What is mindfulness?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “mindfulness” is:
1. the quality or state of being mindful
2. the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete
awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment
While this is a good definition, there are a few keywords from this definition that I would like to point out and briefly focus on. The first one is “practice.” Mindfulness is a skill that we have to work on, something that requires a bit of practice and some trial-and-error. To get better at mindfulness techniques, we have to allow ourselves some grace and recognize that over time, we can develop our skills more.
From there, the definition talks about a “non-judgmental state.” This is often the part that requires the most practice! We, as humans, tend to judge things pretty quickly – terms like good, bad, right, wrong, healthy, unhealthy, etc. Mindfulness practice asks us not to judge, but to be aware. Instead of saying “this thought I’m having is bad,” say “I am having a thought.” This example is about our thoughts, but the same can be said about emotions and experiences, as mentioned in the above definition.
Mindful Daily Life Activities
Have you ever been driving a car, and arrived home without being entirely sure how you got there? Or eaten a meal, and not been able to recall anything about it? These are just a few very brief examples of “mindless” activities – times that we may have acted on autopilot, or “zoned out.” These are common occurrences in life, and increasing our mindfulness skills can help make us more aware and decrease some of these “zoned out” times.
Below is a list of activities we can incorporate into our daily lives to increase our practice of mindfulness.
1. Mindful Eating – set aside a few extra minutes the next time you sit down with your food. Before you start eating, take a second to really look at your food. Notice the colors, the textures, how the food is presented on the dish/container/plate/etc. Take in the smell of the food – is it sweet-smelling? Sour? Try to describe the smell of the food to yourself, and take note of any reactions you have (maybe your mouth starts to water, or your stomach growls). Then, as you start to eat, take slow bites. Pay attention to your chewing and notice any flavors that come up as you chew your food – is it different the more you eat? This practice is simple but can foster a new appreciation for the foods we enjoy.
2. Mindful Walking – whether you are walking outside or at home, take a second and really take in the process of walking. Feel the muscles in your legs and feet as you take the steps. If you’re walking across different surfaces (i.e., grass and concrete) notice any differences in the impact as you walk. Let all 5 of your senses “take the lead” while you are walking, and really notice your surroundings. Perhaps you do this practice for a set amount of time, set a number of steps, or you can just do it at a moment that strikes you!
3. Mindful Showering – How many people are actually paying attention when they shower, versus just going through the motions? Next time you take a shower, pay attention to the way the water feels! Take a second to pause and appreciate your body while you are cleaning it. Notice how it feels when you wash your hair. A shower can be the perfect opportunity to pause and be one with our bodies, that we often just rush through.
4. Grounding Exercises – Because mindfulness is a practice that increases our awareness, many different types of grounding exercises can be considered mindfulness practices! One of my personal favorites is the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. To do this, observe 5 things you can SEE, 4 things you can FEEL, 3 things you can HEAR, 2 things you can SMELL, and 1 thing you can TASTE. This is a quick practice that brings our attention back to the moment and allows us to re-center ourselves in the present. A helpful handout with other examples of grounding exercises can be found here.
5. Box Breathing – There are many types of breathing exercises that help us to relax and focus on the current moment. One of these techniques that I particularly enjoy, is box breathing. For box breathing, you are breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 4, breathing out to a count of 4, and holding again to a count of 4. Try to breathe in through your nose, and breathe out through your mouth. You can repeat this practice for as long as you need to feel centered again. One of the perks of this exercise is it can be done at any time, without having to draw attention to yourself. Here is a link to a YouTube video that demonstrates Box Breathing timing that you can follow along with to practice!
The above list offers some examples of mindfulness activities that can be incorporated into our daily lives! Almost any activity can be done mindfully if you give it your full attention. Things like the dishes, laundry, writing, and driving – all of these can become mindful practices. More “structured” activities might include participating in yoga, or meditations.
Grounding techniques - therapist aid. Grounding Techniques Worksheet. (n.d.). Retrieved
May 18, 2022, from https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/grounding-
techniques.pdf. UAB Student Affairs. (2021). Square Breathing Visual. YouTube.
Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF_1ZiFta-E.
Kaci Crook is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. She works with individuals and couples. In her work, she incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, narrative therapy, and mindfulness.