Washing The Dishes Can Be A Good Mindfulness Tool

Scrubbing pots and pans can help slow things down.
They're not going to clean themselves.
They're not going to clean themselves.

Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s guide to helping you pick up an easy, everyday ritual that can make your life a bit better, in a small but significant way.

Canadians are stressed out, anxious, and are feeling disconnected from each other. Once a week, we’ll share a tiny tip to help you feel good. We’ve got your back.

Today’s habit

Do that pile of dishes in your sink.

For whenever you’re feeling ...

Like you need get away from Netflix, work stress, and your phone, and take a moment for your yourself.

What it is

Washing dishes doesn’t have to be a chore. This routine activity can become a mindfulness exercise that helps you reflect and reenergize — while also clearing that stack in the sink.

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How it can help

I gained a lot of things when I started living on my own. I could decorate how I liked, invite friends over whenever I wanted, and be as messy as I wanted. In exchange for this freedom, I had to give up some luxuries, like having a dishwasher.

My double sink quickly became a visual representation of how well — or not well — I was managing the busy-ness of my life. On the rare occasion it was empty and wiped clean, it was evidence that I had my shit together, maintaining a healthy balance between my work and personal life.

A few bowls and mugs indicated things were busy, but manageable. But, often, my sink and counter were covered with containers, plates, and pans that had been rinsed and piled, waiting until my life allowed a moment to pause, fill the basins with warm suds, and reset.

For me, washing the dishes became a way of slowing things down. I set aside time, often first thing Saturday morning or in the evening before bed, rolled up my sleeves and put my hands into the warm water.

Occasionally, I used the time to watch a show or listen to a podcast, but lately, I’ve been trying to let the dishes be my sole focus — carving out a small moment away from screens and notifications.

Cleaning those stacks of plates and clusters of cutlery felt like a way of cleansing my mind, and restoring order at times that often felt chaotic. A full dish rack and clear counter, gleaming from just being wiped down, gave me a surprising sense of accomplishment.

In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh talks about making meditation more accessible, even describing how this practice can specifically transform washing dishes from an unpleasant task into something we enjoy.

WATCH: Which is better: dishwasher or washing dishes by hand? Story continues below.

Researcher and psychologist Adam Hanley and a group of researchers from Florida State University put this to the test with the help of 51 undergrad students. Half of them read descriptive instructions about the process of washing dishes, and the other half read a passage adapted from Hanh about the importance of being present while doing the same task.

The results, published in Mindfulness in 2015, showed the mindful washers felt more inspired and less nervous after washing dishes. The group that read instructions reported no benefits.

“It seems to me that purpose is in anything we invest our attention in, and if I reframe what is purposeful for my living — if that’s doing my laundry, or doing my dishes — then it imbues this activity with a new kind of tone,” Hanley told HuffPost Canada, who says that five years later, these results still resonate.

How to start

Hanley says that in addition to mindfully washing dishes as a form of compassion for others who might appreciate a helping hand, it can also be a way of caring for yourself without adding something more to your schedule.

“First of all, don’t have expectations for a blissful, clear mind — expect your mind to wander,” he says, adding that it’s important to use all your senses to bring you into the moment.

With the feel of the plates, the warmth of the water, the smell of the soap, and the visuals of the bubbles, dishwashing is a sensory experience, says Hanley. Mute your phone, turn the TV off and focus on “washing the dishes to wash the dishes,” as Hanh says.

Where you can do it

Most of my dishwashing happens at home, but I’ve found dishwashing to be a great way to help out friends or family if they’re hosting.

Washing dishes by hand is generally considered to use more water than newer, energy-efficient dishwashers when they are run with a full load. Glenn Harris, senior manager of Vancouver Island’s Capital Region District (CRD) environmental protection, offers the following tips for conserving water while washing dishes by hand:

  • Scrape food scraps into a composter rather than rinsing your dishes and avoid using garburators.
  • Ensure your faucet has an aerator, which will help conserve water by limiting the flow while the tap is running.
  • Ensure your sink is plugged and avoid letting the tap run excessively.

How it makes us feel

When I told Hanley that my kitchen sink often reflects my mental state, he said that made sense.

“If we think about a cluttered mind, maybe mindful dishwashing is stabilizing a cluttered life.”

Read more:

City of Calgary: Saving water in your home

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