Rather than seeing mindfulness as a complicated, time-consuming task to add to the to-do list, try to find time for reflection in your daily routine
The benefits of mindfulness are plentiful, yet sometimes the advice on how to live a more reflective life in a busy world can seem contradictory, with gurus offering enlightenment through complex and lengthy routines and exercises. The truth is that you can reach a state of gentle meditation without the need for prolonged spells of sitting still while the daily to-do list screams for your attention. Those must-do chores won’t go away, so why not combine them with a healthy dose of mindfulness and experience the best of both worlds?
Teacher, consultant and therapist Kathryn Lovewell is a passionate believer in the benefits of approaching routine activities with thoughtful love and attention. She delivers a training program in Mindful Self-Compassion, where participants are encouraged to practise mindfulness in daily life – essentially looking at everyday tasks in a new light. ‘Things like making your afternoon cup of tea or taking a hot morning shower are just perfect,’ she says.
It sounds easy enough, but where do you start? During the course Kathryn invites participants to get in the zone by choosing an activity they do every day. ‘Pick something you would usually do without thinking,’ she says. ‘Bring it to mind and visualise yourself doing it. Fully immerse yourself in it, pay attention to your senses and really savour the experience.’
There are many benefits – physical, mental and emotional – to be had by practising this method. In just a few minutes your mind becomes calmer, stress hormones are reduced and your body relaxes. By focusing on the here and now you move away from thoughts of situations that may be getting you down or causing stress. This helps to distance yourself from any unpleasant emotions that situation may be causing. And by embedding this fresh approach in your normal day-to-day routine you establish a new healthy habit that also brings the benefits of mindfulness.
Bank employee, Ruth Atkinson, has taken the mindful approach to washing up: ‘I’ve always been quite particular about washing the dishes,’ she says. ‘I like to do it “properly”, but have recently found it particularly therapeutic. I start with putting on my rubber gloves and like to soak up the fragrance of the washing-up liquid while swirling the water. I’m quite methodical, washing items in a particular order and working through from cutlery up to pans, lining everything up as I go. It feels so satisfying and soothing.
‘Even if the family are in the kitchen, it’s something I like to do in silence. It’s become a ritual and I always finish by burning some incense. It’s as though I’m “putting the kitchen to bed” after the evening meal,’ she says. ‘The kitchen window looks out onto the garden, which my dad takes great pride in keeping beautiful, and I pause regularly to take a good look at it. I love noticing the changes from day to day – it rained heavily one day last week and the flowers seemed more vibrant afterwards. It’s nice to chat to my dad later about what I’ve noticed. He seems to appreciate this and that’s a lovely bonding experience in itself.’
A soothing ritual, the beauty of nature, precious bonding time and a chore ticked off. Almost makes you want to reach for the Marigolds, doesn’t it?
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
Start by choosing an everyday activity. Keep it simple. It could be brushing your teeth, preparing breakfast or, like Ruth, washing up after a meal. Here we’re using the example of hanging out the laundry:
Before you get started, take three deep breaths: in through your nose, filling your lungs with air and pushing out your belly, before slowly exhaling through your mouth as though you are gently blowing out a candle.
Notice the shapes your arms make as you take each garment out of the laundry basket and hang it onto the line. Is your back straight or slightly bent as you lift?
Watch how blouses, T-shirts and even socks move with the wind. Now look around you. What else is happening in your yard, garden or on the balcony? Are there leaves on the ground, clouds in the sky? Can you see any birds or wildlife?
Can you make out the fragrance of your cleaner or fabric softener? And what other scents are competing with it?
Is there dew in the air that’s fallen onto your lips? What sensation does it bring?
What sounds can you hear? The whoosh of freshly laundered sheets taken up by the wind? Is there traffic noise in the background? Tune in to what’s around you.
Finish with three long, slow, deep breaths, as before. Close your eyes for a moment. Pause to check how you feel in that moment before continuing with the rest of your day.