Want to Be More Present in Everyday Life? Practicing Mindfulness Will Help Keep Your Mind from Wandering
Our days are filled with plenty of tasks to keep us busy, even enough to make us focus more on the future than what's right in front of us. But according to new research, prioritizing mindfulness is essential to ease stress and relish in the present. Amishi Jha, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami and author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day ($20.49, amazon.com), told CNN that mindfulness centers around being in tune with the present "without a story about it or reacting to it."
By practicing mindfulness, you are essentially training your mind to be still. The focus is "observing the breath and keeping your attention on the breath and when the mind wanders away to guide it back to the breath," she said. "When we are still, it is much easier to take this kind of observational stance. We don't have to control our movement. We don't have to monitor where we are in space."
While the common notion is that mindfulness requires you to remain seated, there are many ways to practice this on the go, like during a walk. Just be sure not to let your mind wander. Jha explained that you should focus your attention on the actual walk itself: "The toe touching the ground, then the heel, then the lifting of the foot," she said. If your thoughts start drifting elsewhere, simply go back to thinking about breath and the physical notions of walking. Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of The Little Book of Being ($13.39, amazon.com), adds that stretching is another helpful mindfulness practice. "The difference between stretching versus making it into a formal mindfulness practice is what you do with your mind," she said. "The idea is to stretch and to feel the sensations of your body moving—so your arms as they move through space, the air, the touch, the physicality."
Do keep in mind that mindfulness should be catered to what makes you most comfortable. "It's this quality of attention, and you can bring it into any physical practice," Winston said. "Rather than being lost in your worries and thinking about everything you have to do and catastrophizing and all the things we normally do, we turn the physical activity into a mindful practice." For example, you can implement mindfulness in your day-to-day activities, like washing dishes: "Feel the sensations of your hands on the water, noticing the rubbing motion. This is all bringing mindfulness into your day," Winston said. And as much as possible, try to enjoy the process. "It changes at different times and ages and different phases of our own life," Mallika Chopra, the author of My Body Is a Rainbow ($15.49, amazon.com) and Just Be You ($11.69, amazon.com), said. "People tend to think these exercises are very serious and stoic, and the goal is to make it fun."