Mindfulness exercises can help people with depression, anxiety, drug addiction, ptsd, menopause, pain relief, high blood pressure, relationship issues, food cravings, and more.
Mindfulness and truly living in each moment can also play a huge part in conquering our fears and worries about the future and help us stop destructively ruminating in the past. And by adding clarity and vividness to our experiences, mindfulness can directly affect our happiness and well-being.
Additionally, there are measurably significant cognitive and psychological benefits – in one study, an 8-week mindfulness meditation program had measurable effects on brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
The goal in a mindfulness practice is not to clear your mind, but instead to be non-judgmentally engaged in the present moment as fully as possible.
And a regular practice is just that – practice. It builds the skill of recognizing when your mind has wandered and then bringing it back to the present. As with any skill, the more you practice it, the better you’ll become and the more benefits you’ll see manifesting in your life.
Mindfulness meditation (which we’ll get to in a minute) is the most well-known way to begin a mindful practice, however there are tons of opportunities throughout your day to practice being mindful and fully engaged with the present.
Let’s discuss 7 simple mindfulness exercises and techniques that you can practice daily.
Practice being mindful while you take leisurely walks. Pay attention to your senses – sight, smell, hearing, physical sensations.
Become aware of the process of walking – the act of lifting each foot, the pressure of the ground against your heel, the muscles in your leg contracting and relaxing with each step.
Focus on your breath as you walk and the fragrances on the air you’re breathing. Become aware of the sounds around you and being made by you as you move. Notice the details of the scenery around you. And feel the air, the wind, the sun, the rain moving around you and against you, tickling your skin and wrapping you in sensation.
And, when you feel your mind begin to wander, gently and non-judgmentally bring it back to the present, to your footsteps, to your breath.
Besides being another great way to practice being mindful in everyday life, mindful eating can help prevent unhealthy eating habits that negatively impact our lives like binge eating, emotional eating, unhealthy weight gain, mindless snacking, etc.
When you eat mindfully, focus on the sensory experience of eating without any distractions. Turn off the TV and eat in silence. This has the added benefit of increasing the pleasure you experience while you eat.
Become aware of the aroma of your food. Try to distinguish the different intermingled flavors. Take small bites and chew slowly and thoroughly. Notice the muscles in your jaw and mouth moving and the pressure they’re applying.
Close your eyes and become aware of the food’s texture, temperature, and flavor profiles (sweet, sour, salty, umami, spicy, bitter). Notice your muscles working to swallow the food.
And lastly, be aware of the physical sensation of hunger. Notice how it changes as you eat. Eating slowly and being mindful of your hunger can help prevent over-eating. It can also help you identify the times that you eat when you’re not actually hungry.
You can practice mindful drinking as well. I love mindfully sipping on hot chai tea and experiencing all the blissful sensations it provides – the heft of the mug in my fingers, the warm ceramic against my skin, the steam inhaling through my nose, the robust flavors of the chai spices, the heat traveling down my throat and warming my insides.
(This is also a great time to slip in a gratitude practice. Take a moment and appreciate the nourishment your food or drink is providing for you.)
Our routines are often the times when we are most easily lost in thought. They are so familiar to us that we don’t have to think about what we’re doing in order to accomplish them.
Which makes them a great and challenging way to practice mindfulness. Start with just one or two routine habits, like brushing your teeth or showering. Stay aware of the physical sensations of these activities while you’re doing them.
For example, feel the grip of the toothbrush in your hand, notice what color it is, be aware of the sequence of sounds that occur when you grab the toothpaste and smear it onto the brush, feel the bristles against your gums and the pressure of the brush on your teeth.
When you find your mind wandering, as it inevitably will during rote activities, kindly and gently bring it back to the present.
Eventually, try being mindful during an entire routine, such as your morning routine.
But don’t be frustrated with yourself if you find your mind wandering often. Mindless routines are ingrained habits. Stay non-judgmental. Simply notice that your mind has wandered and bring it back to the present.
Buddhist monks use mindfulness bells as part of their meditation practice and also throughout the day to remind them to be mindful and grounded in the present.
In lieu of living in a monastery (something on my 100 Life Goals list), the mindfulness bell practice can still be applied to our everyday lives.
If you like the idea of a bell chime inviting you back to the present moment, you can install an app on your phone which will do just that for you. You can schedule how often and at what times the app will remind you to be mindful.
Another option is to use an everyday occurrence in place of the bell. For example, every time you drink a glass of water you can use that as a reminder to bring yourself back to the present. I like using my dogs as a mindfulness bell; they’re such a pure example of living in the moment that they’re an inspiring and easy reminder to do the same.
Yin yoga is one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness. It consists of holding asanas, or poses, for 3 to 5 minutes which target the connective tissues and deep ligaments of the body. Depending on how tight your muscles are, some poses can feel a little intense, but it’s a deeply restorative practice. There are 20 core Yin poses that target the legs and torso.
The awareness during Yin yoga is on the breath and the area being released. Breathe deeply and slowly and put your awareness on your breath; when you exhale focus on the muscle and releasing the tension and tightness you feel there.
My favorite deep breathing is Pramayama breathing. It’s noisy which I feel makes it easier to be mindful of, and it feels weirdly satisfying to do. Inhale through your nose as if you are snoring. Pause for a couple seconds before exhaling. Exhale slowly through your mouth with a loud “haaa” sound as if you are sighing.
I like to inhale for six counts and exhale for six counts, but as I relax into my practice I find that sometimes my breathing will slow to ten counts. Or if an asana is particularly difficult, my breathing might speed up as I struggle with it. Basically, find your rhythm and do what feels best for you. The important thing is your focus and mindful attention.
This is easiest to do with music, but you can listen mindfully to anything at any time.
If you’re listening to music, use headphones and focus on all the different instruments coming together to create a song. Try to distinguish and identify the different sounds you hear. And listen non-judgmentally – don’t attach any opinions to the song; simply listen.
I like to practice mindful listening outside. I sit on my back porch, close my eyes and simply listen to everything around me – birds singing and flying, wind rustling through leaves, cars racing down the freeway in the distance, my neighbor swimming in their pool. Without any opinion or judgement, I simply listen. And when my mind wanders, I kindly bring it back to the present.
Mindfulness meditation is deceptive in its simplicity – simple in execution, but difficult in practice. However it is unarguably incredibly beneficial for our brains.
Before you begin, decide on how long you’d like to meditate for, and then set a timer or alarm. If you’ve never meditated before, start with just five minutes.
To practice mindfulness meditation, follow these 4 steps:
- Find a quiet, comfy place to meditate where you won’t be disturbed.
- Sit with a straight but relaxed posture, and don’t fold or hunch your shoulders forward. You want your breath to flow easily and deeply from your lungs. I like to sit on my couch or my bed where I can lean back against some comfy pillows.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Feel the breath moving through you, inhaling and exhaling through your nose or mouth, feeling the rise and fall of your chest and belly with each breath.
- When your mind wanders, as it inevitably and constantly will, simply observe each thought without emotion or opinion, and then let it go. Don’t linger or ruminate. Gently bring your focus back to your breath.
Once you’ve established a comfortable meditation practice, try different lengths of time to find what length you prefer that fits into your lifestyle and schedule. Twenty minutes is said to be ideal, but some people prefer to space several restorative ten minute meditations throughout their day while others like to meditate for one hour each morning. Everyone’s practice is unique, so find what you like best.
You’ll see the most benefits by maintaining on ongoing mindfulness practice. Even if you’re just meditating for 10 minutes every day or only practicing routine mindfulness when you brush your teeth, it’s the small daily actions and habits that can build up to big results in the long term.
- Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh