a woman watching the sunrise over a mountain

2021 is here! Have we ever been more ready for a new year!? I’ve put together some mindfulness practices for expats that can help you create a solid foundation for the year to come and I’m really excited to be sharing them with you.

But let me back up…because you may be tired of hearing me talk about mindfulness. You might be thinking – “Enough already! I don’t want to be mindful. I want to watch Netflix and eat popcorn in my pajamas because 2020 was really crappy and the biggest thing I learned was that I don’t need to do a lot of the stuff I always thought I needed to do. And, honestly, I suspect becoming more mindful is one of those things! So stop talking!”

Or maybe you’re not thinking that? Just me, projecting?

Well..nonetheless…I imagine you are thinking a lot about getting DONE with 2020. And, perhaps, you’re also thinking about starting 2021 with new insights and perspective learned from this most unpredictable and topsy-turvy ride we’ve all been on. Also, it’s possible you, like me, would like to know you’re making choices that make sense for you and setting intentions that are based on your unique, albeit unusual, life situation; a life situation that got a lot more complicated in 2020. You want to feel a sense of balance in a spinning world. You want to know that if the storm doesn’t let up for a while, your goals won’t be thrown overboard, again.

And, whether you’ve named it or not, and even if you don’t want to hear about mindfulness practice…I still kind of think you would like to feel more aware, connected and able to adapt. And that’s mindfulness. So here are a few simple mindfulness practices you can try.

Cultivating an accessible, adaptable and expat-friendly mindfulness practice is completely within your grasp. You have all of the skills you need already.

Why mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating awareness of what’s happening as it’s happening. A regular mindfulness practice is beneficial for physical, mental and emotional health.

Mindfulness practice also has benefits that are perfect for a globally mobile life because the practice of mindfulness helps us learn to come home inside ourselves. Expat life is full of ups and downs, unpredictability and insecurity. Even when we’re at our best, we can feel as though the ground is shifting out from under us. Mindfulness helps us weather transition and engage better in unpredictable and unusual situations by teaching us how to be fully right here, right now, no matter where our feet are planted.

Mindfulness helps us ask the question – What’s this right here? Which is awesome because right here is the only place that you actually are!

13 Mindfulness Practices for Expats

You can use these 13 mindfulness practices at any time, in any location and in any language. They’re perfect for creating a sense of presence and awareness as you step into expat life in 2021.

