5 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try

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Whether you’re on the road, at work, or dealing with a family meltdown, practicing mindfulness exercises can help you slow down and be more present. Here are some simple, accessible mindfulness activities you can try.

Pick a repetitive daily activity, such as opening a door or drinking your morning cup of tea. Focus on that one thing and notice your thoughts and feelings as they arise and pass.

Observe Your Breath

Breath awareness is an easy and effective way to practice mindfulness meditation. It helps us feel our own living presence, which is a foundation of mindfulness and a natural state of being. It also helps us notice what is happening in the moment, because each breath has a beginning and an end, just like thoughts.

Try to tune into your natural breathing cycle, inhaling, exhaling, and repeating the process. You can focus on the sensations you feel in your body when this happens, whether it is the rise and fall of the belly or chest, the pause between each inhalation or exhalation, or even just the movement of air passing in through your nose.

When your mind wanders, simply return it to observing your breath, taking care not to try to control or change the breathing pattern. Sometimes, when you become really focused on the breath, it may bring up deep emotions such as anger or sadness. This is completely normal and actually a sign that you are progressing as a mindfulness practitioner!

Another good option is to try alternate nostril breathing, which is a common practice in yoga. This is done by blocking your left nostril while inhaling, then opening the right nostril for the exhale. This can help reduce anxiety and improve concentration, as well as calm the breath and mind.

Body Scan Meditation

A body scan meditation is an effective way to release any physical tension you might be holding onto. It’s a great stress-reliever and can be done seated or lying down, but it works best when you’re in a quiet place free of distractions. Begin by finding a comfortable position, and then bring your attention to the top (or crown) of your head. As you slowly move your awareness down through the brows, cheeks, jaw, ears, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, back, torso, legs, and finally all the way down to the feet and toes, notice any sensations that come up.

It’s important to note when your thoughts begin to drift, and if that happens, simply return your attention to where you left off scanning. It may take a while to feel any tension or pain release, so be patient.

Like other types of mindfulness practice, body scan meditation increases your connection with and awareness of your body, also known as interoceptive awareness. It helps reduce both biological stress (by lowering cortisol levels) and psychological stress through improving self-regulation and attention. In addition, research has shown that practicing mindfulness can actually alter the structure of your brain’s amygdala to make you more resilient to stress and pain (Schultnen et al, 2019).

The Third Minute

In a world where we’re constantly pushed from one thing to the next, mindfulness can help us pause and reset. It doesn’t have to mean an hour-long meditation every day, but a few minutes can be enough to reduce stress and increase productivity.

Mindfulness exercises come in all shapes and sizes and are incredibly varied, but they all aim to enhance awareness. This can be focusing on your breath, your body or the things that happen around you. They also allow you to accept difficult emotions and thoughts without judgement and connect with a deeper constant self that is unaffected by dynamic emotions.

Developing a mindfulness practice can take time, but there are quick and easy mindfulness exercises to get you started. Apps like Calm and Headspace can offer guided meditations of varying lengths, and online mindfulness courses such as those at Coursera and Plum Village are available to stream or download.

For those who find seated meditations uncomfortable or can’t sit for long periods of time, mindful movement is an excellent alternative. For example, a simple mindful walking exercise has been shown to be effective in improving psychological stress and wellbeing compared to a control group1. This is a great activity to perform while on a walk or in the office. Just make sure you’re in a comfortable position with as few distractions as possible!

The Last Minute

If you spend too much time worrying, planning, daydreaming or thinking negative or random thoughts, they can drain your energy and contribute to symptoms of anxiety or depression. Mindfulness exercises can help you learn to direct your attention away from these types of thoughts, which can make you feel more calm and relaxed.

Some mindfulness strategies are meditations or other forms of focused attention, while others are more active and involve moving the body or changing the environment. All of them require patience and perseverance, because it takes some time to develop a mindful habit. However, the more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will become to focus your attention on important things in life and the less likely you are to get caught up in automatic reactions to everyday events.

For example, if you’re drinking a cup of tea or coffee, slow down the process and experience the preparation, the way the water smells and the warmth as it travels down your throat. You can also try to notice your breathing, but let the feeling of the rise and fall of the breath lead you rather than focusing on a particular thought.

Regardless of which mindfulness exercise you choose, you can use these techniques to synchronize your body, brain and nervous system before any physical activity. This is especially helpful for sports, such as cycling or weight training, and it can even be used before work or school to calm the mind and help you focus.

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