Mindfulness Exercises in Everyday Life

By Adam Ortman, Mindfulness Director Published on

Table of Contents

Mindfulness exercises are ways of relating to everyday life that can have a profoundly healing effect on the mind, body, and heart. 

Many people assume that having a daily mindfulness practice means setting aside ten, twenty, or thirty minutes a day to meditate. And they become frustrated when these minutes are difficult to find. 

Other people might practice formal meditation each day, but have a hard time bridging the gap between the period of focused mindfulness exercises and the rest of their day.

In this article, we will explore straightforward ways to bring mindfulness exercises into everyday life. Ultimately, if we want to become more present, compassionate, and resilient, we will have to learn how to bring everyday mindfulness into our ordinary lives, and not just in special moments. 

Orienting to Your Environment Mindfulness Exercise

Everyday mindfulness exercises don’t require any special time commitments or cushions. Rather, you simply commit to showing up to the life you’re already living with a bit more curiosity, freshness, and wonder.

One of the simplest ways to bring mindfulness exercises into everyday life is to become more aware of your environment. This means learning to be more interested in your senses. 

Practicing mindfulness of your senses as you go about your daily activities has numerous clinically studied benefits including: 

  • Increasing positive mood and well-being,
  • Making people better at navigating conflict in relationships,
  • Improves the immune system, increasing the antibodies a person produces after receiving a vaccine.

For each of the following senses, try simply noticing and appreciating, rather than critiquing or judging. 

Sounds

Sound offers a simple and direct way to use everyday mindfulness to stay in contact with your environment. 

Anytime you step outside, take a moment to notice the change in the soundscape around you. Notice subtle sounds in the distance, or obvious sounds nearby. 

When you’re speaking with someone, practice listening closely to the subtle modulations in their voice. 

If you’re someone who usually wears headphones while exercising or completing chores, give them a break every once in a while. Instead, practice noticing natural sounds with the same interest you would pay to music or a podcast. 

If you tend to get a song stuck in your head, this may be an indication that you aren’t giving enough attention to the real-time world of sound around you. In these ways, sound can offer powerful and fast mindfulness exercises that shift your awareness from recycled mental chatter to the always-refreshing moment taking place outside of your thoughts.

Sights

We can also use our vision as an everyday mindfulness practice. 

When we spend most our time in familiar places, around familiar people, it can be easy to think that we already know what everything around us looks like. 

Outside of a screen, we can get in the habit of merely using our sense of sight to avoid running into things. And yet, our sight is an important tool for coming into deeper relationship with the colorful, rich, and ever-new world around us.

To practice mindfulness exercises with your sight, bring a gaze of curiosity and enjoyment to the familiar spaces you inhabit. There is a huge variety of subtlety and detail that you can lose connection with when you get lost in your thoughts. 

  • Take in the colors of leaves, the architecture in your neighborhood, the way light and shadow interact inside your home 
  • If you’re working on a computer, get in the habit of pausing, choosing a single color, and looking for every example of that color in the space around you 
  • Notice all of the different patterns that surround you, from the natural lines of woodgrain to the spackled bumps on a ceiling, to the buckling crevices of a tissue
  • You might also practice taking in the whole of your visual field, rather than narrowly considering details. How does it change your perception when you look at a scene in nature as an entire tapestry, rather than as individual objects? 
  • What do you notice about people when you hold your attention on their entire body at once, rather than narrowing down on single features?

Smells

Smell is often an underappreciated sense, so intentionally dwelling here can be an effective daily mindfulness practice. 

  • Take a moment to smell anything, even a glass of water, before you put it in your mouth 
  • Smell clean clothes as you fold them, a book when you open it. 
  • Accustom yourself to noticing the change in smell when you step outdoors or open a window, each as its own important mindfulness exercises.

Most of us are so used to smelling things with the intention to judge them good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, that simply stepping outside of these binary judgments can be a revelation. 

Notice what happens when you smell in order to explore rather than to react. You may find a new world of experience open itself to you through this approach to everyday mindfulness.

