Most Recommended Mindfulness Exercises
Updated December 19, 2018
Reviewer Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,
Mindfulness is a technique that is used in many different types of therapies. One of the most useful ways to use mindfulness exercises is as a method of stress reduction. Several studies have shown that people who use mindfulness techniques throughout their day have reduced stress levels and an increased sense of well-being.
Mindfulness exercises can be used in many other ways as well. You can use mindfulness to help overcome addiction, eating disorders, and trauma. Every day people can benefit from regular mindfulness exercises as well, as a means of increasing well-being and self-care.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being hyper-aware of the moment. It is being in the present, acknowledging what you are thinking and feeling, and accepting it without judgment. Being mindful is about immersing yourself in the present moment to the extent that you are fully aware of everything you are experiencing in that moment.
Mindfulness is a good way to keep yourself living in the present. When you find yourself wondering about an uncertain future or dwelling on the past, mindfulness can bring you back to the present moment. Psychologists agree that living in the present is the best way to maintain mental health, happiness, and well-being.
Key Elements of Mindfulness Exercises
Almost any activity can be turned into mindfulness activities. When you have gotten a lot of practice from the more structured mindful exercises, you can practice mindfulness during your everyday activities. Experts agree that all mindfulness activities have these three characteristics.
For an exercise to be mindful, you must be fully aware of the subject. There are generally three components to mindful awareness. These are to stop, to observe, and to return.
First, you must stop activity to be mindfully aware. You cannot be mindful if you are doing other activities or thinking of other things. Stop everything completely and just be in the moment.
Second, you must observe. Observe your feelings, the subject, and concentrate completely on the subject at hand. This could be your breath or any object that you are using for your mindfulness exercise.
Finally, you must return. Especially when first starting out with mindfulness activities you will find that your mind wanders. You must actively return your concentration to observing and being aware of that object or moment. When a thought arises and steals your attention, come back, acknowledge the thought for later, and release it, returning to the subject at hand.
When you are mindful, you are living in the present moment. You are observing everything that is going on in that particular time and place. If you are allowing your thoughts to shift to the future or the past, you are not in a mindful state.
It is possible to be mindful while performing activities in this way. When you are doing activities that you cannot simply stop to take a mindful exercise, you can be mindful of what you are doing. Think about what you can be aware of through the senses, what you are feeling, hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Be in the moment.
Being mindful is to be accepting. You must observe and be aware without judgment or preference. It is to accept what is happening in the moment with curiosity, courtesy, and kindness. When you are completely accepting of the present moment, you will be much calmer and mindful of the activities you are performing.
Most Recommended Mindfulness Activities
The following mindfulness exercises are ones that are commonly recommended by therapists. These exercises are a way for you to stop what you are doing in times of need and be mindful of the moment. It is a way to reduce stress and bring your mind back to a place where you can be productive and healthy.
Some of these exercises are frequently done in group sessions. However, all of these exercises have been adapted to be of use by the individual. Remember that mindfulness gets easier with practice. And, eventually, you will be able to be mindful of normal activities without these exercises.
The Raisin Exercise
All you need for this exercise is a raisin or similar food that has texture, odor, and taste. Sit comfortably and pick up the raisin. Focus first on how it looks. Look at its veins and its pits. Next, think about how it feels, and think about the texture. How does it feel on your skin as you manipulate the raisin? Finally, take in its smell and then at the end of the exercise eat the raisin and focus on its taste.
The Body Scan Exercise
For this exercise, you will either lie flat with palms up or sit in a comfortable chair. You will not move during this exercise if at all possible. If you must shift for comfort, do so slowly and mindfully. First, you are going to become aware of your breath. Don't try to change it, just be aware of it.
Next, you will focus on how your body feels part by part. Start with the toes, then move to the feet, the lower legs, knees, thighs, pelvic area, abdomen, chest, back, hands, arms, then the neck and end with the face. Spend at least one minute "scanning" each part of the body before moving on.
