Mindfulness Outside Meditation

Photo by  Jen Theodore

Photo by Jen Theodore

Bringing meditation beyond the practice.

When we meditate with the desire to better our quality of life, it’s worth considering that our practice can extend beyond the time that we set aside for it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of meditating, or doing similar work, and rushing off to get on with our days the moment we finish.

I myself am guilty of this “I’ve done the work” mindset, which meant I made little change to my life moment-to-moment beyond meditating a few times a day.

Don’t get me wrong; doing any sort of meditative activity, even if only for a short while each day, will positively impact other aspects of your life.

Even when I didn’t implement other measures to live more mindfully, I become more aware and introspective—my quality of life was undoubtedly improved.

But realizing that a commitment to mindfulness extends far beyond the time that we set aside for practice can be a catalyst for greater change.

It’s also something of a pragmatic revelation—when we compile moments of meditative practice throughout the day, the need for hours and hours of sitting is negated.

Whether the initial goal when setting out on your meditative quest was to reduce anxiety, improve relationships, or reap any of the many other benefits that are now commonly known associates of meditation, its up to us to realize that the practice doesn’t stop when we open our eyes.

Rather, meditation offers a remembrance of our natural way of being, one that enables us to live presently and experience the wonder that is our existence. In every moment.

This doesn’t mean there’s no room for forward thinking, of course.

The reality of modern society is such that we do need to plan, at least to some degree; time, schedules, goals and missions are a very real part of our jobs, our connections with loved ones, and our pursuit of personal aspirations.

But meditation teaches us that we needn’t dwell on all the many things we attach to our plans after we make them (worry, fear, doubt etc.).

So if you’re practicing, but struggle to extend mindful qualities beyond this practice, consider the following techniques to make them a more real part of your life:

Create Reminders

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Find ways to remind yourself to be present throughout the day.

And be generous…extremely generous…with how many reminders you use. I benefit from having A LOT.

And for me, they come in many forms:

I use alarms to remind me to practice quick presence-inducers; things like 1 minute body scans or other such short practices. There are great resources out there that I encourage you to explore, like this 1 minute meditation.

I use the Pomodoro Technique when I work, and take advantage of the break periods to do other things that help me note if I’ve drifted away: like taking a distraction-free walkjournaling, or doing breathe work.

Other things you can do could be as simple as using a mantra that, either said silently or out loud, makes real the practice that you’re working so hard to cultivate. Like: “I am here”, “I am present”, or something to that effect.

You can also explore having someone to keep you accountable; have a friend or colleague to check in with you throughout the day to see where your heads are at.

Discern Between One Activity and the Next

When moving from one thing to another, its really helpful to take a few minutes to do some of the exercises I mentioned to make sure that we’re not mentally grappling with a million different things.

Doing something as simple as setting an intention or taking a few diaphragmatic breathes before moving on to something new radically shifts my presence around an activity.

It also helps me to cultivate determination to focus only on what I’m doing.

Limit Distraction: One Thing at a Time

I won’t beat the dead horse; I’m sure you’re all well aware of how susceptible we are to the over-stimulation and distraction inherent to modern living (cell phones, noisy co-workers etc.).

But it’s one thing to know, and another entirely to remove yourself from.

So, simply put: explore ways to use your phone less, observe and limit stimuli, and find what works for you in making this a consistent and repeatable process.

When you work, consider trying some focus-inducing music.

When you eat, do nothing but eat.

When you’re driving, focus on the wonder of the fact that you’re moving at an absurdly fast pace in a thousand-something pound metal box.

From Mundane to Magical

Turn your chores, or whatever has become habituated or (seemingly) mundane, into opportunities to practice being present.

If you’re washing dishes, pay attention to the sensations, textures and smells.

Focus on the fabrics of your laundry when next you get around to it. Notice the shifting colors and thoughts that arise as you interact with the materials.

Everything we do can have a sense of majesty when we practice in this way.

Physical Begets Mental

Our physical and mental well-being are intimately connected: slowing our bodies helps our minds to do the same.

Move slower, type slower, breathe slower.

Take some time in the morning for your body to catch up to your mind by taking even just a few deep breathes or moments for gratitude.

The benefits are well worth it.

Photo by  Milan Popovic

Photo by Milan Popovic

Do Nothing More Often

Do your best to note the times that you can allow your mind to wander: during commutes, while waiting for things, walking…

Being bored is really good for us.

By not filling the moments of free time that we get throughout the day, we’re more likely to amass more and more mindful moments.

When I first started consciously noting the many opportunities my mind has to wander, I was shocked at how often they appeared.

Whether during rest periods during workouts or even just while sitting on the toilet, I had a hell of a lot more time to bring myself back to the present than I ever would have imagined.

Don’t Try Too Hard

It’s really easy to take life too seriously, and to get frustrated at our “bad” habits (especially when we become more aware of them).

I’ve noticed my propensity to try and make things happen. To force myself into presence and the same state changes that usually only come about after long meditations.

When I stop trying and start allowing, I’m better able to experience these states.

It’s not easy to be present. If it was, we all would be.

Mindfulness isn’t a significant piece of our education systems, our cultures, or our conditioning.

Learning to unlearn is frustrating. But it’s so very worth it. And, though any practice is worthwhile, it doesn’t stop after we open our eyes.

I hope this article has been helpful to you, and that you feel supported in your endeavor to bring mindfulness to everything you do.

Thanks for reading!

~Varun