Are you fully here right now? Experiencing everything that this moment is offering?
We’ve all had times when our whole world shifts and we need to scramble to keep up, but the good news is that there are simple habits you can develop that can keep you on track and clear your mind.
These habits form part of relaxation, which is a part of life that you should not undervalue as it is just as important as your working life.
Why are life, relaxation, and mindfulness habits so important?
To exercise mindfulness will lead you to being more mindful and the best way to do these exercises is to form habits that you know work.
Being mindful of your life is priceless as it keeps you from rushing through life without wringing every drop of experience and excellence that you can out of it.
This mindfulness is not just a mindfulness of your surroundings — although we can all do with stopping and smelling the roses — but being mindful of your thoughts, emotions, and actions at any given time.
It’s not just seizing the day, but seizing the day with the intent to better yourself and the world around you.
Many people swear by their habit of journaling daily to keep them not only more relaxed, but also to clear their mind every morning or every evening of thoughts and worries.
Hal Elrod, who wrote The Miracle Morning (2012), said:
“Writing in a journal each day allows you to direct your focus to what you accomplished, what you’re grateful for and what you’re committed to doing better tomorrow. Thus, you more deeply enjoy your journey each day.”
When and how to practice journaling
How you journal is up to you — whether you want to use a note taking or journaling app, software like Notion, or good ol’ pen and paper.
Your journal can be a gratitude journal, a prayer or meditative journal and a place where you “brain dump” and just write down everything that you’re thinking of — the good, the bad, and the troubling. There is something about seeing things written down that makes them more concrete and you can work on concrete things much easier than you can when it’s just a flighty thought.
When you journal, however, always take time to think about what you are grateful for and try to name three things every day that you are grateful for (not the same things every day!).
This exercise will soon enough become a habit and a more positive lens through which you view your day-to-day life and the world as a whole.
Journaling also don’t have to take hours every day. Take a few minutes in the morning before you truly start your day or in the evening before bed to journal. If you are using a journaling app, you can even jot down thoughts and experiences throughout the day.
Ideas for starting your journal
Now that you have a blank page or screen in front of you, you may wonder what to start writing. This is especially true if you’ve never journaled before (or the last time you did you were only doodling your crush’s name and hearts).
Here are some ideas that you can use in your journal to get you started:
- What is one way that you were able to show love and kindness today?
- What is an act of kindness that you can do either tomorrow or this week to make the world a bit of a better place? (This can be as easy as talking to an old friend or someone you haven’t had contact with in a while to hear how they are — and truly care how they are doing.)
- What is your favorite hobby or activity and what about it makes it your favorite?
- What is your favorite season and why?
- Where do you want to be this time next year? Which specific steps can you take to fulfill this goal?
Journaling can be a kind of meditation for you, but you can also take time out of your day to meditate or pray (or both).
2. Meditation and Prayer
While people have been turning to meditation and prayer for thousands of years and have found (sometimes massive) benefit from it, science is only now starting to catch up and understand what goes on in the brain and body while you meditate or pray.
Dr. David Spiegel from Stanford University, who is the Associate Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said that: “Praying involves the deeper parts of the brain … the mid-front and back portions“. This can be seen through magnetic image resonance (MRI) and it’s these parts of the brain that is involved in reflection — in self-reflection and self-soothing.
This deep reflection during meditation and prayer can help you to deal with stress, negative situations, and trauma in a positive way — not least because it makes you stop and think twice before doing something.
The therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer notes that:
“Prayer and meditation are highly effective in lowering our reactivity to traumatic and negative events … they are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves”.
Because you are forced to focus while meditating and praying, you don’t go into a “fight or flight” mode, but go into an intentional, mindful state. Hokemeyer adds that this makes us re-engage the part of the brain that rules our executive functioning, leading us to make intelligent, mindful decisions.
Just think of the positive impact taking time to meditate or pray daily can have on you and your thought patterns!
Habitual meditation can furthermore help with mental health issues like:
- Social Anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
3. Self-massage (Abhyanga)
Practiced daily or weekly, self-massage — also called abhyanga in ayurveda — is not only relaxing and great for your skin, it also renews and rejuvenates the body and mind as impurities and toxins are flushed out.
This ritual (or habit, if you prefer) is done at home in a warm room with warmed oil.
How to self-massage at home
- Make sure that the room that you are using are warm enough to be comfortable, for example the bathroom after you’ve had a hot bath.
- Fill a bowl with warm water and put your bottle of massage oil into it (closed so the oil doesn’t spill). Leave it for about 15 minutes until the oil have warmed up.
- Pour a little oil on your hands and then, starting with your scalp, start massaging your body with sweeping strokes and a steady pressure.
“Massage the back of your neck, and when you get to your throat, massage in an upward movement. Massage the arms and legs in the direction of your heart, with long strokes on the muscles and circular movements on the joints. Use your palms to massage the chest and abdomen in a clockwise direction. Massage your hips and your bottom before moving onto the tops and soles of your feet. Give your hands some loving attention, both on the palms and the backs of the hands.”
