Do you know those moments when you find yourself caught up in your thoughts, so intensely that you lose contact with the present moment?
Or do you have moments when your mind is so cluttered that you feel overwhelmed and no longer live in the present moment?
It happens to us all, sometimes, to live more in the head, with our thoughts as neighbors, and to function on autopilot. In that moment we disconnect from that moment leaving what we do in the hands of the automation.
A little mindfulness exercise can help us get back to the present moment. You can do this stress-free exercise with a cup of tea, and you can extend it to any other activities in your life.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a meditative practice by which we consciously choose to turn our attention to what is present. It can help us to connect with our own experiences and become aware of our internal states and our environment. For example, we may become aware of certain sensations in the body, certain emotions and thoughts, as well as the things that are in our environment (sounds, movements, things we touch, taste, smell or see)
Why is mindfulness important? Because it has many benefits for our health. In summary, here are some of these benefits:
- Mindfulness reduces stress and anxiety-provoking thoughts, helping us be more relaxed. We can also be calmer because we no longer focus on the negative thoughts that catapult us in the future (what if this / what if that) or in the past (if only I did … it would not have happened …), and it helps us ground in the here and now.
- It helps us to train our attention and filter the information that is not useful to us. This way we can focus better and be more efficient by eliminating what distracts us.
- Mindfulness helps us manage our emotions. Practicing mindfulness helps us become more aware of our own emotions and reactions to emotions.
- Because it reduces stress, mindfulness helps the immune system become stronger, improving the overall physical and mental health.
- Mindfulness helps us feel good and increases the quality of our lives and relationships.
What are a few tips for this mindfulness exercise?
Here’s how simple you can bring these benefits into your life with a simple cup of tea. Before the exercise, a few important tips:
- The tea you pick can be the one you like the most and if you want you can use your favorite cup.
- Choose a suitable place where you want to drink tea and do this exercise. It can be a relaxing place in nature or sitting on a chair, armchair or sofa.
- The basis for this mindfulness exercise is to focus on your five senses: sight, hear, smell, taste and touch.
- When you find yourself falling for your thoughts, without judging yourself, continue the exercise from where you left and guide your attention to one of your senses.
- Be open to what you see, hear, feel, without judging.
- You can do this mindfulness exercise without following all the steps in detail. Take these suggestions as a guide, the freedom of how you do the exercise being totally yours.
The mindfulness exercise itself
Start by sitting comfortably, with the cup of tea nearby. First, focus only on inhalation and exhalation. Feel the air enter your lungs and fill your chest. Follow the movements of the abdomen as it rises when you inhale and how it falls when you exhale.
If you sit in the armchair, focus on the points of contact with the armchair and the floor. Notice how you feel your body weight supported by the armchair. Move your attention to the point of contact between your soles and the floor. Do you feel your feet supported, relaxed? What other sensations do you have at that point of contact?
Bring your cup of tea in front of you and watch the water change its color when you put the tea bag in. Notice the cup, its colors, shape and temperature. When you become aware that your mind waders, and it will probably happen, turn your attention gently to what you were doing before.
For the time you leave the tea rest, be curious: what happens to the tea? can you smell it? are there any sounds you hear? Do you feel any sensation in the body?
When removing the tea bag from the cup, pay attention to its weight as you lift it, its color, to the sounds you hear as you put it aside.
If you want to sweeten the tea or add another ingredient to it, be careful about what you feel in your body when you go for that ingredient. How do you make this decision? What is the reason for your decision? Is it rather a habit to add that ingredient to your tea? As you mix in the tea, pay attention to the sounds the teaspoon makes when it touches the cup. How does the tea move, how the sugar / milk mixes with the tea. Are there any changes? What kind of changes?
When you take the cup of tea in your hand, what do you feel? What is the temperature of the cup? What else do you feel as you hold the cup in your hands?
When you want to drink tea, first look at the tea, notice its color again, smell it, listen to the sounds that you may hear. After that, drink some tea and focus on the taste of the tea. What do you notice? Does it taste different from other times when you drink it? Do you discover new accents? What new sensations are there?
When swallowing your tea pay attention to the sensations you have in your body. What else is there? Are there any thoughts coming back? What emotions do you feel?
Next time you sip tea you can close your eyes and repeat focusing on your senses. Do you notice anything different when you close your eyes and drink the tea compared to when you keep your eyes open?
As you drink the tea, do you notice how it gets colder gradually and so does the cup? Does the tea taste the same when it’s cold and when it’s hot? When you finish drinking the tea you can put the cup back in keeping the same level of awareness for movement, feelings and environment stimuli.
You can return to focusing on the contact between you and the armchair, the breath, as an ending to the mindfulness exercise.
Done. How do you feel now?
This was the mindfulness exercise with a cup of tea I suggested. You can extend this type of exercise to other activities, such as eating. Of course you do not have to follow exactly the steps I mentioned, these are just suggestions. You can add other steps you like, if you feel like doing this, and focus on other elements and senses, and you can even change the order in which you do this exercise.
- Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness. Monitor on Psychology, 43(7), 64. de Bruin, E. I., DOI: 10.1037/a0022062
- Donald, J. N., & Atkins, P. W. B. (2016). Mindfulness and coping with stress: Do levels of perceived stress matter? Mindfulness 7, 1423-1436. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0584-y
- Remmers, C., Topolinski, S., & Koole, S. L. (2016). Why being mindful may have more benefits than you realize: Mindfulness improves both explicit and implicit mood regulation. Mindfulness 7, 829-827. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0520-1