physical benefits to mindfulness, too, including a stronger immune system and improved heart and vascular function.
For example, a 2016 review published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences found a potential link between mindfulness meditation and a boost in immunity, which might protect you from getting sick — though the study noted that more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
Mindfulness has also been associated with a lower risk of long-term illnesses. The American Heart Association issued a statement in 2017 noting that meditation could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues, though, again, more research is needed to be sure.
Since mindfulness reduces stress, it makes sense that meditation could help prevent or treat illnesses, as mental health directly affects physical health.
For example, a 2019 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found evidence that mindfulness can help patients with clinical colds, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, posttraumatic stress disorder,, and HIV.
Improve pain tolerance
Mindfulness meditation may also be helpful for people dealing with chronic pain.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found patients with rheumatoid arthritis who practiced a mindfulness program reported the greatest improvements to their daily pain and stress levels when compared to study participants who were treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy for pain or arthritis education.
This may even have more general benefits for pain tolerance. According to a 2016 study published in Pain Medicine, study participants who practiced mindfulness meditation for 25 minutes per day for two weeks had a greater tolerance for pain when their hand was placed on a heat stimulus.