Mindful toothbrushing: a quick way to add mindfulness to your daily routine

Photo by Henrik Lagercrantz

If you are struggling to find time to practice mindfulness, you aren’t alone. Many people feel that their day is simply too busy and pressured to add yet another thing to the to-do list.

There are simple ways that we can all engage in day-to-day activities with a greater sense of awareness. Take brushing your teeth as an example. If you have teeth (or implants, or dentures) it’s likely that you will spend a part of the day cleaning them. This might be a couple of minutes in the morning and a few more before you go to bed.

I wonder how aware you are of what’s going on for you when you brush your teeth?

Are you watching TV? Listening to the radio? Scrolling through your phone? Deciding what to wear? Thinking about what you’ll eat? Wondering why you friend still hasn’t called you back? Thinking about where you’ll go on holiday next year? Is that a spot on my nose? Replaying an arguement you had earlier? Wondering why that boy at school was always mean to you but nice to everyone else? Worring about what will happen if the price of petrol goes up and you need to make savings elsewhere? Wondering who left the lid off the shampoo, again? Why didn’t I go to the supermarket today when it’s going to be busier tomorrow?!

Ok, maybe now is a good time to take a deep breath in … and a deep breath out.

Feel ok to continue? Great, let’s carry on.

You get the point. It’s usually a time when our mind is elsewhere. Over the years we’ve developed this incredible skill of passing a brush across all our teeth to keep them clean.

We have reached a point of mastery (though perhaps our dentist may disagree), so we give it no thought and allow our thoughts to focus on other things. Unless.. we notice something different – like that bit of apple skin lodged between two teeth – that – just – won’t – budge.

This becomes a great moment to introduce mindfulness to an otherwise forgettable activity.

Mindful toothbrushing exercise

Start by noticing how you hold your toothbrush. The sensation of brush against your skin. The tightness of your grip. The muscles in the hand, wrist, arm and shoulder all synchronised to help you lift and bring the brush to your mouth.

As you start to brush, notice if you have a certain side you start on. Do you work from the back to the front? The inside to the outside? From top to bottom or left to right? Just notice what you are already doing on a daily basis. There’s no need to change any of it.

Bring your attention to your lips, jaw and mouth. Notice how they feel. Are there sensations of tightness, loosness, numbness, or soemthing else? You don’t have to change the feelings, just notice that they are there. Be curious rather than judgemental. There’s no need to change anything now – you can just observe what goes on for you in the moment-to-moment experience of brushing your teeth.

Then perhaps start to notice some of the senations within your mouth. How does it feel as the bristles go against your teeth, gums, tongue, and so on. Do you notice other parts of the brush in contact with other parts of your mouth? What does it feel like?

What about the sounds? What sounds reach your ears as you brush your teeth? How do they change from moment-to-moment?

Then, of course, there is the taste. Do you notice the taste change and develop as you brush your teeth?

Throughout this, your arm and other parts of your body are probably moving and adjusting as you go through this seemingly routine experience. What do you notice about the sensations in your muscles, your limbs, your skin?

Finally, where are you focusing your vision. Is it in a mirror – looking at your mouth or some other part of you? Are you observing a point in the room or scanning for other things to focus on from time to time. Again, if you can, just observe what happens rather than trying to change or control it.

Reflecting on mindful toothbrushing

So how was it? If you found it difficult, that’s ok.

Mindfuless – and by extension, mindful toothbrushing – requires practice.

Try, if you can, to be kind to yourself and allow for the possibility that next time the experience will be completley different.

You might have thought it was a lot to do in 2 minutes. All that mindful attention and performing the action can seem overwhelming at first. If this happens, consider bringing mindful attention to just one aspect of your experience, such as the sensation of the bristles against your teeth and gums.

To wrap up

Finding ways to be mindful needn’t mean adding more to-dos into your day. You can make use of the time you already have. Simply taking a routine activity, such as brushing your teeth, can be a wondeful way of being to cultivate a more mindful way of being.

After toothbrushing, what other things could you bring mindful attention to? Mindful eating? Mindful stretching? Mindful walking?

Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.

John Kabat-Zin, Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

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