Over and over patients tell me they want peace and calmness in their life, but the highway of life keeps them moving. Meditation? Slowing down? Who has time to sit around?! So if waking up twenty minutes early for meditation seems impossible or has been a challenge, join the crowd.
In our society, we are out of balance, spending most of our time in fight-or-flight mode (sympathetic system) and not enough time in rest and digest (parasympathetic), which restores the body. Meditative activities help shift your body into a healing state—and maintaining your parasympathetic tone may increase your longevity.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs have shown to reduce stress and promote optimal health. Without a book or CD, these practices are right under your nose. And they don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. With a few simple tools, you can quickly train your mind to find peace and calmness during routine daily activities, shifting your dial from the go-go-go setting to slow and easy.
1. Notice the surprise in your surroundings.
Paying attention and connecting to our environment can take you out of your overactive thoughts and slow down your rushing around. According to Elliott Dacher, M.D., a physician-turned-mindfulness trainer, sustaining awareness to what is actually occurring in the present moment develops a new habit—from mindlessness to mindfulness.
So while going from task to task, expand the depth of field of what you see. Let your eyes wander, not necessarily looking for something in particular, but simply scanning. Notice the details by using your senses to pick up on texture, sound, smells, and the nature of your surroundings. For example, notice new growth on a plant or gaze deeply into a pet’s eyes. Look out the window to find something new in your view.
By slowing your actions, you’ll be able to better stay in the present moment and cultivate your ability to focus. Studies have shown that an increased state of mindfulness allows you to more fully engage in making conscious, intentional life choices and promotes self-efficacy. The effects of training the mind will overflow into daily life, helping you to be less reactiveness, more patient, and more at ease.
2. Find the mystical in the mundane.
Andy Puddincombe, creator of Headspace says, “The present moment is so underrated!” The moments of the mundane, such as the drive, the dishes, the laundry, can often be the time when you anticipate the future, or ruminate about conversations or activities from the past, or fret about how much time you are “wasting.” Instead, everyday chores can have new meaning if you make use of the time by focusing your attention on being fully present with each activity. Granted, becoming one with the suds may not be your thing, but observe and actively participate in other routine activities.
Perhaps you are driving across town to meet a friend and get stuck in traffic. Your heartbeat quickens and your frustration goes up. Your adrenal glands get activated, then cortisol rises, fueled by your emotional response. Why go into an emotional spiral when you cannot do anything to change the situation? Be here now! Loosen the grip on the steering wheel, maintain your attention on the road ahead, soften your shoulders and remind yourself that you are operating a piece of machinery that allows you travel easily from one destination to the next.
Keep coming back to what is happening now. Meditate on the joy, convenience, blessing or benefit that comes from that particular activity. Unwrap the present (pun intended).
3. Demote the task master.
Does your day begin with multi-tasking to the max? Talking, eating, dressing, listening, TV, podcasts, driving, or texting (I shall not mix the two)! You’re hopping with one shoe on, toothbrush in your mouth, and looking for the other shoe. I get it. But what about doing just one thing at a time? Yes, it will mean slowing down.
Try delineating some of your tasks into individual ceremonies of appreciation. Eat without looking at texts or emails and appreciate the flavors. Listen without talking and focus on the other person as a person. One of my clients makes a ceremony out of preparing her morning coffee, measuring whole beans to water ratio, heating nut milk on the stove, then sitting on the couch in her living room to savor the flavors and appreciate the foliage into her backyard or an exchange with her pets.
You’ve heard, “One day at a time,” so why not one thing at a time? Rick Hanson has a treasure of ideas about slowing down in Just One Thing. One of his suggestions is to take a break during the day—even for one or two minutes; Hanson says, the cumulated effects add up. My favorite is:
Take lots of microbreaks: Many times a day, step out of the stream of doingness for at least a few seconds: close your eyes for a moment; take a couple of deep breaths; shift your visual focus to the farthest point you can see; repeat a saying or prayer; stand up and move about.
Spending more time in a calm state, allows the parasympathetic system, rest-and-digest, to heal your body and mind. It also affects how you respond to stressful situations—always a benefit for interpersonal relationships.
I love this brief TED Talk by Andy Puddincombe, creator of headspace.com, who intelligently designed an approachable meditation practice online, accessible to all. There’s even an app for it. Anyone can afford ten minutes a day!
Eager to get more calm in your life? Check out my new book, Younger, which includes a whole chapter on how to boot out stress, and usher in tranquility. Order yours today and find your ideal state of mind.
 Dacher. E. Aware, Awake, Alive: A Contemporary Guide to the Ancient Science of Integral Health and Human Flourishing. St. Paul: Parragon House, 2011.
 Oberg, E., et al. “Self-Directed Mindfulness-Training and Improvement in Blood Pressure, Migraine Frequency, and Quality of Life.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine March (2013):20-25.
 Dacher. E., 2011.
 Seaward., B. Essentials of Managing Stress.(Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett, 2011) 199.
 Hansen, R. Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Oakland: New Harbinger, 2011.