  • Practice 5 minutes of formal mindfulness practice every day. In other words – meditate. Find a comfortable place to sit and set a timer for 5 minutes, notice your breath as it goes in and out of your body. Your thoughts will wander, opinions and judgments and distractions will pop up. Simply notice them (like clouds passing through the sky) and return to noticing your breath. If you find it difficult to do this exercise while seated, try a formal mindfulness practice that involves movement – like yoga or mindful walking. Check out this article for an in-depth explanation as well as some ideas and even some practice meditations. You may also like my guided mindfulness meditations.
  • Give a name to the stories you tell yourself over and over again. Do you find your mental wheels spin over and over again rehashing the same stories? Being mindful enables us to see these stories more clearly so that we can either take action or allow them to pass. When you notice you’re stuck with the same argument, analysis, judgment or story in your head – trying pausing for a few seconds, give the story a name (something like “I hate this place story,” or “it will be better when…story”) and then consciously choose what you’d like to do next.
  • Spend time in your body. Notice what’s happening in your body. Do regular check-ins with your body throughout the day in both resting and active positions. This is especially helpful when you’re in a new place or outside your comfort zone. Your body has an incredible wealth of information to offer you about what feels right and what may need adjustment. If you have time, a body scan meditation can be a good way to learn how to pay better attention to your body. Try this one from the Berkeley Greater Good Science Center or this one which I lead.
  • Cultivate mindful awareness of your surroundings. Even as we move from place to place, discovering new homes in every corner of the globe, there is a point at which it all begins to feel familiar. We grow, however, when we’re able to see clearly how things around us change and evolve. When we become more mindful of the world around us, we’re able to develop a sense gratitude and awareness for how and where we fit in. You can practice this by simply setting the intention to notice the world around you when you’re out. Even a few minutes can bring a sense of presence and focus to an ordinary day running errands.
  • Recognize uncertainty when it’s happening. Practice asking the question – What do I not know here? Expat life comes with a high degree of uncertainty. Observing how you feel, what you think and what you instinctively do in times of uncertainty enables you to gain comfort with being between places and helps you learn what skills most help you to thrive even when things are up in the air.
  • Name your emotions. Mindfulness enables us to tend to the wounds (and gifts) of the heart. If your child scrapes her knee, you teach her to clean the wound, bandage it and nurture it to wellness. The same is true for our emotions – and man are there a lot in this lifestyle! When we practice naming our emotions and tending to them, we gain the skills necessary to nurture, comfort, and celebrate the many ways we feel. 
  • Set your intentions for the day, the week, or the month. Mindfulness is about moving from mindless to mindful, but it’s not simply about an internal journey. When we want to live more mindfully in the world, we can bring that way of being into our lives by consciously setting our intentions on a regular basis. Set aside time in your schedule and mark a place on your calendar where you can create goals and priorities that align with your values. Then check in regularly to re-evaluate and re-align as needed. My Globally Mindful Facebook group is a wonderful place to share you intentions, build community and support others in their practice.
  • Bring mindfulness into a simple daily routine. Practice paying attention while you brush your teeth, dry your hair, wash your hands, or chew your food. Even just for one minute, you can observe the sensations of these every day tasks. You don’t even have to alter your routine. That means even when you’re on the go, between homes or just-off-the-plane, you can still maintain your practice.
  • Pause to consider your words before speaking. Being authentic and honest doesn’t mean being careless with our words. Taking a mindful approach to the way we speak enables us to consider the nuance of what we want to say – especially in socially difficult or culturally complex situations. If you’re about to say something important, notice what happens if you simply count to 5 before speaking.
  • Take a moment before responding on social media – even if you’re saying something nice. Practice #9 applies to your fingertips as well as your mouth. Try typing out your response and then counting to 10 before you hit “post.” Are your words aligned with your values? How do you feel about your contribution to the conversation? What happens when you take a moment to notice the emotions and physical sensations behind what you’re about to type?
  • Engage with compassion for yourself and others. Practice putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. When we cultivate a mindful, compassionate perspective, we see others and ourselves in our true complexity. We raise our awareness of the inherent vulnerability we all face each day – no matter where we come from. When you find your automatic response is to criticize, judge or disregard (again – yourself and others!) pause for a moment to turn towards what’s happening and offer compassion and comfort.
  • Be curious. Curiosity may very well be what got you into this expat life in the first place! Globally mobile people are so good at this. Keep it up! Mindfulness is about asking again and again, “What’s here now?” You can engage your curiosity more formally by creating reminders to stop periodically throughout the day and simply check in with what you’re thinking and feeling and with how you’re engaging with others and the world around you.
  • Practice saying, “This belongs.” I absolutely love this line from mindfulness teacher Tara Brach. Mindfulness is not about feeling happy all the time. It’s not about living a life free from pain, discomfort or uncertainty. We can, however, choose to see clearly what’s there. It is from that place – where we acknowledge that something “is” and must therefore, to some extent, “belong” – that we can begin to heal, to move through and to grow. This is essential to a life lived around the world.

And remember…

As you read through these practices, remember that mindfulness is a practice that you build little by little, becoming more comfortable with each passing day as you try new things. Not unlike training for a sporting event, it’s important to start simple and grow your practice as you become more adept. Just as beginning marathon training with 20 kilometers if you’ve never even run two would be fool-hearty, starting a mindfulness practice with an hour of silent seated mindfulness meditation is unlikely to be as effective as starting wherever you’re most comfortable and growing your practice from there.

Another important key is to remember the word practice. Mindfulness is not about arriving at a destination of “most mindful.” It is about coming back each day again and again until you find what’s right for you. And, it’s about doing so with a spirit of acceptance and non-judgment.

What practice will you start with? How will you grow towards a more mindful 2021? Share your mindfulness goals for the year ahead in the comments.

Would you like to deepen your current practice, start a new mindfulness practice, or connect with others to create a greater sense of community around your practice? Join my Globally Mindful Practice Community – a bi-monthly, virtual meet-up group.

I originally wrote this article as part of the I Am a Triangle Community website, but is no longer available there. It has been slightly adapted for my blog here.

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