You will need to be in a room with a window for this exercise. Sit comfortably at the window and look outside. Observe everything about the scene in front of you. Do not try to label things such as stop sign or bird. Instead, focus on colors, shapes, and movement. Take in as much of the scene as you can, keeping your mind focused on the scene in front of you.
Five Senses Exercise
The five senses exercise is one that is frequently recommended for those with anxiety or big stressors. It is meant to be done in the heat of the moment. You can do this exercise quickly without any tools, any time, to help you ground and center yourself to tackle problems head-on.
First, stop what you are doing. Just completely stop and decide that you are going to be mindful for a moment. Don't let what is going on prevent you from doing the exercise. Try to stop all activities and all thoughts.
Next, you're going to focus on the five senses. Find five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise can be done very quickly if you are pressed for time, or you can take the time to observe each thing you come to as you explore your senses.
Bringing Awareness Exercise
The bringing awareness exercise can also be done any time, with no tools at hand. First, just simply stop what you are doing. Stop the autopilot, stop activity, and stop your thoughts. Be present at the moment.
Next, focus on your breathing for six breaths or up to one minute, depending on what you have time for. Do not allow thoughts to intrude. Bring your awareness fully to how you are breathing, without trying to change it.
Next, expand your awareness out to your body. What are you sensing? What are you feeling right at this moment? Focus on the sensations of things like the wind on your skin, the feeling of your clothing, or even aches and pains that you are having.
Finally, expand your awareness again to your environment. Take in the colors, shapes, and movements of what is around you. Focus on the colors and shapes rather than labeling things stop sign or bird or grass. Instead of thinking grass, focus on the way the wind moves the grass in the breeze.
Breathing Space Exercise
The three-minute breathing space is another mindfulness exercise that you can do any time, no matter how busy you are or what you are doing. This exercise is very good for people with busy minds who have trouble focusing on any one subject.
First, stop what you are doing and simply think, "How am I doing?" Allow the thoughts and feelings to flow through your mind and give them labels and words. Do this for one minute. Then you are going to focus on your breathing for one minute, letting those thoughts go. Then for the last minute, you are going to expand your awareness to your body, and how the ins and outs of breath effect it.
The Leaf Exercise
This is a very simple mindfulness exercise often used in dialectical behavioral therapy. All you need is a leaf. Sit comfortably and focus on the leaf for five minutes. Focus on its texture, its colors, and its patterns. Trace the patterns with your eye and your mind, maybe even with touch. If thoughts intrude, acknowledge them and let them go and bring your focus back on the leaf.
Eating mindfully is a good exercise for those who are trying to overcome eating disorders or trying to lose weight in general. It is also a good way to bring yourself to the moment. When you sit down to your meal, consider the feel of the food in your hand or the feel of the fork if you aren't eating finger food.
Smell the food. Focus on the different smells that are present in the food and the environment. Then, move on to eat the food mindfully. Focus on the texture of it in your mouth, the variety of tastes that it has, and chew very slowly and deliberately. This exercise will ground and center you and if done with every bite of food is a technique for controlling appetite and portions.
Observing Thoughts Mindfully
If you are having a hard time concentrating because you have a lot of racing thoughts, this mindfulness exercise can help ground you and bring you back to being able to function in the moment. Sit or lie down comfortably and allow your thoughts to flow. Acknowledge each thought then dismiss it. Do not try to label the thoughts or put them in a box. Simply acknowledge that it is there, then let it go. Do this for at least three minutes.
Mindfulness in Therapy
If you have a lot of problems with anxiety or have a mood disorder, mindfulness exercises can help you manage your symptoms. If you need additional help with these problems or if you simply need more information about practicing mindfulness contact a mental health professional.
A therapist can help you learn how to be mindful. Also, group sessions in which you learn different mindfulness techniques can be extremely helpful. If you find that you have difficulty with these exercises on your own, seeking out help might be the best answer.