Mindfulness awareness has a multitude of benefits, not least becoming aware of our mind's tricky tendencies to time travel to unhelpful destinations. Practising simple mindfulness techniques helps to develop our focus of attention, realise that we have control over where we place our attention and to become more adept at noticing what is helpful or not to us in any given moment. We can learn to notice when we have zoned out and gone into autopilot where we might easily find ourselves worrying about things that haven't happened yet, or ruminating over things which already have.
Busy minds need a bit of TLC and you can consider a mindfulness exercise just the kind of care your mind needs. Even if you consider yourself time-poor, you can easily slot mindfulness into your day effortlessly by using snack time as a few minutes where you can practise paying attention and bringing yourself fully into contact with the present moment.
Mindful eating exercise
Here we are going to practise paying attention mindfully with a small orange, satsuma or other piece of fruit. We will use all five senses to observe and take in every aspect of the fruit. The key to this exercise is in setting an intention to bring your awareness fully to the fruit as if it were the first time you had ever seen such an object. No matter how many times you try this exercise, set an intention to be curious and open attitude about what this moment has to offer. I might be asking you a couple of seemingly funny questions which might make you laugh or wonder why, but be assured there's a reason for it which I hope will become clearer to you by the end... Just go with the process of paying attention and see what happens.
Here are the simple steps. Take a read through a couple of times before trying this on your own. I've based the instructions on using a satsuma as the focus, so please adapt as you like.
First take your piece of fruit and weigh it up in your hands. Get a sense of the texture of the skin, the temperature, the weight, how it feels in the palm of your hand, how it feels as you run your fingertips across its surface. What do you notice here? Spend a few moments doing this.
Next we are going to use our sense of smell to breathe in the scent of the satsuma. What do you notice here? Try to stay with just sensing the fruit, perhaps notice if your mind begins to make associations. It may well do, our mind likes to join the dots!
Your mind will likely wander or begin thinking about things as you move through this exercise, so just notice make a note of these thoughts, and come back to paying full attention using your five senses.
Next take a good look at the fruit. Noticing its visual qualities - colour, shape, any irregularities, the stalk, surface texture. Just take it in - looking for details. Keep an eye out for any tendency to make comparisons or judge the fruit! You'd be surprised how often our mind rushes to judgements.
You could try next bringing the satsuma up to your ear and listening to the sound it makes when you squeeze it or tap it. What sound does a satsuma make? (I'll bet you never wondered that before!)
Next take a few moments to peel your fruit. Noticing how this feels as you carry out this simple everyday task. Bring your awareness to your sense of smell and touch as you go... What is here for you as you do this?
Take your time next to undo a segment from the whole and review the segment using as many of your senses as you wish.
When you are ready, take a piece of satsuma and place it on your lips noticing the sensations of touch before placing it in your mouth. Pay attention to the possibility of an instinctive reaction to bite straightaway and instead linger a moment or two on what you notice. Bite when you are ready but slow this action down so you can pay attention to the process of what happens, noticing sensations and flavour.
Bring the practise to a close when you are ready, extending it for as long as you would like.
When you are finished, it's good to reflect on your findings of mindful eating... what did you notice? Was anything surprising? Where did your mind go? How satisfying was it to eat the orange in this way? What do you miss when you eat on autopilot? How might applying some of your findings help you with any problems you are experiencing?
I hope you've found something helpful in this exercise. As I mentioned, you can try this with any snack or drink and just apply the same principles.
If you'd like to try this exercise with chocolate, there's a similar exercise here: Mindfulness of Chocolate.
Ali Binns is a CBT therapist based in Bath. She uses mindfulness based techniques to support her clients therapeutically. Find out more about how she works by clicking on the links at the top of the website.