Introduction to Mindfulness Exercises
Mindfulness is not only about meditation, although it is an important part of it. In fact, there are many ways of integrating mindfulness exercises into your daily routine. Read here for a beginner’s overview: Mindfulness Meditation: A simple guide to how to do it.
Like many, when starting mindfulness, I read books and scoured the Internet for information about mindfulness exercises. There are many resources and techniques, but it can be hard to know which ones to choose. It is worth taking time over this, as the wrong choice could dissuade you from mindfulness practice.
Besides using techniques that work for you, diligent practice is a key factor for success. For me, it took a few attempts to get the mindfulness habit to stick.
Here are 6 of the most common Mindfulness exercises, and the ones that work for me. They are fun to do, but also quite challenging. Try not to overload, but try them all, and use the ones that work for you.
Do them diligently, and soon, you (and others) will notice a real change.
The aim of mindful breathing is to use your breath to keep you in the present moment.
The breath occurs ‘now,’ and it is one of the most common anchors used in all types of meditation including mindfulness.
If you feel unfocused or stressed, this is an excellent way to calm the mind.
Mindful Breathing Exercise:
Do this exercise seated, both feet on the ground; hands held together, or in your lap.
Start by inhaling slowly, reciting the word ‘In’ (silently) while drawing air into the lungs. Focus your mind on the breath and follow it down into your belly. While exhaling, recite the word ‘Out’ (silently) and concentrate on the breath going up and out of your body.
Soon you’ll find a rhythm that feels comfortable to you. If thoughts enter your mind (they will), just wait for them to pass and refocus on the breath.
Use this breathing technique for a full mindful meditation session, or for a quick 1-2 minute session to bring the mind back into focus.
During the day, I use a smartphone app to play a gong sound (or vibrate) every 15 minutes as a reminder to perform a quick mindful breathing session. It helps to maintain balance during the day.
Negative Emotions and Thoughts
If you suffer from negative emotions and thoughts (many people do), try this simple variation of the above Mindful breathing exercise:
Using the same technique, rather than reciting ‘In’ while inhaling, recite ‘I accept my feelings.’ Then while exhaling, recite ‘I calm my feelings.’ It is a simple but powerful way to take the sting out of strong thoughts and emotions. Without strong emotion attached to them, thoughts can’t damage you. This technique can have a lasting effect on your emotional balance.
Mindful eating is about applying 100% of your attention to what you are eating or drinking. Do this simple exercise with a single piece of food such as a nut, raisin, grape or whatever you choose. Also, try with drinking from a glass of water.
Mindful Eating Exercise:
For this description, assume that you have chosen a grape.
Firstly look at it, study its shape and color and texture. Now close your eyes and pick it up. Feel the shape and the texture with your fingers. Does it feel the same as its appearance? Put it up to your nose and savor the aroma. Notice everything about the grape.
Now bite into the grape and begin to chew slowly – Is it sweet, what does the juice feel like as it runs down your throat? Focus on every sensation, every bite, every taste, and feeling.
Of course, meals would be very slow if you ate every morsel of food with such care. But it is possible to be more mindful when you eat. Perhaps remove distraction, such as TV and try to focus entirely on the meal that you are eating. Play some pleasant background music (instrumental) to create a relaxed feeling. Take a look at the infographic above.
Like all mindfulness practices, the purpose of mindful walking is to keep the mind on the present moment. You may wonder how this is possible with walking, but actually, it is simple to achieve.
Inside an Apartment:
The easiest place is in you own apartment – clear space for 10-15 steps. Start walking, feel the balance shift from foot to foot. Feel the pressure of the ground on the sole of each foot as they rise and fall. When you reach the end of the walking area, turn around, feel the balance and weight shifting as your body turns. After a while, you’ll notice that the breath has become smooth and regular – like the mindful breathing exercise.
Speed isn’t important, just walk at a pace that enables you to stay 100% focused on your actions. Suggest to use a timer set to 5 minutes of whatever time you like. If you don’t like setting a time, put some coins in one pocket to use as a counter. At the end of each lap mindfully move one coin the other pocket.
Also try mindful walking outside. Of course, if you’re in the street, you’ll need to walk faster than you do in your own apartment. Just keep 100% focused on the sensation of the feet on the ground.
Also, it is possible to do a variation of the mindful breathing exercise when walking. When you inhale, recite ‘In’ each time a foot hits the ground. Likewise for exhale, but recite ‘Out’. This is suitable inside or out.
This type of mindfulness can be either, being attentive/present during a conversation, or applying 100% of your focus on listening to a particular sound. We’ll cover mindfulness exercises for both, but start with the latter.
Mindful Listening: Sound
This is an easy and enjoyable mindfulness exercise. Just apply your focus on any sound in your direct environment, such a bird singing, the noise of traffic, or music, anything will do.
Stop what you are doing, and just listen completely to whatever sound you’ve chosen. If you listen to music, instrumental is best, as it is too easy to become sidetracked by lyrics.
It really is that simple. Just like other techniques your breath will become regular, and you’ll enter a serene and focused state.
Focused Listening: Conversation
Perhaps the most common complaint in a relationship is that he or she does not listen. Often the situation stems from a lack of mindfulness from one or other.
How often do you give your undivided attention to a person during a conversation?
If you are anything like me, you’ll spend more time thinking about what to say than listening. It is selfishness due to lack of mindfulness.
During a conversation, you do need to think about past and future, in the context of the conversation. But it is important not to allow yourself to become stuck in those thoughts, and miss what is being said. It is easy to daydream and not be completely present during a conversation. Being present and mindful enables you to better understand the speaker’s thoughts and motives. In a way, mindfulness exercises will make you more empathetic.
And it is obvious to the other person that you are not listening! It comes off as being, distant, not caring, aloof. Even if the proceeding statements are untrue, that’s the impression received.
Mindful conversations are healthy for a relationship (business and personal). It shows engagement with, and care for the other person.
There are a few steps that will help with having a mindful conversation. Firstly, practice mindfulness exercises in general and improve how mindful you are. Take a look at some of the other exercises within this post. They will also help you to increase your mindfulness level.
- Be present: listen to the other person, don’t daydream and think only about what you want to say.
- Notice the other person. People use body language during conversations, including facial expressions, body movement and vocal tone. If you are not present you’ll miss many non verbal queues. Non-verbal communication can completely change the meaning of what is said.
- Listen with your eyes as well as your ears! Maintain eye contact with the other person, but don’t stare.