I’m not a huge fan of brushing my teeth. I’ve found it boring and uncomfortable – probably because it has such intense sensations to it that I can’t avoid being in my body to feel them. In my move from avoiding sensations to embracing them, I decided that daily uncomfortable physical experiences could help me to be more present if I turned them into mindfulness exercises. Tooth brushing topped the list for me because it is a twice a day activity and because I use an electric toothbrush it is a timed activity meaning I know how long it will take me. I like that because sometimes open-ended mindfulness practices can be anxiety producing, while something that lasts 2 minutes feels very doable even if I’m very anxious. Brushing my teeth is also an unavoidably physical experience from the sensations in my mouth, to the ones in my hand and arm. I don’t need to look for tiny subtle sensations, they are big and bold and really easy to notice.
Another thing to reiterate, mindfulness is a process. If you notice that thoughts are starting to arise and bring you out of the focus on your body and the sensations you are feeling just label the thought (perhaps is it a judgemental thought, a busy thought, a planning thought, a critical thought, a sticky thought), and then bring your attention back to the toothbrush and the physical sensations of brushing your teeth. Mindfulness isn’t about suppressing your thoughts or banishing them. It is about noticing when thoughts distract you from what you are focusing on, and gently bringing your attention back to the task at hand. The act of noticing the distracting thought is an important part of mindfulness practice, so try to think about that as success because you are now able to return to the present moment.
So, what does mindful tooth brushing look like?
Start by applying the toothpaste to the toothbrush. Notice the sensation of the brush in your hand. The weight and texture of it. The colour and texture and smell of the toothpaste, or other smells that you are surrounded by.
As you put the brush into your mouth breathe slowly through your nose. Notice the smell and taste of the toothpaste. Notice the feel of the bristles moving across your teeth and gums. Notice the temperature and textures of the brush in your mouth and against your lips.
Notice the sound of the toothbrush against your gums and teeth. If you have an electric toothbrush, notice how the pitch changes as you move your lips or move around your mouth.
Notice whether there is any tension in your jaw, neck or face. Allow it to just be as it is, and get curious about it. How big it is? What is its temperature? Is there a feelings label attached to it? Just let it be as it is without trying to change it. Just be open to having the sensation in your body.
Move your attention back to your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose.
As you rinse notice the coolness of the water and the sensation of your clean teeth.
Take one more breath, noticing all the sights and sounds around you.