Have you ever watched TV while simultaneously checking social media on your phone only to discover that you’ve missed a bunch of important dialogue and now you have to rewind it to figure out what’s going on? You weren’t living in the moment. How about going to the gym and working out but not remembering what you did? Your brain was on autopilot. What about running to the grocery store for that one ingredient you need, only to buy everything but said ingredient? You weren’t focused on the task at hand.
If these scenarios hit home, you’re in good company. It seems mindfulness — being aware of what you’re doing, when you’re doing it — is a lost art in today’s fast-paced, multitasking society. So how do we snap ourselves out of this daily trance, especially when we’re already overextended and strapped for time?
“By being present in your body, aware of your breath and focused on what it is you’ve set out to be doing right now,” says Pedram Shojai, OMD, New York Times best-selling author of The Urban Monk: Eastern Wisdom and Modern Hacks to Stop Time and Find Success, Happiness, and Peace (Rodale Books, 2016) and founder of Well.org. “I recommend doing little bouts of five to 10 minutes of mindfulness practice multiple times throughout the day in order to build a micro-habit. Over time, much like a virus scanner on your computer, mindfulness becomes part of your operating system and is with you all the time.”
Shojai shares a few of his practical mindfulness activities — found in his latest book The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People (Rodale Books, 2017) — that can easily be incorporated into anyone’s lifestyle:
1. Randomly Smile at People. Practice smiling throughout your day — every time you make eye contact with another person, give them a warm smile from the bottom of your heart. This helps you come out of your shell and engage with others. It also helps break the ice and send some good vibes to someone who may need it.
2. Listen to a Song. Listen for the nuances of the tones, the silence between the notes and the changes in tempo. Let the music bring you into the present as you appreciate the symphony of sounds and layers of complexity.
3. Stop and Take Five Breaths. Your breath is an anchor into your very mortality. Taking five deep breaths down to your lower belly can trigger a change in your nervous system that’ll pull you out of “fight or flight’ mode. Set a timer for every 30 minutes, and when the timer pings, stop what you’re doing and simply take five deep breaths. It’s a quick remedy to reset your rhythm.
4. Notice Nature. Nature is our guiding light when it comes to cycles and rhythms. It has a flow that’s soothing and comforting. Whether it’s a bird in a tree or a leaf dancing in the wind, stop to notice and appreciate this beauty.
5. Stop Checking the News. It’s seldom good. If something really monumental is happening, chances are you’ll hear of it. Get the basics and then disconnect from the bad news for the whole day. You’ll be happier.
6. Get Your Heart Rate Up. What goes up must come down. Learning to slow your roll through mediation is great, but what about the other end of the spectrum? Work to get your heart rate super high, and then allow yourself to fully recover before doing it a few more times. This builds range and resilience. It helps you change the channel and deal with different speeds of time as life serves them up.
“We’re not really good at much when we’re frazzled,” Shojai says. “Slowing down helps us catch our breath and be more intentional in our actions. We can eat more than we want while being distracted, we can miss our exit or drop the ball on a project at work. Mindfulness makes us better at everything we do. It’s a habit to be cultivated.”
5-Minute Breathing Meditation
How do you cultivate mindfulness? One easy way is to meditate. A basic method is to simply focus your attention on your own breathing — a practice called “mindful breathing.” After setting aside time to practice mindful breathing, you’ll find it easier to focus attention on your breath in your daily life — an important skill to help you concentrate and deal with stress.
How to Do It
The most basic way to do mindful breathing is to focus your attention in your breath — the inhale and the exhale. You can do this standing, but you will probably be more comfortable sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed, but you may find it easier to concentrate with your eyes closed. Although you can set a designated time for this meditation, you can practice it whenever — and wherever — you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
5 to Thrive
Aromatherapy has gone more mainstream in recent years. Basically, aromatherapy is the practice of using natural oils extracted from flowers, bark and other plant parts to improve health and well-being. The inhaled aroma from these essential oils is widely believed to stimulate mental alertness and focus and improving mood.
There are a wide number of essential oils available, each with its own beneficial properties, and there are many ways you can incorporate them into your mindfulness practice. You can simply place a few drops in the palms of your hands and inhale them, but you also can diffuse them or place a drop or two on a cool lightbulb. Here are five products to incorporate into your mindfulness practice.
AromaHarmony works as a speaker and an ultrasonic diffuser to perfectly blend your music selection with soothing aromatherapy. The built-in sound system can wirelessly connect to your Bluetooth- capable device up to 30 feet away.
Known as the “king of oils,” frankincense promotes feelings of peace and calm and mindfulness.
Lavender Essential Oil is calming, which makes it perfect for easing tension and improving calming focus.
Lemongrass is milder than lemons and is known for its mood-boosting effects.
Salt lamps or HPS (Himalayan pink salt) lamps are essentially large pieces of pure Himalayan salt with a small bulb inside. The soothing, light glow is thought to improve mood and energy levels.