But here's the thing: mindfulness does not have to be practiced in stillness, and it is certainly not doing nothing. When we are practicing mindfulness, we are actually training the mind to pay attention to the present moment, and that can take a lot of work on our part. While some mindfulness practices take place sitting or lying in stillness, others can be practiced in movement. Not all mindfulness practices are long - some can be short, or really, really short. And what's also beautiful about mindfulness is that it can be practiced almost anywhere, anytime.
How about practicing mindfulness while brushing your teeth? You might wonder how you could do that. All you need is something to place your attention on. Feel the motions of your hand and the brush moving up and down, back and forth; feel the sensations of brushing on the teeth, the gums, the tongue; feel the minty coolness and notice the taste of the toothpaste; notice the temperature of the water in your mouth. Notice the present state of your body instead of running through your to-do list in your mind.
Or how about when you're commuting on an MRT train? Instead of looking down at your phone (it is scary how uniform commuters look when everybody's heads are bowed down at their gadgets), notice your posture and the way you are sitting or standing; feel the floor at the bottoms of your feet; feel the texture of the pole you're holding on to; feel our breath in and under your nose.
You can also practice mindfulness when you're vacuuming your home, washing the dishes, driving, crossing the road, taking a shower, eating a meal, unlocking the door... The list is endless! Simply pay attention to what's present in your immediate environment - physical sensations in your body, movements, sounds, etc. This kind of daily life mindfulness practice, which we call informal practice (in contrast with formal practices of sitting on the cushion or chair or lying on the floor for a longer period of time), can last a few minutes or even just a few seconds or moments, but the benefits are tremendous.
That said, it is worth noting that both formal and informal practices are important in mindfulness training, and the best way to practice mindfulness is to find a balance between them both, which complement each other. While formal practice deepens our concentration and wisdom through observing the nature of our mind and body, informal practice allows us to incorporate awareness in our daily lives. When both practices are integrated as a way of life, we are training the brain's cognitive flexibility to effectively regulate our emotions, change our relationship with stress, and improve our health and well-being.
The author Erin is a Mindfulness Coach and Founder of Mindful Moments Singapore. Learn more about the research-based mindfulness training program she teaches.