When I was first introduced to mindfulness five years ago, I was skeptical. At the time, I was in the midst of battling a chronic illness that had left me fatigued, in pain, and depressed for years. At this juncture in my healing journey I had tried endless treatment options to no avail, so when a friend suggested I adopt a mindfulness practice to promote healing, I initially scoffed at the idea.
Despite the skepticism, a continual decline in my health led me to eventually download my first mindfulness app as I had nothing to lose at that point. Looking back, this was one of the best decisions I have made thus far in my life.
To understand why this was the case, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. Put simply: it’s the quality or state of being present. When you are truly present, your thoughts are not rooted in the past or tied up worrying about potential negative future outcomes that will likely not happen. It is in this present state, that your brain is most focused and true happiness can be attained.
Continual practice of mindfulness eventually creates a larger buffer between the inevitable stimuli you will face and how you react to it. Over time, this builds resilience to stress, which can keep your body in homeostasis and promote self-healing.
Now the question becomes: how do I become more mindful? Here are 6 mindfulness techniques that can boost happiness:
1. Meditating – Meditation is often synonymized with mindfulness, when it is actually a practice that helps achieve the desired present state. My initial naïve perception of meditation was that in order to participate you had to be wearing robes, sitting cross legged, while burning incense. In reality, meditation can be done by anyone at any time. If you’re new to the practice, I recommend sitting down with your eyes closed for 5 minutes every day. When comfortable, you should count your breaths and focus on the sensations that accompany breathing. This focus brings you into the present moment and amidst distraction, you can always come back to the breath. The more you engage in this practice, the better the results!
2. Gratitude Journaling – Putting your thoughts on paper is an incredible way to pull you into the present and attain a mindful state. I recommend writing down a list of ten things you are grateful for upon waking each morning. While writing this list, truly try to feel the emotion of gratitude. There is evidence to show this practice improves physical and psychological health, in particular enhancing empathy and reducing aggression. A small commitment, with potentially massive upside.
3. Experiencing Nature – Immersing yourself in nature can melt away stress by pulling you into the present moment of your beautiful surroundings. Whether it’s a beach, a forest, or even just a park, you can attain a mindful state by focusing on the natural surroundings. Be aware of all of the shapes and colors that flood your visual field and your inner voice tends to quiet down. Exposure to nature is essential for happiness, so I recommend accessing it any day that you can!
4. Cooking – You don’t have to be an award-winning chef at a Michelin Star restaurant to benefit from the mindful aspects of cooking. Whenever you have a stressful day, you can always get in the kitchen to ease your mind. The nature of following a recipe and being focused on each step of preparing your meal eases you into the present moment, and it becomes harder for distractions to make their way into your mind. If you’re not a fan of cooking, I challenge you to start by trying one new recipe a week and be aware of how focused you are throughout the process. This hobby can turn into a nice escape!
5. Walking – Walking is the simplest form of exercise, but it is highly impactful. To be mindful while on a stroll, all you have to do is focus on your steps. You can start by counting them as you go and can slowly heighten your focus to be more aware of the sensations that accompany these steps, whether it be the cement hitting the sole of your shoes or your arms swinging with each stride. Make an effort to tap into this mindful state for at least 5 minutes of each walk per day. This can be a great alternative to meditating with your eyes closed and can be equally as effective!
6. Showering – This may be the easiest of all mindfulness techniques to adopt as I’d hope you’re showering daily! Next time you’re in the shower, focus on the sensation of the water hitting your skin and how the temperature affects your body. Keep your eyes closed for at least two minutes and maintain this focus so that thoughts can move easily through the mind and you can truly anchor yourself in the present moment. Showers are inherently relaxing, and this added practice should noticeably enhance that feeling!
I encourage you to adopt at least one of these practices to bring more mindfulness into your life. Think of mindfulness as a bicep curl for your brain. Repetition builds a stronger mind. The more you are in this state, the easier it will become for you to stay focused, relaxed, and ultimately happy!