Breaking into Mindfulness: 16 Exercises


How often do we get all excited about a self-improvement method, only to give up soon after starting the actual practice?  Think New Year’s resolutions… sound familiar?

For instance, maybe you’ve read about the wonderful benefits of being more mindful and meditative, but you’re not ready for a 30-minute meditation session in the lotus position.  You tried to sit still for 5 minutes but your mind found 5 extra minutes to race between everything you’ve got going on.  So let’s take a look at some ways to ease into this age-old practice.

For any mindfulness practice to be successfully sustained, the environment has to be conducive to an atmosphere in which we feel totally comfortable.  So the first step is to determine what kind of mindfulness activity is a good fit.  The good news is that there are limitless ways to practice conscious and mindful living.  Let’s review just a few of the tried and true methods.

 Individual Mindfulness Exercise Ideas:

  1. Five Senses – In this exercise the mind is brought to focus on 5 things that you can see, feel, hear, smell, and touch… slowly, very consciously and one at a time. It might help to pick subjects that one would otherwise just take for granted.
  2. Quick Mindfulness – Consciously shifting from everyday auto-pilot mode, we bring awareness to whatever we are doing, thinking, or sensing in the now of the present moment. We bring awareness to the breath, expanding that awareness out to the body and to the environment around us.  Incidentally, bringing awareness to the sensation of breathing is its own widely practiced meditative technique.
  3. Walking Mindfulness – Rather than the normal rush to get somewhere, this practice asks us to notice everything from what the eyes might see to how the air might feel, to how the pressure of the ground feels on all parts of the foot, and leg.
  4. Space for Nature – We shift the mind’s focus to something exuberate with life, like a tree or a leaf. We notice the colors, the shape, the texture, the patterns, and the wonders of life in creating such a thing.
  5. Eating – Doing so mindfully encompasses gratitude as well as awareness to the sensations associated with enjoying a meal, slowly and in a quiet setting.
  6. Sound of the Bell – An easy exercise, with eyes closed, is to listen with the mind focused on the slowly receding sound of a bell, until it fully dissipates. As the exercise is repeated, the mind’s ability for sharp focus is enhanced.
  7. Self-Realization – Achieving this through meditation is the ultimate aim of practitioners worldwide. Quieting the mind, the meditator delves deeper and deeper toward the Eternal Self, transcending identification with superficial self, the ego and everything that most people think defines who they are in the physical world.

 Individual Mindfulness Exercise Ideas for Stressed States:

  1. Self-Compassion – Depending on where the pain point may be, attention is brought to bear on physical, mental, or emotional pain. With a hand over one’s heart and some deep breaths, the suffering is acknowledged with the aim to find some separation between the observer and the suffering part(s).  Giving oneself permission to realize that suffering is part of our journey, and allowing oneself the forgiveness and compassion, paves the way for acceptance and self-love despite the hurt.
  2. Discerning Mindfulness – Perhaps useful for depression, the exercise involves relaxing, focusing on the natural breath, and then discerning all incoming impulses into distinct categories: thoughts, sensations, and emotions.  This exercise helps to build some separation between the seer and the seen, a key foundation to spiritual maturity.
  3. Attitude Adjustment – To turn around anxiety, the key is shifting perspective. This is where it’s all about the attitude:  What is your intention?  Do you have a beginner’s mind that is ready for new ideas? Is there patience and acknowledgement? Is there non-judgement?  Can you accept the current state as it is?  Do you have the capacity for self-reliance and self-compassion?  Do you show balance and equanimity?
  4. Emotional Peaks – Useful in cases of anger or other emotionally charged times, mindfulness means to make some space between the actual feeling and the cause. It begins with noticing the body’s reaction to the emotion, irrespective of how it came about.  You become a witness rather than getting swept away by the waves of emotion.  As you mature in this practice, you can become a loving and compassionate witness to the events swirling in the mind.
  5. Addiction and Mindfulness – As a supplement to professional help, the concept here is for the individual again find separation between physical cravings and emotional baggage – such as guilt or helplessness. In this context, cravings can be observed as intruders and not inevitably integrated with the self-identity of the person.  Mindfulness is best applied when assimilated into a broader health & medical strategy for overcoming addiction.

 Group Mindfulness Exercise Ideas:

  1. The Raisin – Each person is given a raisin and asked to explore it as if for the first time: how it looks, smells, noticing the rich textures visually and by touch, and how it chews and tastes.
  2. The Body – After everyone is lying or sitting in stillness, the facilitator takes the group is an orchestrated and very conscious tour of their bodies, perhaps beginning with the breath, then sequentially through the various specific body parts. Everyone is asked to pay keen attention to how that body part feels, any internal sensations, or interactions with parts of clothing.
  3. The Seeing – Sitting comfortably by a window, the idea here is to take in a view outside without labeling or categorizing. Noticing colors, patterns, textures, movements in a keenly observant way but without any sort of judgement or critical notions.
  4. The Listening – Group members are asked to share something they are looking forward to, or something they are stressed about. Afterwards, each person discusses very specifically how it felt to speak, and how it felt to listen to another.  What feelings were in play?  Where was the mind?  Was there empathy or judgement?  How did the body feel?
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