Mindfulness Beyond the Cushion

7 ways to bring mindfulness into your daily life

Meditation doesn’t have to start and end on the cushion. After all, we practice meditation not to get better at meditating, but because it can change how we live our lives. So why not also practice making daily life a meditation itself? Bringing more mindfulness and awareness into everything that we do?
Here are seven simple ways you can bring more presence, attention, and connection into your daily life.

1. Mindful Mornings
How often do you jump out of bed, rush through your morning routine, and leave the house without so much as taking a deep breath or checking in with yourself? It’s easy to fall into autopilot when we have things to do. But by choosing to start our day with awareness, we can set the mood for how we spend the rest of our day.
Try: Waking up and first noticing the breath. Allowing the breath to deepen as the belly rises and falls. Take longer inhales to increase energy. Then slowly move and stretch the body. Check in with how you are feeling, your mood, your thoughts. Take a moment to set an intention for what you want to bring into that day. Get out of bed slowly, and see if you can carry out your morning routine with the same level of attention.

Mindful Commutes
Many times a day we have to get from point A to point B, and sometimes it can be an inconvenience. We might have to spend time walking, biking, on public transportation, or in the car. Well here’s the good news: it can be a meditation! We can use these opportunities to focus on the moment and tune into our bodies and our surroundings. If we practice this regularly, it can make our commutes more productive, less of a hassle, and even safer.  
Try: If you’re walking, pay close attention to the feeling of your feet on the ground, step by step. Walk slower than you might typically, and focus on how the body moves. If biking, feel the feet on the pedals, the circular movement of the legs, the posture of the spine, and the hands on the handlebar. On public transport or in a car, notice your sitting bones on the seat, feet on the floor. Observe your surroundings with a sense of curiosity and determination to stay present. Pay attention to thoughts in the mind and notice if you tend to react and judge, or if you can simply remain open and aware.

3. Mindful Eating
If you love food, what could be better than slowing down, savoring the taste in your mouth, and paying attention as you eat? Sometimes we rush our meals or spend them in conversation, and we forget to notice the smells, tastes, textures, flavors etc. We can enjoy our food and even digest it better by bringing mindful attention to our experience as we eat, while cultivating greater awareness at the same time.
Try: During your next meal, pause and observe your food before you eat it. Notice colors, shapes, smells. Take a moment to be grateful, acknowledging all the layers of work that went into the creation of this food you’re about to eat. Then slowly take a bite. Bring the food to each region of the tongue, where your taste buds differ. Feel the texture in your mouth and the sensation of chewing. Notice if there’s an urge to take another bite before swallowing the first one. Take your time and savor each bite, giving it your undivided attention.

Mindful Listening
It takes a lot of presence to be a good listener. For many of us, we are already busy formulating our response while someone else speaks. Our mind can prevent us from understanding what the other person wishes to communicate, simply because our own judgments and opinions jump to conclusions before the other person can finish a sentence. We know how this feels, because we’ve been on the other side of it. Luckily, we can improve our listening skills through mindfulness and cultivate the ability to listen deeply, openly, and nonjudgmentally to others. 
Try: When you engage in conversation, take a moment to connect with your body and your breath to center yourself. As the other person speaks, practice listening with no agenda, as if you are not even going to answer. Imagine you have never spoken to this person before and you know nothing about them or the subject. You’re just there to hear what they have to say. When they’ve finished, now take a moment to reflect and consider. Notice first the reactions in your mind, the feelings in your body, and let go of any thoughts that will not help you respond wisely. When you respond from that space of understanding and clarity, the person will feel heard, even if you happen to disagree with what they said.

Mindful Chores
Do you ever dread washing the dishes, taking out the trash, or waiting in line? These boring or unpleasant tasks can be an opportunity to deepen our mindfulness practice. We can become aware of aversion, or our mind’s tendency to push away whatever we don’t like. We can notice that initial dreading and wishing we didn’t have to do it, the added mental complaining that makes the task seem worse than it is. With practice, we can learn to appreciate these simple chores and enjoy even the most mundane tasks if we let go of the negative commentary in our minds.
Try: When you have to do a chore, notice how your mind reacts first. Notice initial judgments or reluctance. Then choose to make that chore a meditation. Become aware of your body and your breath as you carry out the task. Notice how you move and the physical sensations in the body. Tune into your surroundings and your senses. Smells, tastes, sounds, etc. Observe the thoughts that appear, and kindly let them go as you focus wholeheartedly on the task at hand. 

Mindful Working
Multi-tasking has become an epidemic for the millennial workforce. While it might make us feel more productive, it actually contributes to a general lack of ability to concentrate. We give small percentages of our awareness to each task, and therefore weaken our ability to give one activity our undivided attention. If this becomes a habit, we find ourselves constantly looking for distraction simply because the mind wants to be entertained by multiple things at a time. It might be appealing to never be bored, but studies show it sabotages our job performance, reduces our satisfaction at work, and increases our stress levels. So let’s go back to the old-fashioned way of working on one thing at a time!
Try: When you are working, commit to doing one task at a time. If you have many things to do, create a list and go through each item one by one, completing one before you move onto the next. Before you tackle the first item, take a few centering breaths to bring your mind into the present moment. Bring awareness to your body, such as your fingers on the keyboard or sitting bones on the chair. Then give all of your focus to this one task. When you become distracted, take a moment to come back into your body and your breath, notice any unhelpful thoughts that arise, and then resume the task with an attitude of presence and commitment.

Mindful Moments
While long meditation sessions can be powerful and transformative, don’t underestimate the effect of a simple moment of mindfulness. Just several seconds of resetting and coming back to the present in the midst of a busy day can impact how we approach the rest of the day ahead. Chade Meng-Tan, founder of the “Search Inside Yourself” mindfulness program at Google, suggests even taking one mindful breath can already have a positive impact. During that breath, you can experience physical and psychological changes that give your body and mind an opportunity for rest and recovery. So let’s make an effort to remind ourselves throughout the day to pause, breathe, and reconnect to the present.  
Try: A mindful breath every hour. You might set a gentle reminder on your phone to create this habit. First notice and feel your whole body. Then take a slow, deep breath. Pay attention to the physical sensations of breath, wherever you feel your breath in your body. Follow the breath from the start of the inhale to the end of the inhale, notice when it becomes an exhale, and then follow it until the end of the exhale. Notice the moment after the breath, the stillness. Repeat a few times if it feels right. Then slowly resume your activities, from this place of centeredness and freshness. 

If you glance back at each of these practices, the sum of them together covers most of the day. If you were to build up to doing all of these practices, your life would become a meditation, where you could be fully present for every experience.
Choose one of these practices to start, and commit to it, knowing that it takes sixty-six days to build a habit. Even dedicating just five minutes each day to practice present moment awareness can make a difference. If you commit, you’ll start to feel the power of meditation flowing into the way you live your life.