Nicole Taylor, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist
- Once you’ve finished the massage, take a soothing bath or shower to wash away the oils and toxins.
For oil you can use sesame oil or coconut oil as they will both be warming. You can also add oils like lavender, clary sage, or rosemary.
4. Cold Showers
You’re probably look at the words “cold showers” and saying to yourself “the what now?” but taking cold showers have actually been shown to hold quite a few benefits like:
- Increased endorphins — In a clinical trial, Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression by Nikolai A. Shevchuk, it was shown that a cold shower of about 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times a week (once or twice daily) relieved the symptoms of depression.
- Helps to improve metabolism and improve circulation — If you want to lose weight, taking cold showers to give your metabolism a boost is not a bad idea at all. While it won’t let you shed the pounds all on its own, the benefits it does hold when coupled with other lifestyle changes can be well worth it.
- May strengthen your immune system — Our bodies adapt and become resistant to the environment and elements that we are exposed to. To name one example, we can look at leukocytes that help to fight infection in the body. When you take a cold shower, the shock of cold water stimulates leukocytes which in turn can help your resistance to colds, flu, and other common illnesses. People who take cold showers as part of their routine have been shown to take less time off work because of illness.
- Relieves inflammation — Think of a cold shower as a giant ice pack that you put on your body. The cold water let blood vessels restrict and this in turn reduces inflammation. You can even take a cold shower after a workout to cool down and recover faster.
- It wakes you up fast — Not a morning person but want to become one and join the 5am club? A cold shower will wake you up in no time at all!
Although cold showers per se are not the only treatment for a condition, it may help to strengthen your body, relieve stress, and even soothe some symptoms (for instance those associated with inflammation).
* Note that you should always talk to your health care specialist before starting cold showers, especially if you have underlying heart conditions.
5. Conscious Breathing
We breathe nearly 23,000 every day, but, for the most part, we are not conscious of doing so. Being mindful or conscious of your breathing can, however relieve anxiety and stress as well as give you more energy.
Conscious breathing is done through certain breathing exercises that we’ll discuss below. You can start with as little as 2 to 5 minutes a few times a day — and even put conscious breathing on your schedule or habit tracker to make sure that you do them.
Here are 9 breathing exercises from Healthline that you can try out yourself:
- Pursed lip breathing — Very good to practice while bending, lifting, or climbing stairs, pursed lip breathing is done by relaxing your neck and shoulders and inhaling through your nose for 2 counts. Then, purse your lips and exhale slowly through your lips for 4 counts.
- Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) — After doing belly breathing you’ll feel relax and rested while also learning how to use your diaphragm properly. Do this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 4 times per day. At the beginning of the exercise you may feel tired and the technique seem unnatural, but after some practice it will become easier. To do belly breathing, lie on your back with your knees bent and then place one hand on your upper chest and the other below your ribcage. Inhale through your nose. You’ll feel your stomach pressing into your hand. When you exhale, use pursed lips and tighten your stomach muscles. Remember to keep your upper hand still. Once you’re used to this exercise, you can also do it sitting in a chair. Think of a focus word that will help you relax and repeat this word through your practice. Start with doing this exercise for 10 minutes and then build it up to 20 minutes. Inhale peace and calm and exhale tension and anxiety.
- Lion’s breath (simhasana) — This breathing exercise is actually an energizing yoga breathing practice. This exercise relieves tension you have in your face and chest. To do the lion’s breath exercise, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position and then press your palms with your fingers splayed against your knees. Inhale deeply through your nose, open your eyes and mouth wide and stick out your tongue. Bring the tip of your tongue down towards your chin and make a long “ha” sound. Do this 2 to 3 times.
- Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana pranayama) — Best done on an empty stomach, alternate nostril breathing can enhance cardiovascular function as well as lower your heart rate. To do the exercise, sit comfortably and lift your right hand towards your nose. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril and breathe through your left nostril. Then, close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers, release your right nostril, and breathe through your right nostril. Repeat for up to 5 minutes, finishing your session by exhaling on your left side.
- Equal breathing (sama vritti) — This exercise focuses on making your inhales and exhales the same length to bring about balance and equanimity. Try to keep your breaths between 3 and 5 counts to ensure that you don’t breathe too fast and that you are able to complete the exercise. To do the exercise, sit comfortable and breathe through your nose. Then, count through every in- and exhale to ensure they’re the same length. You can also use a phrase that you repeat during each inhale and exhale. Pause after breathing in and out. Do this for 5 minutes.
- Resonant breathing — Also called “coherent breathing” is breathing at a rate of only 5 breaths per minute — therefore inhaling for the count of 5 and then exhaling for the count of 5. This will maximize your heart rate variability, reduce stress and can even relieve some of the symptoms of depression.
