Modern life is full of hustle and bustle. Nearly every hour of our day involves work, breaking news, or notifications from social media. This can quickly become overwhelming and lead to a frazzled, unfocused mind.
In an ideal world, you’d be able to set aside 30 minutes of your day to meditate and become more mindful.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to spare for a full yoga or meditation practice — even if the mind-body connection that is established during yoga promotes physical health and mental wellbeing.
But, even if you have responsibilities at home like kids or pets that keep you from going to a meditation class, you can still find ways to use micro-moments of mindfulness throughout the day that improve your wellbeing and decrease your stress. Here’s how you can get started.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental practice that increases your awareness and helps you feel present in the here and now. This involves recognizing your thoughts without judgment, and physical relaxation techniques like deep breathing and body scanning.
According to Berkley’s Greater Good program, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism but is now regarded as a secular practice from which everyone can benefit. Several studies have found that mindfulness can improve your immune system and the quality of your sleep. Additionally, regular mindfulness helps you feel energized and promotes a healthier lifestyle with more regular exercise and a cleaner, more intentional diet.
Typically, practicing mindfulness involves setting aside a chunk of time to try a technique that works for you. There are plenty of different mindfulness techniques available, but some of the most popular are the raisin technique, body scanning, and mindful breathing. However, these techniques require at least 5 minutes each, which you may not have time for.
If you don’t have 5 minutes spare in your day, you can still practice mindfulness by recognizing the power of micro-moments. Micro-moments give you the same cognitive benefits of longer mindfulness practices but in a fraction of the time. They can also happen at any time, and at any moment — you just need to train your body and mind to find focus and find calm within the chaos that is modern life.
Spend Time in Nature
Developing a mindfulness habit is difficult. It’s even harder if you’re stuck inside all day, staring at cubicle walls while breathing air from an AC unit. To overcome this, you should consider stepping outside when you can and taking your breaks in a local park or near a body of water. This is because nature can act like a “trigger” if you’re new to mindful micro-moments, as you’ll be drawn towards the beauty of your environment, and will find it easier to focus on your sensations and awareness.
You don’t need to spend all afternoon in nature to develop your mindfulness habit. Just a few moments, that may last less than a minute, can be sufficient to help you become more present in your day-to-day life and feel the rewards of mindfulness.
For example, if you live or work near a lake, try to notice the improved air quality near the water and the calming noise of the small waves. Pay attention to the way other people move around the lake and take pleasure in watching folks paddleboard, kayak, or swim. All this can be achieved in under a minute and will leave you feeling optimistic and calm.
Keep a Journal
Human life is saturated with language. Our thoughts come to us as speech, and we make sense of the world through the signs we call words. But, most of the time, language destabilizes our sense of calm and draws our focus away from the present moment.
You can use language to your advantage by keeping a journal to jot down brief notes or phrases that help you refocus on the here and now. This might be as simple as writing a quick haiku or describing a “thing” on your desk or outside your window. For example, when you look out the window next, try writing three adjectives that describe the weather or the shape of a tree. Don’t judge your production, or think too deeply into words you choose — it’s just a personal journal, not a manuscript for a poetry anthology.
Breathing techniques are incredibly effective and efficient. Just a few deep breaths can help you find a mindful state and improve your mental sharpness.
When practicing deep breathing for mindfulness, consider choosing a diaphragmatic breathing technique like the 4-7-8 approach or box breathing. These techniques can be completed in less than 30 seconds and are fairly inconspicuous (so you can get away with it during a stressful meeting or in a busy place like a train or office environment).
Sometimes deep breathing techniques can trigger feelings of anxiety. If this occurs for you, feel free to choose a different technique to capture micro-moments, and instead try to focus on the external environment around you and your role within it.
Focus on the Road
Plenty of people mistakenly believe that mindfulness can only occur when we’re sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat or the beach. However, it’s worth remembering that mindfulness occurs whenever we choose to become present within the moment and experience the here and now.
It might sound strange, but one of the best places to practice mindfulness is when you’re driving. Driving is usually a solitary activity and one that requires focus on the world around you. So, as long as micro-moments of mindfulness improve your focus on the road, it’s easy and safe to practice some driving-oriented techniques while you’re behind the wheel.
You can start practicing mindfulness while driving by yielding more often than usual and allowing others to merge into your lane. You should also avoid the urge to rush while driving and should try to practice compassion for folks who are sharing the road with you. Remember, it’s not a race, and judging folks for the way they drive will not make you a safer or more efficient driver.
As a word of warning, mindfulness while driving needs to be focused on the road — not the incoming thoughts you have or the sensation of your body in the car seat. So, even if you drive an electronic vehicle with self-driving capabilities like lane changing or adaptive cruise control, you still need to keep your focus on the road and should not be forming haikus or journaling when you should be paying attention to the road.
The idea of micro-moments for mindfulness isn’t new. Literary icons like Virginia Woolf have been writing about the need to appreciate “moments of being” for hundreds of years, and some sects of Buddhism have been finding value in appreciating the here and now for much longer. You can use micro-moments of mindfulness in your personal and professional life to overcome unexpected sources of stress and boost your overall mental and physical wellbeing. Even a short practice can help you refocus and find calm amongst the chaos.