Finding mindful moments in ordinary activities

Tips for fitting mindfulness practices into your busy day.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Practicing mindfulness has proven to bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors. However, many people struggle to make time to find a quiet space to sit or lay down to practice mindful breathing, a body scan or other typical mindful practices. For some, even when they do find the space, it is often too difficult to keep their mind from wandering, and they spend much of the practice distracted with attempts to redirect focus.

The good news is that mindfulness practice does not have to be done in a quiet, dark space and it certainly would seem counter-active if it were considered a burdensome addition to your day. Fortunately, mindfulness can be practiced during everyday activities. When Jon Kabat-Zinn says mindfulness means paying attention, it can be paying attention to anything as long as it is intentional, keeps you in the present moment, and you are nonjudgmental with yourself when any thoughts or emotions may arise. So, how can an ordinary activity become a mindful activity?

I recently turned the ordinary act of brushing my daughter’s hair into a mindful experience. It was just the two of us together; she was sitting down in front of me and I began to brush her hair. I was intentional in noticing every detail I could about the experience. She sat in an upright position, her shoulders relaxed. As I ran the brush through her hair, I noticed how her long curls seemed to unwrap as the brush traveled through them and then spring back to life once they were released. Snarls began to untangle and each stroke became easier than the one before it. I saw how the ends of her blonde hair still held the summer sun and her darker autumn hair was beginning to grow out. I felt her breath slow as she leaned back into my knees. My breath slowed – my inhales became deep and my exhales elongated. I noticed the faint scent of her shampoo and her homemade mint tea she had carefully harvested that afternoon.

Neither of us spoke. We were there, together, in that present moment. There were no distractions. My mind was not wondering what to make for dinner, or replaying any incidences from earlier in the day. It was just that moment. I observed how long her hair had become over the summer; how shiny and silky it looked when the light from the window shone in on it. I paused to run my hand over her hair and felt the soft curls as they twisted through my fingers. I could sense her enjoyment of the process and I could feel my heart swell with love for my little girl.

I told myself that being here, in this precise moment, was exactly where I needed to be. I’m not sure how much time had passed before she stood up, turned around, kissed and thanked me before skipping out of the room, hair swinging, but it felt like the perfect amount. I was calm, relaxed and ready to carry that feeling with me into the rest of my day.

Though this may seem an informal way to practice mindfulness, through repeated conscious efforts we still gain the benefits of paying mindful attention such as:

  • Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
  • Improved memory and concentration
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better sleep
  • Increased immunity
  • Inclination towards positive emotions

What everyday activity can you turn into a mindful practice to improve your social emotional and physical health? Washing dishes? Folding laundry? Gardening?

Michigan State University Extension has Educators throughout the state who provide programming in mindfulness. 

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