Savoring the Good Mindfulness Exercise

Once you become more familiar with exploring the worlds of your senses, you can also try “savoring the good” as a daily mindfulness exercise. 

Here, we intentionally slow down to dwell on the positive or enjoyable aspects of an experience. Most of us rush past the pleasant parts of our day as we hurry on to the next thing. 

But when we savor the good, we choose to stay with a positive experience for five to ten seconds longer. In this approach to everyday mindfulness, the positive experience has a chance to affect your body and brain more deeply.

A growing body of research points to the power ordinary positive experiences have to change your brain and support your health. 

Studies show that building positive emotions in this way can provide a reservoir of well-being and resilience that keeps stress and mental illness at bay, while also strengthening immunity and physical health.  

We all have many small positive experiences throughout the day. Even right now, if you were to pause and settle into your experience, you can probably notice at least one pleasant thing. 

  • Perhaps there is a sense of stillness or support someplace in your body. Maybe, at the edge of any impatience or anxiety, you feel a thread of excitement about your day 
  • Or maybe you can enjoy the bobbing of a tree branch in the wind, a bit of music or birdsong, or the smell of a cup of coffee or tea
  • Once you identify some positive experience, make the effort to stay with it for a few seconds longer than you normally would. 
  • See if you can locate what is most pleasant to you about the experience, and allow it to sink in more deeply. 
  • Without trying to grasp onto the experience or make it permanent, move on with your day.

To practice taking in the good as a daily mindfulness exercise, you don’t need to have a long list of incredible experiences. You simply relate to your ordinary experience with the intention to dwell on the pleasant aspects of it. 

The more you’re intentional about noticing the good and really allowing yourself to feel it, the more you’ll incline the pathways of the brain and nervous system in those directions.

Attending to Your Body Mindfulness Exercise

With all the emphasis on mindfulness and the brain, it can be easy to overlook the importance of embodied mindfulness. Not only are embodied mindfulness exercises important for your well-being. They’re also easy to incorporate into daily life.

The effects of embodied mindfulness exercises on the body are well documented. As just a sampling, studies show that when daily mindfulness practice includes the body, people experience: 

  • less pain due to injury or chronic conditions  
  • lower inflammation
  • a stronger immune system.

Mindful Movement Exercise

Whether you’re exercising, doing chores, or walking between rooms, you can incorporate everyday mindfulness into your routines by simply becoming aware of your moving body. 

As with your other senses, the idea here is to receive what there is to notice without being reactive or resistant toward what you experience. 

  • Can you track the movement of your feet as you walk or run? 
  • Can you stay aware of your hands and arms as you reach for an object and pick it up?
  • Can you track the adjustments in your posture?

These can be especially helpful mindfulness exercises when you’re tired or have a lot on your mind because the moving body can offer a simple alternative to mental rumination.

Anchor Points

You can bring the same quality of attention to your body when it’s still. Whether you’re seated in a chair, driving in a car, or waiting in line, try settling your attention at the places where your body is being supported. 

This may be: 

  • your feet, 
  • your legs 
  • your seat 

Anytime your attention jumps someplace else, simply regather most of your awareness at these anchor points. The more you use anchor points as part of daily mindfulness practice, the more quickly these will have the power to settle the body and mind. It’s like strengthening a muscle. 

The awareness that you bring to your body through this simple exercise can boost your ability in numerous other physical activities, like walking, yoga, swimming, and simple stretching.

Daily Mindfulness Exercises: The Takeaway

Daily mindfulness practice doesn’t require long chunks of time to be transformative. 

When we bring mindfulness exercises into our ordinary activities, we can access deeper levels of presence, well-being, and resilience. 

After decades of research into mindfulness exercises, the consensus is quite simple: There are ways of relating to our experience that support health, and there are ways of relating to our experience that degrades our health. 

The good news is that when we attend to our present moment experience with curiosity, openness, and care, we are protecting the health of our brains and our bodies.

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©2020 Doctor ROBERT KILTZ. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED