Want to ease stress, boost your memory and focus, improve your mood, and possibly even enhance your immune system? Practice mindfulness, which encourages us to keep our thoughts in the present moment instead of mulling over the past or worrying about the future. “It allows you to become more aware of what you’re sensing and feeling, which is important because you can then direct your attention away from negative thoughts or worries,” explains Urszula Klich, Ph.D., an Atlanta psychologist who leads health and wellness workshops across the country. This is especially key in August, as warm weather and beach days wind down and the inevitable “summer sads” kick in with the approach of fall.
It’s easy to feel daunted by the thought of including mindfulness in your daily routine, but don’t worry: “Even if you just practice it a few minutes, you’ll see benefits,” says Klich. Here are five small steps to get you on your way.
1. Take a deep breath or two.
Klich suggests you try this quick five-minute exercise at least three times a day: morning, night, and during a time when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. While sitting, close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath—the inhale, exhale, rise and fall of your abdomen, and the sensation of air moving through your nostrils. If you’re feeling particularly frazzled, you can help calm your mind by counting. Inhale deeply through your nose for three seconds, hold your breath for two, then exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
2. Embrace mindful eating.
“Whenever possible, I take at least one meal or snack break a day mindfully, where I pay attention to all the senses, sights, sounds, smell, texture of the food, and of course taste!” says Klich. “When you slow down, it’s amazing what you notice about food and your relationship to it.” Klich even guides people through what she calls the “raisin meditation,” a five-minute mindfulness practice that involves holding a raisin and gazing at it with your full attention. Explore every part of it—where light shines, darker hollows, its folds, ridges, and asymmetries. Turn it over between your fingers, and really focus on its texture. Now hold it beneath your nose and give it a good sniff, then bring it up to your lips and place it in your mouth; spend a few seconds exploring it with your tongue before chewing and swallowing it.
It’s easier to practice mindful eating when you practice clean eating as well. Focus on whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible (think raw fruits and veggies, whole grains like quinoa, and seeds and nuts). Opt for clean snacks like almonds, hummus with veggies, or even roasted chickpeas. One great option if you’re on the go is a Cherry Pie LÄRABAR. It’s gluten-free and non-GMO, with just three all-natural ingredients: unsweetened cherries, dates, and almonds.
3. Consider a walking meditation.
“Eighty percent of the people who come to see me find it very difficult to relax, since increasingly more of us are struggling with competitive, perfectionistic personality styles,’” says Klich. “They need something that keeps them active.” That’s why a walking meditation, which encourages you to focus your attention on the physical experience of walking and the specific components of each step, is a great idea. “It increases your awareness of what’s going on around you in the outside world, tuning you in to experiences that you can miss when you’re rushing around on autopilot,” she adds.
When you heighten your awareness of your physical state, walking meditation—like mindfulness in general—allows a greater sense of control over your emotions and feelings. You can do a walking meditation anywhere you like, adds Klich. When doing it, slow down your walking pace enough that you can concentrate on the three basic components: feeling your leg move forward, putting your foot down, and shifting weight to your other side as you move your other leg forward.
4. Show yourself some love.
It’s easy to beat yourself up over a bad situation, especially as the day progresses and stressful demands build. But rather than self-criticize, it’s important to show yourself some understanding and compassion, Klich stresses. All you need to do is repeat a statement like “May I feel safe, may I feel loved, may I live with ease” five to ten times. Research has found that people who give themselves these types of “self-compassion breaks” not only feel better about themselves, but they report less depression and anxiety.
5. Squeeze it in where you can.
During busy days, it’s tough to find time for a sit-down mindfulness session, even if it’s just for five minutes. “On days where there are too many deadlines or pressures, I pick something like handwashing that I may do several times a day,” explains Klich. “I allow myself to get absorbed in paying attention to all the aspects it involves: the sound of running water, the smell of the soap, the sight of the faucet, and the feeling of the towel against my hands.”
Make clean eating a mindful part of your lifestyle with LÄRABAR.