When you spend so much time planning and preparing for what’s next, you sometimes forget to enjoy the actual experience of living in the moment. Sound a little too new age-y? Before you roll your eyes, know that you may be missing out on some big-time health benefits if you are always distracted. Researchers have found that mindfulness—the practice of being aware of your thoughts, physical sensations, and surroundings—can help lower stress, improve sleep, and even boost brain health. Here are some simple ways to get started.
Just breathe. Next time you’re stressed over that endless to-do list, pause and take a few deep breaths. Yes, it’s that easy. Deep breathing not only calms your nervous system, helping you feel more relaxed, it also forces you to be more mindful. “When you are more conscious of your inhale and exhale, it keeps you in the present,” says Belisa Vranich, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of The Breathing Class. According to Vranich, mindful breathing is a little different than normal involuntary respiration because it requires relaxing when you inhale and tightening up on your exhale: Soften and expand your pelvis on the inhale and use your abs to consciously squeeze out all the stale air on the exhale.
Taste your food. How many times have you polished off a meal without remembering taking a single bite? Multiply that by three times a day and you may be completely checked out at mealtimes. The problem is that munching while watching TV or texting on your phone distracts you from really paying attention to your food, so you not only miss out on the pleasure of eating, you also end up overeating. When you slow down and savor each bite, you automatically become more mindful of what you are eating.
Begin to meditate. If you think that meditation is just for monks and yoga fans, think again. Meditation, a technique that helps you calm the mind, is another means of tapping into mindfulness. How does it work? Sit down in a comfortable position for a few minutes, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breath. The goal is to acknowledge your thoughts rather than obsess over them. With regular practice, you’ll find it easier to let go of stress and drama and just “be” in the moment.
Walk this way. Another easy way to meditate—and stretch your legs—is by walking with purpose. What does that mean? Leave your phone and headphones at home and bring your full awareness to your movements. Feel the impact of your feet hitting the ground and the motion of your arms swishing beside you. Also take in your environment with all your senses. Noticing the scents of the outdoors, the feel of the wind on your face, and the rustle of leaves underneath forces you to be in the present.