Mindfulness is a word that’s been doing the rounds for a while now. Say it and you probably picture a meditation retreat, or in my case, just sitting in nature, eyes closed, tea cup in one hand. The term was coined by great Buddhist scholar T.W. Rhys Davids at the dawn of the 20th century. Buddhist texts in the ancient language of Pali speak of a word called Sati, that roughly translates to present-moment awareness. In the words of Bhikkhu Anālayo, a Buddhist monk, sati involves remembering to focus on “what is otherwise too easily forgotten: the present moment.”
Does mindfulness have great benefits? Well, in the words of the famous Oprah Winfrey, “Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” Breathing is an age-old technique for instant mindfulness. It reminds you of the reality of your beating heart, and takes your mind off what happened yesterday or what’s going to happen tomorrow. The direct benefit of that is reduced stress, lowered blood pressure, better sleep, fewer anxiety attacks and is even said to help with gastrointestinal problems! Moreover, staying mindful of the present moment is key to leading a happy, fulfilled life.
So does one have to only be in meditation or doing breathing exercises to be mindful? Are there other enjoyable activities that promote mindfulness? The good news is that there are many. This is the criteria for a mindfulness activity: It should definitely be enjoyable, it should make you focus on the present moment, and it should ‘get you in the flow’, where your brain switches off from to-do lists and outside distractions.
These are a few activities I do that make me instantly mindful:
1. Whip up a quick meal to get into the zone:
For me, this is either weekday dinner or a weekend breakfast. These are two times of the week that I relax and unwind. Since I’m not cooking for anyone else at the time, the pressure of getting it right is low, and I enjoy the aromas, and adding ingredients based on my intuition and not a recipe. These are also the times of day where my mind isn’t distracted by tasks I need to complete. Even if they do pop up, I make a note of them and schedule them for later.
2. Tidy and decorating shelves can be oh-so-calming:
Are you someone who is creative and feels gratified after completing chores? Well tidying and decorating might just be the hobby for you! Now, cleaning may not sound like a hobby, but you can always make it fun! I usually play a peppy playlist while sorting out shelves and add some flowers, candles or curios to change up the décor. Not only is it productive to get some spring cleaning in, it also stirs up my creative streak. Mindfulness at its best.
3. Writing a handwritten letter to a loved one:
Does your relationship with a faraway friend need some TLC? Nothing spells individual attention like a handwritten note. Moreover, pouring your thoughts, ideas and struggles onto a piece of paper can be oh-so-therapeutic. There’s something about putting pen to paper that connects mind, body and soul. It truly puts you in the flow. You can make the experience even more enjoyable by using your favourite stationery, pens and the works!
4. A bath tub soak for the mindful soul:
There’s a reason water is said to be the most calming element. The gurgling sounds of fountains or the swoosh of waves can instantly release your tensions and focus on the moment at hand. When I can’t take a dip in the ocean, I do the next best thing. I fill my tub with some warm water, some drops of my favourite essential oils and take a soak. You can use the time to read a book, have a glass of wine but for real mindfulness, try to listen to the sounds of water. There’s no relaxation like that. On days when I want to switch up the routine, I play a forest sound track on Youtube and immerse myself in the moment. When your mind can transport you to another world, why wait for any means of conveyance?
5. Learning a new language can fire new brain connections:
Have an upcoming holiday or a dream travel destination? Why not learn a few common phrases from the language of that country or state? Learning a new language forces our brain cells to ditch the old conditioning and adapt to new patterns. It’s like giving your mind a fresh workout! I use Babble (a language app) on my phone and learn two new phrases each time I open it. It makes me feel productive and gratified at the same time! Try it. Since you’ll be learning something new, your mind will be so focused on the moment that it’ll have little time for distractions. Who knew, being present can be productive as well!
Mindfulness can come out of anything that truly gets you in the flow, something you enjoy doing which takes your mind off distractions. We all lead busy lives, worrying about the future, and constantly ticking off a mental to-do list. Often, meditation can feel like a waste of time (it isn’t when you start enjoying its many benefits) but some hectic days just don’t allow us the luxury. In that case, pick an activity that’s productive and mindful! It’s just the refresh your mind, body and soul needs.