Formal vs. Informal Mindfulness Practice: How You Can Use Both to Become Present and Aware
Written by Christy Cassisa, Regional Director, Southwest Region

As a seasoned mindfulness practitioner with experience founding and leading innovative mindfulness programs, Christy Cassisa knows a thing or two about how a regular practice can support our well-being! In this two-part series, Christy shares how we can build a daily mindfulness practice, plus an approachable way to fully integrate mindfulness into your life.

In part one of our mindfulness series, we learned that daily mindfulness practice is the most effective way to build our mindfulness muscle. By practicing consistently, we wire together neural pathways that help us be more calm and intentional, more attentive, and less reactionary.

Listening to and being guided by Inner Explorer's daily mindfulness sessions is called “formal” practice. This is the equivalent of going to the gym for our brains, where we set aside time to dedicate attention to the program.

“Informal” practice is where mindfulness meets our daily lives, becoming integrated into everyday activities.

During informal practice, we notice when the mind gets distracted from an activity, then kindly and repetitively return our attention back to the task at hand.

As a simple example of using informal mindfulness in daily life, consider mindful teeth brushing. Noticing the sound of the water running and the smell of the toothpaste. Paying attention to the sound, taste, and physical sensations of brushing each tooth. Noticing how you know when it’s time to rinse. Feeling again the sensations, smelling the paste, tasting the minty freshness. Bringing attention back over and over again to the experience of just this tooth brushing.

While we might not necessarily want to spend 10 minutes every day brushing our teeth (although, our dentists would be quite happy with us), the point is to choose an activity in which you can notice what you’re doing when you’re doing it, intentionally.

We can turn nearly any activity into an informal practice, just by bringing the same level of curiosity and kind attention that we do during formal practice. Other examples of tasks that could be turned into mindfulness practice include:

  • - Washing dishes or completing other household chores.
  • - Playing a game with a family member.
  • - Walking the dog.
  • - Having a conversation with a friend.
  • - Mindful hugging (our favorite)!

For school staff or families in the workplace, all types of activities can become brain training sessions: Typing an email, reading a book aloud to your class, meeting with a colleague or student. Turning off notifications on your phone and email can help keep you attuned to the task at hand.

These brief, daily practices help us to fully integrate mindfulness into how we do everything, helping us live our lives more present and aware.