The positive effects of meditation have long been talked about and is one of the key ingredients in cultivating mindfulness in your daily life. However, life and it’s many demands can make it difficult to find the time to dedicate to a formal meditation practice. Thankfully being stuck for time doesn’t mean you have to abandon your mindfulness practice. A growing body of research suggests that the informal practice of mindfulness, that is bringing the awareness to everyday activities, can also benefit our mental health. Studies show that this informal practice alone can significantly reduce perceived stress, anxiety, and depression, and increase life satisfaction.
In this post we’ll explain what exactly the informal practice of mindfulness is, how it could be of benefit to you, how you can incorporate it into daily life and how to start living more mindfully today.
What is informal meditation, and Why Does it Matter?
Think about the following questions:
Throughout the day do you give yourself the chance or opportunity to be fully present with your senses? To what is happening inside of you, the movements of your body or mind?
How often do you connect your senses fully and completely on purpose in whatever you are doing without getting caught in mental chitter chatter? This could be eating, showering or engaging in a conversation.
Amidst the rushing and busyness that is life are you aware of your heart beating, changes in your breath and what is going through your mind?
These are the informal moments of mindfulness which we can all find every day without having to set aside time or changing a single thing in our routine. Research suggests that “mindfulness could be cultivated through purposefully engaging in a variety of activities and that these practices have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve psychological flexibility. These activities make up our normal routines and everyday activities, such as mindful eating, mindfully washing the dishes, mindfully walking, mindfully communicating. This means when you are eating you are doing just that, just eating with all your senses. Being with what you taste, hear, see, smell and touch. Just like in meditation, when your mind wanders, you just notice it and bring it back. Looking for these opportunities throughout the course of the day acts similarly to a formal meditation practice in that they help to train the mind to be fully present, mindful and awake.
A study by Hanley et al., split a sample of college students into two groups. Both groups were requested to carry out the simple daily chore of washing dishes. However, the experimental group were instructed to wash the dishes mindfully, paying attention to the whole processes and using all their senses, treating the chore as it if were meditation. The results showed that the mindful dishwashers reported reduced stress, higher levels of satisfaction whilst carrying out the chore and a perception of a slowing down of time.
How to practice informal meditation
The informal mindfulness practice can be practiced anywhere and at any time. Walking the dog, eating a meal, taking a sip of water. This is where we can find real joy in life, in the smallest of experiences.
1) Morning routine
The morning is a great time to meditate, before the mind becomes bombarded with the whirl of daily events. Think of a routine morning activity that you could do mindfully. This could be dressing, brushing your teeth or showering. Whilst carrying out this routine, focus completely on what you are doing, how your body moves, sensations, smells, sight, sound, taste.
Let’s take having a shower as an example. Listen to the sound the water makes as your turn on the tap. Be with your body as you move into the shower and under the water. Can you hear the noise the water makes as it bounces off your body? What does the water feel like as it touches your skin? Are there any smells? Maybe the smell of soap or shampoo. See how your surroundings may have changed, maybe there is now a light mist of steam in the bathroom, maybe there are drops of water on the wall or shower curtain. How does your body automatically move whilst you clean yourself? Notice how you feel, are there any emotions or feelings present? Maybe some stress or anxiety about the day ahead? Maybe you feel relaxed and have a longing to stay under the hot water. When thoughts arrive, merely acknowledge them, and let them go.
2) Household chores
Choose a daily chore that you might try to rush through as quickly as possible, a job that needs doing but not a job that your enjoy doing. This could be, ironing, wshing dishes, sweeping the floor, making the beds. Using the shower example, bring the same attention to this chore. Notice any mental distractions, especially those thoughts associated with disliking the chores or that drive you to want to finish the job as quickly as possible. You might be asking what is the point? Well, certain tasks in life need doing weather we like it or not. The average person spends 23 hours and 36 minutes on cleaning and housework per month. This is time that most people spend wishing they were doing something else and time they will never get back. If you have to do the jobs anyway, wouldn’t it be better to geteven a sliver of satisfaction out of them.
3) Mindful walking
You might find it helpful to begin practicing mindful walking at home to get a feel for it. Choose a spot where you can take a few steps forward and begin walking, slower than normal. Feel the space under your right foot as you lift it from the ground. As you move forward and place the right heel on the ground in front of you, feel how the left heel automatically lifts up. Now notice the space under the left foot as you list it, move it forward, heel touches the ground and right heel lifts up. Notice the contact and movement of each foot, heel to toes, like waves. As you walk, perhaps also notice for a moment how small the surface area of your feet is, and how hard your feet work to keep your body off the ground. When you start to get a feel for the movement you may wish to continue at the same pace or your may wish to speed up. Whatever you choose, try to stay connected to the movement, to the waves, to the rhythm.
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet” Thich Nhat Hanh
Staying connected to the rhythm is what you are looking for when you incorporate it into daily life. Walking to the car, walking to the bathroom, taking the dog for a walk…you choose.
4) Mindful breathing
The breath is a great way to informally practice mindfulness because the breath is always with you, breathing breaths. You can pause at any moment throughout the day to just notice your breath and notice if it changes while engaging in different tasks. Being with the inhalation and exhalation is an important part of both the informal and formal practice of mindfulness.
5) Active listening
We all want to be heard and yet very often when we are listening, our mind so easily wanders. Listening deeply and intently is one of the best gifts we can offer those around us. This means listening with an open heart and mind, avoiding trying to assume what the other person might be trying to say, without putting your own experience on their story and without giving them unrequited advice. Maintain a gentle open focus.
6) Notice your surroundings
This is a great one to practice when you’re outside but can also be great for when you’re stuck in traffic or on public transport. Take a good look around, who and what is around you? What colors can you see? What can you hear? Is there any breeze? Or maybe a coolness or heat in the air? Look at the people around you…what do you notice?