AS MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION PRACTICES have become increasingly mainstream, more and more people are actively seeking resources for how to incorporate these tools and mindfulness exercises into their lives. But many of the existing articles on the subject are centered on the whys of practice, including evidence-based benefits; they don’t truly serve the beginner who’s diving into practice for the first time.
Many students have practical questions and share common concerns—everything from preventing the mind from wandering, to what to do if you need to scratch your nose, to what you have to be, do, and have to “do it right.”
There are a few practical guides out there, but even those are lacking in depth. In this guide, I’ve created a practical and straightforward approach to mindfulness exercises, including a variety of options that cater to different personalities and lifestyles.
Mindfulness Exercises #1: Stealth Kindness
TIME: 15 Minutes
This practice was first introduced to me on a daylong retreat in Los Angeles. As our group meditated in the middle of the city, the teacher explained this as a way to bring our practice to the real world. Although this is a practice in cultivating loving-kindness, it can also help you let go of overthinking and concentrate the mind.
- You can do this practice while walking, driving, or sitting in a space wherever other people are present. This can be a part of your normal routine, or you can set aside special time for it.
- Pick one person at a time, whoever grabs your attention naturally. Recognize that this is a person with hopes, dreams, fears, regrets, memories, and loved ones. Just like you, this person wants to be happy. Offer a simple phrase of loving-kindness in your head, such as “May you live with ease today.”
- Move to the next person you see and repeat. Allow yourself to enjoy the practice of dropping “kindness bombs” on the other people you see.
- Continue doing this for several minutes. If you run out of people, you can return to someone you have already visited. Or you can offer yourself a little kindness.
- When you get to where you are going or are ready to move on with your day, let the loving-kindness phrases go. However, don’t hesitate to return to them at any point as a reminder of your intention to be kind.
Mindfulness Exercises #2: Mindful Media
TIME: 20 Minutes
Just as you take food into your body, consuming both healthy and not-so-healthy options, you also consume media throughout the day. You listen to music, watch TV, read the news, and so on. Although these may provide knowledge and entertainment, they can also create anxiety and stress in our minds and bodies or take us away from our connection to the mind.
This mindfulness exercise offers a few different ways to bring mindfulness to these moments of consumption. They don’t necessarily need to be done step-by-step.
- First, consider what the impact may be of what you are choosing to consume. Are you reading the news to inform yourself, or to fuel frustration? Perhaps the television show you watch has quite a bit of violence and gets your nervous system going. This isn’t to label a show, story, or song as good or bad. It’s merely about recognizing the effects of your choice.
- As you consume the piece of media, notice the response of the mind and body. If you are watching TV, mute the volume during commercials to check in with yourself. When reading a news story, pause every few paragraphs. Watch for stress, anxiety, or increased energy in the body.
- Whether you’re watching television, reading the news, or listening to music, try to be fully present with your experience. Watch the individuals on the TV, pay attention to the details of the news story, and hear the individual instruments of a song. Dive into the experience with your full attention.
You may feel as if this practice ruins the experience of consuming—most of us watch TV, for example, as a means of checking out, not in. As you begin to pick apart your choices, they may become less entertaining in the traditional sense.
This is normal, and it’s a part of the practice. see if you can still bring appreciation and an easygoing attitude to these experiences, and try not to take them too seriously. Notice joy, laughter, and any other positive reactions you have to what you’re consuming.
Mindfulness Exercises #3: Driving with Mindfulness
TIME: 10 Minutes
driving can be a time of stress, autopilot, or downright rage. But similar to mindful bathing, it’s a prime opportunity to cultivate mindfulness, partly because it’s a natural transition between one part of your day and another.
If you’re the one driving, remember that safety is the number one priority! You may try this practice in a parking lot first, in a quiet neighborhood, or in a place where you feel comfortable behind the wheel. Mindful driving can also help you be less distracted while driving, making you a better driver.
