by Janette Grant 16th June 2018
I talked about mindfulness meditation in my last post and it’s the big thing at the moment, but sometimes in this busy world of ours we just don’t have the time for a long, formal practice; our mind is constantly scattering our thoughts and emotions, leaving us feeling stressed, highly strung and often very anxious.
‘Don’t just look, observe.
Don’t just swallow, taste.
Don’t just sleep, dream.
Don’t just think, feel.
Don’t just exist, live.
It is unfortunate then, that most of us struggle to find five minutes to relax and meditate, let alone 30 minutes or more for a meditation session. Studies have shown how mindfulness meditation has many benefits, including reducing depression and pain, easing stress, accelerating cognition, increasing creativity and much more. So it is essential for our well-being to schedule a few minutes every day to cultivate mental spaciousness and achieve a positive mind-body balance.
Mindfulness exercises help us to become more aware of our more difficult and painful thoughts and feelings. The exercises can give us a sense of control over our thoughts, rather than feeling that we are controlled by them.
So…a quick and easy way to introduce some mindfulness meditation into our day is to do a few, simple mindfulness exercises, to empty our minds, to find some precious calm, and which can be slipped into our daily routine without having to always find time for some more formal mindfulness meditation.
11 examples of some easy mindfulness exercises are:
- Mindful walking – those of us who do regular walking every day – whether walking to work or walking the dog etc – can incorporate some walking mindfulness into the routine. Focus the attention on the sensation of our feet on the ground and our breath as we move. We can also move our attention to other parts of our body. The important thing is to have a relaxed attention.
- Mindful eating – we all eat regularly of course and we can practise mindful eating whilst doing so. When we take the first bite, we should take a moment to pay attention to the taste – really savouring it. We can look at our food carefully, feel the textures, smell it and notice how our body reacts. We don’t need to do this all through the meal! We should just practise it occasionally.
- Mindful mini-break – instead of using our break between tasks to check our email/ Facebook etc we should practise a mindfulness exercise. We could sit for a moment to notice the sensations in our mind and body. Pay attention to how we feel and what we can hear. Try to be as present as possible and when our mind wanders (and it will), gently bring it back to the present and be in the moment.
‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply’
- Mindful listening – we very quickly get used to a lot of sounds and learn to tune them out, so when we have the opportunity, we should try some mindful listening. Pay attention to what we can hear around us or put on some music and really listen to it for a while. Our mind may try to wander to things the music reminds us of, or try to think about the lyrics too much, but we should just let the music flow over us.
- Mindful brushing – some habits are mostly done in such a perfunctory way that we hardly notice them! But tonight, instead of allowing our mind to wander off whilst we brush our teeth, we could focus instead on actually experiencing it. Notice how the brush feels on our teeth and the taste of the toothpaste. We can include any chore, such as washing the dishes, or a routine shower, and incorporate mindfulness into the process – bringing our mind back to the present when it wanders off.
- Mindful breathing – we can choose any moment during our day to focus on one breath – perhaps in the few seconds before answering the phone or when standing in line somewhere. We can focus our attention on how it feels when we breathe in and breathe out, noticing on how the air expands our chest and abdomen. It’s just a simple, little reminder for our mind to be present.
- Mindful observation – this exercise can help us notice and appreciate our environment in a deeper way. It helps us to connect with the beauty around us, which is often overlooked when we are rushing around. We should choose an object, such as a flower, and focus on it for a minute or two, simply relaxing into watching it for as long as our concentration allow. Look at it as if it’s the first time it’s ever been seen and explore every aspect of it, connecting with its energy and purpose with the world.
- Mindful awareness – similar to mindful brushing, the aim here is to bring a more heightened awareness and appreciation to the everyday simple tasks we do and the results they achieve. Maybe something as simple as opening a door for example, where just as we touch the doorknob to open the door, we can stop for a moment and be mindful of where we are, how we feel in that moment and where the door leads. Or, maybe each time we smell food, we could take a moment to stop and be grateful to have good food to eat and share with our family. It doesn’t have to be a physical touch point cue though – it could be that each time we have a negative thought, we could take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity. Just choose some touch points at some moments in the day to stop and cultivate awareness of what we are doing and the blessings those actions bring to our lives.
‘Today I will live in the moment’
- Mindful Immersion – the thinking behind this exercise is to build contentment in the moment, instead of our normal constant striving to finish one task just to get on with another! We need to take that regular chore and pay attention to every detail – experiencing it like we never have before. For example, when cleaning the house we should feel the motion when brushing up, sense the muscles we are using etc and discover new experiences within this familiar task. Instead of just working through and thinking about finishing the task, we should become aware of every step – fully immersing ourself into the process. We might even end up enjoying the cleaning for once!
- Mindful senses – a simple mindfulness exercise is to focus our awareness through our three senses
How to use your senses to be mindful
of sound, sight and touch on what we are experiencing right now. Taking a few breaths we should think: What are three things I can hear? What are three things I can see? What are three things I can feel? Think about these answers slowly, one sense at a time – it’s impossible to do this without being present and mindful.
- Mindful Appreciation – for this exercise we need to notice five things that we normally overlook – these can be people or objects or a mixture of both. The idea of this is to simply be thankful and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in our life that support our existence, but that which we hardly give a second thought in our constant craving for bigger and better things. Even something as simple as the electricity that powers our kettle can be appreciated, but how often do we stop to think about how it exists or how it works? Have we recognised how it benefits our life and others? Have we thought about what life would be like without it and how everything is interconnected in this world of ours. I recently watched read a book where the first attack aliens used was to block all electricity in the world and it wasn’t until I truly sat and thought about how much we rely on it that I fully appreciated what it would mean to be without it! There is a saying: ‘If we woke up tomorrow ONLY with the things we were grateful for today, what would we have?’ Makes you think doesn’t it?! So…we should identify our five things and then endeavour to find out everything we can about their creation and purpose, so we can truly appreciate how they support our lives.
These items are great to help us expand our choice of simple little exercises we can use daily:
Mindfulness Pocketbook: Little Exercises for a Calmer Life – this little book has over 100 quick exercises for a wide range of situations in our lives, to help us become calm, collected and present. It will help us develop more mindful thinking, which will benefit us in our personal, social and work life.
The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 minutes a day to less stress, more calm – these simple 5 and 10 minutes practises will help us rid ourselves of stress and find a more mindful, peaceful and relaxed life.
Stress Less Cards: 50 Inspirational Mindfulness & Meditation Cards – these cards contain 50 effective exercises to help us relieve stress and deal with anxiety whenever we need it. The techniques can be easily memorised and used anywhere to stop that stress reaction and help us relax.
If we can regularly practise the above simple exercises every day for just a few minutes, we will develop a moment-by-moment awareness of our surroundings, which will help us better cope with all the negative thoughts and feelings that create stress and anxiety in our life. When we can control our ability to keep our mind in the present moment – instead of being led subconsciously by our emotions influenced by negative past experiences and fears of future occurrences – we can deal with all life’s challenges in a clear-minded, calm and assertive manner.
We will then expand into a fully conscious mind-set where we can escape from unhelpful, self-limiting thought patterns and become fully present to focus on positive emotions that will increase our compassion and understanding of ourselves and others.