Mindfulness involves deliberately paying attention to the present, on purpose and without judgement. As well as cultivating mindfulness through meditation exercises, it is something you can also try with everyday activities.
Here I've adapted a short mindful eating practice for you to try with a small chocolate egg this Easter - or any other chocolate you happen to have lying around...I hope you enjoy it:)
Before you start the practice:
- get a small piece of chocolate (I've written this practice with a small chocolate egg in mind, but you can use any piece of chocolate really - it is best to choose something that won't melt immediately in your hand. If you don't want to use chocolate, a small piece of fruit or a nut will do just fine.
- read through the guidance in this blog, so you get a rough idea of what you're going to be doing for the next 5-10 minutes.
- find a time and a place where you are unlikely to be interrupted – put aside anything that might distract you (ahem, yes, your phone included if you can).
- acknowledge any expectations that you might have about the practice, but try as best you can to let those expectations go; there is no right or wrong way to feel when you do the exercise, no 'getting it right', or 'nailing it'. It might also be different each time you do it. So if you feel 'bored', 'frustrated', 'dreamy', 'self-conscious' or 'relaxed' that is just your experience - just notice it without needing to evaluate or analyse why that might be the case.
- remember that if your mind wanders away during the practice, that is perfectly normal – whenever that happens, just notice where it has wandered off to (shopping in Sainsbury's, writing an email, stroking the cat, wanting to eat the chocolate quicker) and then gently, patiently but persistently guide it back to the exercise.
1. Take a few moments to touch the chocolate egg. Feel the weight it in the palm of your hand – does it feel lighter or heavier than you were expecting? Roll it between the tips of your thumb and forefinger – is it rough to touch; smooth; hot; cold?
2. Now look at the chocolate egg – imagine this was the first time you’d been given a mini chocolate egg in your life and you were exploring what it looks like for the first time. What shape is it? Does it look rough or smooth? What colour is it? Is the colour uniform all the way across? Does holding it up to the light change its colour at all?
3. If your mind has wandered at this or any other point, or is thinking ‘I just want to eat it; what am I doing etc.’ then just notice that has happened, and gently guide it back to noticing and paying attention to what you are doing right now, which at the moment is looking at the chocolate egg.
4. Next, with your eyes open or closed, smell the chocolate egg– hold it up to your nose and take a good sniff! Does it smell as you were expecting? If there is no smell, notice this too.
5. Bring the food up to your lips and place it on the edge of your lip – notice how the hand knows exactly where to go automatically. What does that contact feel like? Can you notice the temperature of the food? Are there any sensations in the mouth as you get ready to eat it?
6. Place the food in your mouth and let it rest it on your tongue without chewing for a few moments – notice any sensations in your mouth as it gets ready to eat the food.
7. Bite into the chocolate egg slowly – notice the sound, texture, smell and flavour that comes from biting into the food. What can you notice happening in the mouth as you slowly chew? Is it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? Does it change from one bite to the next? Slowly continue eating the chocolate egg in this way.
8. Notice the effects of swallowing and the after effects of eating – what does swallowing feel like? Does the flavour disappear or fade straight away or does it stay in your mouth for a while?
- What did you notice when you were eating the chocolate egg in this way?
- Did it change your ‘usual’ experience of eating (whether that change was pleasant, unpleasant or just neutral)?
- Did your mind wander? Remember that it is normal – a key part of the practice is noticing when that has happened and gently guiding it back.
This practice was an example of how we can become more aware of and tuned into our experience in the present by paying attention in detail to an everyday experience. By regularly practising mindfulness, we can help ourselves be in the present moment more often, which in turn can help us manage stressful and difficult situations more effectively.