Putting mindfulness over matter

Grab time to slow down your brain whever you have the chance.
Grab time to slow down your brain whever you have the chance. 

By now you've probably heard that "mindfulness" is all the rage, with athletes, entrepreneurs and celebrities singing its praise.

It's defined by Wikipedia as "an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment)" and "an antidote to delusion".

In a constantly connected world where we are becoming more and more addicted to technology, the physical and psychological benefits of mindfulness have been shown to be profound. Mindfulness was even featured on the cover of TIME magazine in February.

But how do you squeeze another activity, however beneficial it may be, into an already jam-packed schedule?

The gripe we constantly hear from executives is, “I'd love to practice mindfulness or meditation, but I just don't have the time”. You know how it goes: too busy to do a time management course, too stressed to learn to relax, too distracted to slow down and be mindful.

Martin Kiem is considered one of Australia's leading experts in mindfulness and teaches clients how to have microdoses of it. “While I would love everyone to put aside 15 to 20 minutes each day for their practise, this is not realistic for many busy people," he says.

"Instead, we look at ways people can include mindful practice into everyday moments. All you need is 30 seconds to a couple of minutes.”

Examples of this include being mindful when sitting on the bus, standing in an elevator, sitting in a meeting, ordering lunch, or waiting for someone to answer your phone call. “Look at daily opportunities where you can integrate being mindful, or simply slowing down the breathing and being present,” Kiem advises.

“It's a change from conceptual mode to perceptual – where you connect with and experience the world around you. Mindfulness provides the brain with a well-needed break and you stop thinking and simply experience the moment.”

The concept of fitness microdosing in relation to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has been around for a while, but the notion of short, sharp bursts of mindfulness is relatively new. To get started, try the following 3 steps.

Three steps to micro-mindfulness

1. Focus on your breath

Use diaphragmatic breathing as your anchor. Take a slow, deep breath and notice your breath. Focus on the sensation of the air moving in and out of your lungs.

2. Engage your senses

Shift the attention out of your head and focus on something around you. The sound of the clock ticking on the wall, the pot plant swaying gently in the corner of the room, the aroma floating out of the coffee shop, the warm feeling of the sun on your skin. As thoughts come into your mind, realise this is normal, acknowledge your thoughts then return to focus on the environment.

3. Integrate into normal activities

Simply slow down and do things differently. You can have a burst of mindfulness (as little as 30 seconds up to a couple of minutes) while catching the lift between floors, brushing your teeth before you leave the house or waiting in line to renew your license. The key is to slow down and focus on the task and focus on being present.

Says Kiem: “I've noticed when people start integrating opportunities of being mindful into their day-to-day activities, they realise you don't need to go away to a retreat or spend hours each day meditating. It really is easy to have short bursts of being present throughout the day, and there are lots of physical and psychological benefits from doing this.”

If you're still not convinced, here are the benefits of bringing microdoses of mindfulness into everyday activities:

  • Relaxes the body: Mindful breathing enhances the relaxation response.
  • Relaxes the mind: Through making your breath or the environment the centre of your attention, your “thinking mind” gets a well-earned break. It feels like your mind is slowing down.
  • Reduces worries and ruminations: Engaging your mind fully in an activity is especially useful to reduce negative thoughts. If your mind is fully mindful (present), there is not as much space left to worry or ruminate.
  • Appreciate the simple things in life: Mindfulness at its core means paying attention to the present moment. This heightened awareness allows us to notice many more things in life – even the small ones from which we derive pleasure.
  • Breaking the mould: Sometimes we think every day in life is the same. Sleep, kids, work ... sleep, kids, work, etc. Bringing more mindfulness into our daily activities helps us understand that not one single day is the same as the previous one. This gives us a feeling of freshness in our life.

What do you do during the day to be mindful? Have you tried short bursts of mindfulness?