- Start this practice before you begin driving. Sitting in your car, feel the points of contact. Tune in to the feet on the pedals, the sensation of sitting in the seat, and the hands-on wheel. As you turn your car on, feel and hear the sensation of the car starting.
- As you begin moving, pay attention to the experience of driving. You don’t need to do anything special. Just watch your experience with present-time awareness. Notice other cars, the noises of driving, and anything else that arises.
- Try using a simple noting practice. When you hear your blinker, note “Blinker” in your head. When you turn, note “Turning.” Notice any movement, sounds, sights, or feelings in the body as you drive.
- If and when you see another driver, try offering a phrase of lovingkindness. Say to the person, “May you drive with ease.”
Mindfulness Exercises #4: Killing Time
TIME: 10 Minutes
No matter how busy you are, there are always some moments when you just need to “kill some time.” You may scroll through social media, play a game on your phone, or read the news. When you have a few minutes to kill, you can use it as a period of practice. Instead of telling yourself that these habits are bad or wrong, you can use them as a focus for your mindfulness, thus making them more restorative and restful.
You can use this mindfulness exercise to take a break from your day at work or home, using your few free minutes to arrive in the present moment. This exercise will focus specifically on the use of smartphones, as this is a common way many of us check out during the day.
- When you have a few minutes to spare in which you would normally kill time, notice the habitual urge to waste time. (This doesn’t mean you label the habit wrong or bad; it’s just about observing.)
- As you begin participating in your normal method of killing time, bring some mindfulness to the act. If you take your phone out, pay attention to your state of mind as you do so. Can you be fully present as you begin scrolling through social media, playing a game, or reading a news story?
- Use the sense of sight as the object of your awareness. Watch what you are doing as you do it. Pay attention to the picture as a whole, and the individual parts of what you are seeing. Notice colors, shapes, movement, and anything that grabs your attention.
- As you click the screen or interact with your phone, be mindful of the interaction between the body and the device.
- Continue to “kill time” mindfully, attending to the actions with gentle awareness. Don’t judge yourself for taking a break. Be proud you are using your break to take care of yourself and cultivate mindfulness.
Mindfulness Exercises #5: Stilling the Mind
TIME: 10 Minutes
As you go about your day, you may notice that your practice gets further and further away from your awareness. The mind goes on autopilot for hours on end. This can sometimes result in feelings of anxiety or rapid thinking.
You can always use this practice of stilling the mind to help settle yourself back into calm awareness. When you’re focused and relaxed, you are more productive and able to better attend to your experience.
- Stop what you are doing to set aside 10 minutes to practice. Notice how this feels in the mind. If thoughts about chores, tasks, or the future arise, just notice that they are present.
- Utilize the breath to help relax the body. As you inhale, invite in relaxation. With the exhale, allow the muscles in the body to relax.
- Recognize that although the mind may not always do what you want it to, it is the mind that allows you to experience joy, pleasure, and gratitude. Begin offering the mind a few phrases of loving-kindness to build a gentler relationship with its thoughts. You can use the phrases “May my mind be at ease” and “May I be at ease with my mind.”
- Continue repeating these phrases, directing them toward the mind. Use the phrases in your head as the object of your awareness. Try to hear the words in your head and connect with the meaning of the phrase.
- When you notice the mind is agitated, anxious, or overactive, use a one-word note. Note “Thinking,” “Anxious,” or whatever is present for you. Then, return to your phrases.
- Continue with the repetition of phrases until the time is up. Remember to be gentle, not forcing or straining to concentrate. If the mind wanders off, just notice it is doing so and gently bring it back.
CARRYING THE STILL MIND WITH YOU: You can bring this practice with you as you transition back into your day. During your day, notice the moments in which the mind is especially active or agitated. Use that as an awareness trigger to pause for a brief moment, notice the thoughts you are experiencing, and offer the mind a wish of ease.
You can do this a couple of times and then return to whatever you were doing. This helps you retrain the mind to respond with friendliness and awareness, rather than falling victim to whatever thoughts are arising.
Also Read: Ten Yoga Poses to Do Everyday