Updated: Apr 16
Here are my favorites!
By Austin Perlmutter, MD
Our lives are progressively more mindless
Mindfulness is linked to better physical and mental health
There are lots of ways to be more mindful, and lots of people have opinions on exactly the best ways, and the definition itself. Don't let that keep you from trying it!
Three easy mindful strategies to test: nature time, breathing exercises and mindful eating
Let's face it: our lives have become progressively more mindless over the last few decades. With the ready availability of smartphones, tablets and smart TVs just a quick click away, is it any wonder that American adults spend upward of 11 hours a day interacting with digital technology? We can literally swipe right to find a romantic connection, order a meal or find the next bit of entertainment without leaving the couch. I'm of course not trying to say that technology is without perks, but as we outsource our conscious brains to the digital devices around us, we might be losing something important: mindful time.
What is "mindfulness" anyway?
Mindfulness is a term that is variably defined depending on who you ask. The definition I like is simple: basically, it's drawing your awareness to your immediate surroundings and especially your inner state of mind. Some definitions bring in terms like acceptance and a calm, loving state of patience in the process. Other books and experts make clear distinctions between meditation and mindfulness practices, while some combine the two.
It's highly likely that you've seen some emphasis on the benefits of mindfulness on social media, through your friends, in a book (we talked about it in Brain Wash!) or in scientific publications that cite benefits to stress, blood pressure, inflammation and other mental states. Though there's a resurgence in interest in mindful practices, it's important to note that these are techniques that have been used for brain and physical benefits for thousands of years.
Truth be told, I've never been the most “mindful” person, though I certainly have tried to stretch this skill set. I do find these practices to be personally incredibly helpful to regulating my brain state. With this in mind (pun intended), here are 4 easy ways to incorporate more mindfulness into your day.
1. Get in nature (and leave your phone behind) Nature exposure is one of my favorite, most cost effective ways to do something nice for my wellness. It also turns out to be a great place to practice mindfulness. Natural landscapes are generally rich in color, texture, sound and even smell. They are also great places to simply sit and practice breathing (see #2 below). Mindfulness in nature can be as straightforward as going for a walk in a local park (try to leave your phone in the car, unless you're somewhere you could get lost) with the sole purpose of enjoying the nature. Here are some easy ways to put this into play:
-Take your coffee break outside
-Give yourself 10-15 minutes before or after work and take a quick nature stroll
2. Practice intentional breathing (I know, it sounds so simple…) One of the more popular techniques to engage mindfulness is deceptively simple. Simply close your eyes and focus on your breathing. There are a number of techniques people use (like box breathing, diaphragm breathing and many more). If you're new to breathwork and mindfulness, consider simply sitting somewhere quietly and focusing on your breathing for 10 or so minutes. I do this most days and find it a great start to my day.
Here's the exact protocol I use:
-Sit upright on the couch/chair after waking up (and before checking the email/news etc) and set a timer for 12 minutes. Note: if i'm laying down or slumped in seating, I often drift back towards sleep, which is nice but not my objective!
-Close my eyes and start slowly breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth
-Pay attention to my breathing and try to let my thoughts slide by without focusing too much on them
3. Try mindful eating For so many modern day meals, we're seated in front of the TV or actively checking our smartphones while we wolf down whatever is in front of us. Some research shows people who eat in front of screens may eat more food. Beyond this, we may be less likely to actually enjoy the food in front of us if we're distracting ourselves with digital devices.
The idea of mindful eating is basically to pull your conscious attention to the texture, taste and overall experience of eating the food as you experience it. It's definitely worth a try! If you're looking for a good resource (and recipes) to help promote mindful eating, check out Mastering Mindful Eating, a great book (and lots of great recipes!) by my friend, registered dietician Michelle Babb.