- Deep breathing — Short of breath? Then deep breathing may help as it prevents air from getting trapped in your lungs and helps you to breathe in more fresh air. It can also help you feel more relaxed and centered. You can do this exercise standing or sitting. Draw your elbows back slightly to allow your chest to expand before inhaling deeply through your nose. Hold your breath for 5 counts and then slowly exhale through your nose. This creates an almost instant calm and soothing affect.
- Sitali breath — Also a yoga breathing practice, Sitali breath is done as follows — sit comfortably and stick out your tongue. Curl your tongue to bring the outer edges together or purse your lips. Inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose. Continue this exercise for 5 minutes.
- Humming bee breath (bhramari) — Humming bee breath can be used to relieve frustration, anxiety, and anger (just make sure you won’t disturb anyone with your humming). To do this exercise, sit comfortably, close your eyes and relax your face. Place your first fingers on the tragus cartilage that partially covers your ear canal. Inhale and gently press into the cartilage as you exhale. Keep your mouth closed while doing this and make a loud humming sound. Keep going for as long as it is comfortable.
Just like everyone has to breathe, everyone also has to eat. But rushing through your food isn’t good for you.
6. Mindful Eating
When last did you really savor your food? Truly thinking about every bite, all the different tastes and textures, only focusing on your food and not on the newest series you’re watching?
Eating mindfully is not just important to keep from overeating at any meal, but also to ground yourself in the moment and really live in the moment. It means listening to your body and all your senses while you eat even the simplest of food.
One of the mindfulness exercises that you can do, is to take a bite-sized piece of fruit or dried fruit — for example a raisin — and eat it while sitting down comfortably. First, look at the raisin in your hand and feel the texture between your fingers. Close your eyes and focus only on the taste, texture and smell.
Try to do this during every meal or snack instead of quickly gulping food down during lunchtime at your desk.
Not only will you enjoy your food more, you will also practice living in the moment.
7. Listening to Music
Psychology Today calls music and mindfulness “complimentary practices” and they couldn’t be more right. Music can truly soothe the soul if you let it and use it in the right way.
While many coping skills during a time of stress can be unhealthy (like turning to drugs and alcohol or other self-destructive behavior), turning to music can have wonderful, positive, and healthy outcomes.
For example, a study reported on by the American Psychological Association showed that when live music sessions — particularly singing — were performed for premature babies, their heart rates decreased, their sucking behaviors improved and even the parents reported less stress themselves.
You can also experience music’s stress-relieving qualities — not to mention its other healing properties — by listening to either live or recorded music. You probably also have that one song that you love and that always cheers you up in moments. When you feel unmotivated, get that afternoon slump, or need a few minutes’ relaxation, you will find that putting on some headphones and listening (or even dancing) away can make a big impact on your mood and energy levels.
Music really does influence your health!
The author of This is Your Brain on Music (2007), Daniel J. Levitin says that there is compelling evidence for the use of musical interventions in health care, from operating theaters to family clinics.
By listening to and playing music, researchers have found, your body produces more of the antibodies called immunoglobulin A and “natural killer cells” — those cells that attack invading viruses and boost your immune system. Music also reduces cortisol, which is one of the stress hormones in our bodies. Music really does influence your health!
Other research that are being conducted in the field of music and health includes the use of music to help patients dealing with pain, depression and maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.
Joanne Loewy, the co-editor of the academic journal Music and Medicine, said: “Music very much has a way of enhancing quality of life and can, in addition, promote recovery.”
Reaching “flow state” using music
Whether you choose Baroque music, Gregorian chant, lo-fi beats, ASMR mimicking a coffee shop or Ravenclaw common room, or the ambiance of Skyrim, getting the right sound environment around you is important if you want to reach “flow state” with ease and remain in this deep work state while working.
There are many Classical music, ambient music, and ASMR channels on YouTube that you can use to help you discern which music or sounds work best for you.
8. Arts and Crafts — making creativity a daily habit
We’ve left one of the best habits for last — fueling your creativity through arts, crafts, and hobbies.
Studies have shown (and knitters and crocheters have long attested) that knitting and crocheting lessens their stress and anxiety. It also holds the following benefits:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Slowed onset of dementia (Many older people have also noted that their thoughts seem to remain clear because of the concentration, counting, etc. that these crafts take to do.)
- Distraction from chronic pain
- Increased sense of wellbeing
- Reduced loneliness and isolation
Thanks to services like Bluprint and oodles of tutorials on YouTube, you can also quite easily learn these crafts if you don’t have anyone to teach you in person.
Embroidery holds much of the same stress-relieving qualities, although it is not quite as portable as knitting and crochet!
However, you don’t just have to work with yarn and thread — painting, drawing, coloring, and even woodwork or ice sculpture (you be you!) can all inspire creativity while also relieving stress, anxiety, and more.
Although there are other life habits and daily habits that you can cultivate — for example exercising and stretching (or doing yoga) everyday — it is important not to take on too much all at once. Rather, choose one new habit to start with and implement it over the course of a few weeks before adding another. By doing this, you can also find out what works for you and what doesn’t.
Now all you need to do is seize the day. Carpe diem!