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Woman practicing deep breathing in front of beige wall
Mindfulness makes your mornings more meaningful. And the sunbeam helps this stock photo look cooler.

Center and De-Stress With This Mindfulness Guide

Breathe in — hold it — and now, breathe out

Tanner Garrity is a senior editor at InsideHook who covers wellness, health and sports.

August 14, 2023 5:19 pm

“Mind over matter” is no laughing matter — there are some amazing, real benefits to calming the mind, and being as present as possible to the current moment. The morning is the perfect time to do exactly that. Today, Tanner Garrity, my calmest colleague at Wondercade HQ, presents a simple how-to guide that’ll break down what mindfulness is (spoiler, it doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down and meditating for two hours), and how it can truly improve your life…whether it’s the morning or any other time of day. -NPH

Let’s start with the basics: What is “mindfulness”? At its simplest, mindfulness is the practice of being fully engaged with the present moment.

Read that again, and sit with it for a few seconds. Really think about what it means.

Guess what? You just practiced mindfulness!

No matter what you’re doing — whether it’s as mundane as eating a sandwich or taking a walk — mindfulness is about balancing your thoughts, focusing on your 5 senses and sensations in your body (like your heartbeat), or the environment around you, without judgment or distraction. Countless studies have found a positive correlation between this practice and improved mental health, more reliable sleep and enhanced focus. In fact, “mindful” people literally develop more gray matter in brain regions linked to emotion regulation and self-referential processing.

Of course, there are specific activities that make it easier to tap into a state of mindfulness. And you’re best served plugging them into the morning, when your mind is still fresh, and your spirit hasn’t been dampened by work emails and bills to pay. Here are a few mindful practices that will help you establish a more consistent and sustainable routine. It only takes one to help you broadcast confidence and kindness deep into the afternoon. Just promise us this: no email-refreshing before you give these an honest try.

Woman taking a walk on city street in Spring
Leave your phone at home and take a walk. (But be sure to know how to get back, as you won’t have Google Maps.)

A “Savory” Stroll

Many productivity experts tend to extoll the virtues of rising with the sun and immediately getting a workout in. If that’s your speed, go for it…but truthfully, if more mindfulness is your goal, a simple, straightforward walk will suffice. Within 10 minutes of your alarm going off, put on a good pair of shoes and chart a mile loop outside. Leave your phone at home — this is vital! — so you can truly “savor” what you see, both the mundane and the extraordinary. As you get more accustomed to the practice, you may find yourself wandering longer or lingering in new locales. Lean into this.

Woman taking a deep breath lying on exercise mat in apartment
Channel your inner opera singer: deploy your diaphragm for breaths that’ll calm and center you

Breathe In, Breathe Out

A thoughtful breathing technique is pretty much mindfulness bingo. We are partial to diaphragmatic breathing, also known as “belly breathing,” which involves lying down comfortably and placing one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. From there: inhale for four counts through your nose, allowing your belly to rise as you keep your chest still. Hold for two counts, then exhale for 6 counts through your mouth, and feel your belly lower. Continue this deep breathing cycle for 5 minutes. Once you master the cadence, try performing a “body scan” — take careful note of how each part of your body feels as the breath filters in and out. In embracing a conscious breathing practice, you’re training your body to foster a state of calm, mitigate stress responses and even lower blood pressure. Here’s a guided tutorial that’ll teach you how to do a mindful breathing exercise.

Avocado toast with cilantro and parsley on white plate
Make yourself a delicious, healthy breakfast — and focus on the making

Let Breakfast Back Into Your Life

Breakfast should be something that’ll set a positive tone for the day — not necessarily fasting and skipping it, but also not bombing yourself with sugar or processed foods, either. Really zero in on those minutes you spend making it, and make it something delicious and healthy. Think: a black bean burrito with scrambled eggs, avocado on sourdough toast with a smear of sun-dried tomato pesto, or even just a green smoothie. Whatever you “cook up,” embrace the immediacy of the task and consider the way that the food makes you feel, in both brain and body. After all, cooking is an example of behavioral activation: a practice that demands your full attention and pulls you into the present moment. By focusing on the textures, smells and flavors, you’re engaging in a tried-and-true therapeutic practice that’ll enhance creativity and keep stress at bay. And if you’re cooking with your significant other, you can yell things like “Corner!” or “Heard, Chef!” which is always fun, too.

NEIL FAVOR: Have a favorite, healthy and easy-to-make breakfast recipe? I’d love to hear about it. And make it. And eat it! Send it to me at nph@wondercade.com and I’ll share my favorite on the Wondercade Instagram. (Be sure to include your Insta handle so I can tag you.)

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