At a desk, in the office, the shower or the forest…
Informal meditation practices are a massive part of my life. Yet they’re so fluid and organic that I hesitate to use the term ‘practice’. They reside in the spaces between formal practices like sitting meditation or yoga. They’re like pathways leading back into awareness. An antidote to ‘numbing out’ and living on autopilot. Some people call them ‘micropractices’.
Are there any scientific studies of the benefits of informal meditation practices? Probably but I haven’t found any good ones yet. While ‘formal’ meditation and mindfulness is increasingly well-researched, informal practices are harder to monitor and measure. They are more likely to rely on self-reported data. So instead I’ve chosen to share my own simple examples; anecdotal, practical and deeply personal.
Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing. Oscar Wilde
The following examples reflect my particular journey, personality traits and biases – and won’t work for everyone. But I find them powerful and relevant.
Hopefully they’ll inspire you to reflect and perhaps try something new.
1. Doing nothing
Personally, a few moments of restfully doing nothing can feel harder than hours of formal meditation. Stopping ‘for no reason’ is like medicine. Sometimes we are so attached to ‘doing’ that we even make relaxation into a task. So if you’re a Type A personality or habitual overachiever, try hanging out without a goal or a fancy breathing technique to accomplish.
2. Noticing my forehead
You may have heard of meditations like the inner smile. For me, noticing that I’m frowning is the real winner. Not just frowning, but any furrow of concentration that signifies mind-whirring or tension. If I can simply catch myself in the act, I naturally relax and drop back into my body. It’s a game changer. You might also try this with your lower belly or jaw.
3. Slowing down
How often do you get overtaken by another pedestrian? If the answer is ‘never/rarely’ then you may find this one useful. Simply slowing down is a huge practice for me, whether walking, cooking, eating, talking to colleagues or putting on moisturiser. While speed is sometimes warranted and enjoyable, it often indicates that I’ve lost connection with myself. Giving myself permission to go slow can be a profound act of gentleness and self-care.
4. “How do I feel?”
Are you open to a bit of self-talk? It comes quite naturally to me. While I’ve had mixed success using mantras and affirmations, one habit stuck: Asking myself “How do I feel?” throughout the day. In our hectic working lives it can be easy to ignore physical and emotional needs. This question can help escape the trap of perpetual thinking and doing. Also combines well with audio journaling.
5. Witnessing the breath
While it feels rather obvious and simplistic to include this, the breath is a classic for a reason. Some informal meditation practices favour taking three deep breaths, breathing into the belly or lengthening the inhale and/or exhale. Others recommend quieting the mind by focusing on the sensation in the lungs or in the nostrils. These have different benefits. Whichever you choose, the key is to actually do it. 🙂