There's more to mindfulness than meditation

There’s more to mindfulness than meditation

Incorporating mindfulness into our lives can reduce our anxiety, stress, ‘burnout’, and generally improves our psychological well being. It can also help pain with management and other physical difficulties. Mindfulness is commonly linked to meditation, which isn’t an activity that appeals to everyone; however there are other ways to include mindfulness in your life. 

Mindfulness in a nutshell

Mindfulness is about being in the present moment; basically focusing our attention on all our senses, surroundings, feelings and thoughts we’re having during our current experience. The combination of our mind’s attention and our body’s sensations help us focus on the present moment. Whether or not you’re spiritual or religious doesn’t affect your ability to do mindfulness – it’s a skill we can all practice no matter who we are or where we’re from.

Meditation is a form of mindfulness; it’s the training of our minds to focus our attention; usually on breathing or repeating a particular mantra or thought. Despite meditation’s known benefits to both mental and physical health, the formal, disciplined and ‘non-doing’ qualities of this activity can put some people off. And if something doesn’t appeal to your preferences or skills you won’t be motivated to do it. The good news is that there are other ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your life and see the benefits on your health and wellbeing. 

Mindful ‘doing’

We can experience the benefits of mindfulness by doing things in a mindful way; being fully engaged in what we are doing. This means reducing distractions, focusing on the task and all our senses involved in the experience. Being fully engaged in an activity you value gives you the same increased involvement and awareness experienced through mindfulness meditation. You can incorporate this mindful ‘doing’  into regular day-to-day activities.

For example you enjoy being outside and walking, running, or cycling. When you do this, are you paying attention to that particular experience or are you checking your phone, your pace or step count, or thinking about what you’re doing later? Next time you go out try switching your phone on silent and keeping it in your pocket, avoid checking your tracker, switch the music off and just be present. Use all your senses; listen to the sounds where you are, take in your surroundings, touch the plants, trees, fences you walk past (if appropriate!), and focus on what you’re doing. This is mindfulness. 

The same goes for cooking or baking. Try to be more present by switching off that series or music in the background, putting your phone away and focus on the task; the recipe, the smells, sounds, sights and textures of the ingredients. Notice whether you feel different after you’ve finished, for example calmer or more positive. You can apply this way of ‘doing’ to anything in your life so, without meaning to sound like a broken record, you can make it work for you. Other mindful activities can include art, woodwork, gardening, yoga (the list goes on!) You can apply mindful ‘doing’ to an activity you enjoy, or even something that’s part of your daily routine like eating a meal, doing the washing up, walking to the local shop, or brushing your teeth. 

As with any skill, mindfulness takes practice (whether it’s mindful meditation or mindful doing) so don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders or you’re tempted to take a sneaky look at your phone the first few times. Just bring your attention back to the activity and the present moment and keep practicing. You’ll find it’ll get easier over time and hopefully you’ll see the benefits too. 

Photo by Vero Photoart on Unsplash

Sources

Baer, R.A. et al (2006) Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness, Assessment, 13(27), pp. 27–45.

Elliot, M.L. (2011) Being mindful about mindfulness: An invitation to extend occupational engagement into the growing mindfulness discourse, Journal of Occupational Science, 18(4), pp. 366–376.

Hardison, M. & Roll, S.C. (2016) Mindfulness for Physical Rehabilitation in Occupational Therapy: A Scoping Review, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70 (online).

Holzel, B.K. et al (2011) How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), pp. 537–559.

Jones, J. et al (2020) Mindful Meditation to Reduce Stress in Young Adults, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74 (online).

Luken, M. & Sammons, A. (2016) Systematic Review of Mindfulness Practice for Reducing Job Burnout, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70 (online).

Reid, D. (2011) Mindfulness and flow in occupational engagement: Presence in doing, Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 78(1), pp. 50–56.

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