I know that many of you would like to start a mindfulness practice but aren’t sure where to begin.
Or you’re wondering how to fit this in to your already busy schedule. I have a solution for you: an informal mindfulness practice!
A formal practice is the version most people imagine when they think of meditation – sitting in a quiet space for about 20-minutes, eyes closed, repeating a mantra.
An informal practice, on the other hand, is something you do while you go about your daily life. The practice is simply to bring mindful attention to whatever ordinary activity you choose, like brushing your teeth or chopping vegetables for dinner.
As with any mindfulness practice, the key is to focus and observe. And to do this with intention—you have to mean for this particular salad prep or dental hygiene experience to be an exercise in mindfulness and not just another item on your to-do list.
Here are two simple ways to start an informal mindfulness practice:
Designate something as a signal for you to take a moment for mindfulness.
Choose something you will predictably encounter at least a few times a day, like waiting for an elevator, stopping at a red light or getting a text message. When that moment arrives, that’s your cue to focus on and observe your experience.
Take slow breaths until the light changes. Or, really notice your surroundings around the elevator door, and tune into what’s going on in your body as you wait. And before you answer that text, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth a few times, counting slowly to five as you exhale.
Just be present in your life until you see the green light or hear the ding! that means life is resuming at its normal fast pace.
Choose one of your regular daily activities and make it a mindfulness exercise.
It could be almost anything. A walk in the woods or a walk to work makes a great mindfulness practice. So does 15 minutes on the treadmill. You could try listening – really listening to a song on the radio – the whole song. Or paying mindful attention as you take a shower (instead of going through your to-do list). Or knit a few rows.
What makes it a mindfulness practice is when you set your intention to be fully present with the activity. Focus on the action you’ve chosen and observe your experience of it. What does it feel like, sound like, smell like? If you set out to mindfully make a pot of tea, for example, focus on the process and observe the rustle of the tea leaves in the bag, the sight of the bubbles gathering on the edges of the water as it begins to boil, the fragrance of the steam as the tea steeps.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen teacher and author, uses the next part of the tea-making scenario to provide a lovely description of informal practice: “Drink you tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.”
Whether your practice is formal or informal, you get the same benefits of mindfulness (read more about that here). Both versions are valuable for learning to manage your emotions and decrease stress and anxiety. Informal mindfulness may be easier to start with if you are inexperienced with meditation.
And because you do it as part of everyday life, informal mindfulness is very handy when you’re at your busiest and at risk of not practicing – and that’s when you need mindfulness most. Another bonus: Practicing mindfulness of one kind will improve your skill at the other as well.
So try it out and let me know what activities you use for your informal mindfulness practice in the comment section below. I love to hear from people about how they are practicing so I can share new ideas.