Mindfulness: 10 easy exercises

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice, which is relevant for life today. It’s a simple idea – it means paying attention in a particular way to your thoughts and feelings, and to knowing what’s going on inside yourself and the world around you, moment to moment. Mindfulness can help improve your mental wellbeing. Here are some simple exercises you can practice. Each of these exercises need only take 10 minutes, but they could help you to relax, enjoy life more, and understand yourself better.

1. Mindful breathing

The goal of this exercise is to achieve a calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.

Direct your attention to your breathing.

When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.

When you notice that your attention has drifted off and becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, note that the attention has drifted, and then gently bring the attention back to your breathing.

2. Mindful Observation

This exercise is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, which we can easily miss when we’re rushing around.

Pick a natural organism – such as a flower, clouds, or the moon, within your immediate environment and focus on watching it.

Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at.

But really notice it as if you are seeing it for the first time, and visually explore it. Allow yourself to just ‘be’.

3. Mindful Listening

This exercise can help you to open your ears to sound in a non-judgemental way.

Much of what we see and hear on a daily basis is influenced by thoughts of past experiences.

But mindful listening can help people to leave the past where it is and come into a present, neutral awareness.

Choose a new piece of music from your music collection, which is something you’ve never heard before but makes you wonder what it might sound like.

Close your eyes and use headphones if you can. Don’t think about the type of music or who is playing it. Instead, just allow yourself to get lost in the sound for the duration of the song. The idea is to just listen and allow yourself to become fully involved with what is being played/sung, without preconceived ideas.

If you don’t have any music to hand that you’ve never listened to before, turn on the radio and turn the dial until something catches your interest.

4. Touch Points

This exercise is designed to make us appreciate our lives by slowing the pace down, and resting a moment.

Think about something that happens every day more than once, something you take for granted, like opening a door for example. At the moment you touch the door knob to open the door, allow yourself to be completely mindful of where you are, how you feel and what you are doing.

The cues don’t have to be physical ones.

It could be that every time you think something negative you take a moment to release the negative thought.

Choose a touch point that resonates with you today. Instead of going through the motions on auto-pilot, stop and stay in the moment for a while, and rest in the awareness of this daily activity.

5. Fully Experiencing a Regular Routine

The point of this exercise is to encourage a sense of feeling contended in the moment, rather than being caught up in that familiar feeling of wanting something to end so that you can get on to doing something else.

Take a regular routine that you find yourself “just doing” without really noticing your actions. For example, when cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of the activity.

Rather viewing it as a routine chore, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of what you are doing, such as noticing the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes. Rather than labouring through thinking about the end point of the activity, be aware of every step of what you are doing and enjoy your progress.

6. A Game of Fives

In this exercise, all you have to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed and unappreciated. These could be things you hear, smell, feel or see. For example, hear the birds in the tree outside in the morning, or smell the flowers in the park. Ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of how these things really benefit your life and the lives of others?
  • Do you really know what these look and sound like?
  • Have you ever noticed their finer, more intricate details?
  • Have you thought about what life might be without these things?
  • Have you thought about how amazing these things are?

Let your mind explore the wonder, impact and possibilities these usually unnoticed things have on your life.  By becoming mindful of who we are, where we are, what we are doing and the purpose, if any at all, and how everything else in our environment interacts with our being, we cultivate a truer awareness of being. This helps us learn to identify and reduce stress and anxiety and difficult, painful and perhaps frightening thoughts, feelings and sensations.

7. Candle Staring Exercise

Stare at a candle flame for ten minutes straight while studying everything you can about it. When your mind wanders, become aware of where it’s going, then bring it back to the candle flame. This form of meditation is a great way to improve your concentration skills.

8. Body scan relaxation

This exercise can help if you have difficulty sleeping. Imagine taking your brain on a trip around your body.

Start by imagining your brain leaving your head and travelling through your body to one of your feet.

Once there, imagine your toe and foot muscles tightening and then relaxing.

Then imagine taking your mind up to your calf, knee and thigh, stopping in each place to repeat the muscle tensing and relaxing. You can then repeat the exercise with your other leg

Following this, start with a hand and work your way up both arms. Eventually you can scan, tense and relax your back, stomach, chest, shoulders, head and face. You can either imagine your muscles tensing and relaxing, or physically tense and relax them. Whichever you feel more comfortable with.

You will know it’s starting to work for you when your limbs start to feel heavy and are happy to sink comfortably into your mattress.

As with the breathing technique, you may find your mind wanders many times. And as before, acknowledge these thoughts in a positive way, but bring your mind gently back to concentrate on your muscles.

9. Tune into your senses

Notice what you are doing as you are doing it and tune into your senses.

When you are eating, take notice of the colour, texture and taste of the food.

Or it could be that every time you smell food you take a mindful moment just to rest and appreciate the food that you’re eating.

10 Learn to stay in the present

This exercise can help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice it, whether you taking a bath, walking, or cleaning the kitchen.

  • Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.
  • Now breathe out through your mouth. Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation.
  • Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savour every sensation.
  • When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
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