Wondering how to get started with mindfulness? You don't have to be a yoga fanatic or attend a spiritual retreat to reap the benefits of practicing mindfulness. All you need is yourself and a little bit of curiosity.
We've broken down what you need to know about getting started with some simple mindfulness exercises you can easily tailor to your day-to-day and cultivate more balance in your life.
Have You Been Living Mindlessly?
Take a moment and see if any of these statements resonate with you:
- Sometimes I feel like a robot going through the motions of life or on autopilot
- I have a hard time enjoying the present moment, even if it is something I like doing or fun
- Often I find it hard to accept myself and current circumstances as they are now and wish for something different
- I tend to rush through things just to get them over with
- I constantly judge or criticize myself and fight with my inner critic
Most people would agree with at least one of the above statements as it is a completely normal part of our day-to-day life to be mindless occasionally; especially in a westernized society that idolizes anyone's ability to multitask,
Our brains create automatic habits to streamline productivity and survive the demands of our lifestyles. But sometimes this can lead to mindlessly going through the motions of our day-to-day lives.
It's no wonder most of us are physically and mentally exhausted or feel overwhelmed; slowing down can feel nearly impossible when our jobs, relationships, hobbies, and the world is constantly crusading forward.
If you want to stop going through the motions and start being in the present moment, mindfulness can be a simple way to show yourself some love, ditch unwanted habits, and connect back with your goals and passions.
You don't have to have a coach, guru guide, or make any elaborate plans to bring a little more mindfulness into your day-to-day.
You've got all the tools you need already to succeed within you to cultivate more mindfulness in your life; it all starts and ends with you.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be described as the act of being deliberately present without judgment or criticism for what is happening both inside you and in your external environment.
Incorporating small mindfulness practices into your daily rituals will help you use what comes into your awareness to explore more about yourself.
Mindfulness can apply to your communication, relationships, eating patterns, or simply be observing your own reactions and behaviors.
Sometimes it's not easy, and that's ok, remember that your health and wellness isn't a destination it is a journey.
Practicing mindfulness encourages us to cultivate conscious awareness; learning to pay attention in the present moment without judgement and criticism (1).
Are There Health Benefits of Mindfulness Exercises?
Mindfulness has its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, people have been practicing mindfulness for thousands of years (2).
Mindfulness practices cultivate self-awareness and may help improve our capacity for self-compassion while reducing stress, depression, anxiety, and other negative emotional states associated with self-judgment (3).
Research continues to explore mindfulness interventions for enhancing psychological health and self-regulation, one of the most widespread intervention programs include the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Thearpy (MBCT) (4).
When you bring your attention to all aspects of your life that influence your health you can conciously create achievable goals around your vision of optimal health.
Getting Started with Mindfulness Techniques
You'll often hear people describe mindfulness as "being in the moment"; common mindfulness practices include various forms of meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or mindful eating.
When getting started with any mindfulness practices try to invite more of the following attitudes into your life (1).
- Nonjudgement: Be aware of our judgments towards ourselves, food, and our environment.
- Patience: This is a process, it takes time to be aware moment by moment.
- Curiosity: Try to be open to new experiences, emotions, and whatever comes up in being here and now.
- Trust: This is your journey, and it won't be the same as anyone else's, noticing and appreciating our experience helps us build trust with ourselves.
- Go with the Flow: Tune into what's happening in the present without judgment.
- Acceptance: It's one thing to develop awareness, it's another to be accepting of what comes up during the process; practice the mantra 'it is what it is".
- Letting Go: Release past expectations and resentment around our choices, let go of attachments and try to be present in the here and now without judgments based on things in the past.
12 Mindfulness Exercises To Start Using Daily
Here is your go-to list for beginner mindfulness exercises to incorporate into your day-to-day life.
1. Mindful Breathing Exercise
Mindful breathing exercises are perfect for everyone, from the mindfulness curious to the experienced meditator, these simple exercises can be performed anywhere and at any time.
Begin by shifting your focus to your breath:
- With your eyes open or closed, begin to notice your breath.
- Focus on the air as you breathe in. Is it hot? cold?
- Feel the oxygenated air expand your lungs and your chest rising
- Then observe the decompression of your chest as you release
- Continue to focus your attention on your breathing, with no changes or expectations only awareness of your breath in the present moment
Our breath literally gives us life and in Eastern tradition, the breath is referred to as "Prana" which means both "breath" and "energy".
In yoga breathing techniques called "Pranayama", meaning the "rise and expansion of the breath" are used to connect your energy and regulate the breath.
Different types of breathing or slowing breathing techniques may promote changes to our autonomic and central nervous systems providing similar benefits observed from meditation (9). Simple breathwork may help us control our emotions and instructs our bodies to slow down, reducing perceived stress (9).
Try out this 5-minute mindful belly breathing exercise for a deeper breathwork exercise.
Try out mindful breathing on your way to work, when you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed, while your cooking, or relaxing at home; it can be done anywhere and for however long you'd like!
2. Walking Meditation
Meditating while walking is about utilizing the power of your mind to get out of your head and connect to the environment around you.
There are different types of walking meditations, depending on your location, who you are with, and what types of environments bring you to a more peaceful state of mind.
A stroll through a community garden or neighborhood park or a quick walk around the city during a lunch break could be the perfect chance to tune in for walking meditation.
Wherever you walking take 30 to 60 seconds to notice your body, scanning from your toes all the way to the crown of your head. Do you feel light or heavy, stiff or relax? Is your breath shallow or deep?
For one to two minutes flow through the following steps:
- Start to observe the pressure between the soles of your feet and the ground supporting you. Bringing attention to your stride and pace without changing how you are walking.
- Now shift your attention to your surroundings, to the trees, flowers, grass, passing cars; without diving deep into thought about the, just simple acknowledging they are there.
- Notice any sounds, smells, physical sensations of the weather; again acknowledging and letting go.
- Shift your attention back to your movement; your arms swinging side to side, the natural rhythm of your walk, and again back to the soles of your feet touching the ground; feeling the support of the earth underneath you
Repeat this process throughout your walk for however long you need, these are simple suggestions and not rules so adapt them how you see fit. You can even do this while walking on a treadmil!
3. Sitting Meditation
Meditation while sitting can be as simple as using the breathwork meditation above but doing it while sitting down!
- Sit comfortably and keep your back straight, rest your feet flat on the ground and position your hands however they are most comfortable.
- Breathe in through your nose and focus on your breath just like in the above breathing exercise.
- Leave your eyes open or closed, but slowly release the tension in your face and body and allow yourself to melt into your chair.
Do this for as little or as long as you'd like!
Try out a sitting meditation while your at home or work for a quick way to check in with yourself.
4. Body Scan Practice
Try out a basic body scan to connect back to your body and tune out your inner critic and any distractions, cultivating more awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for your body in any given moment.
Completing a body scan may help you release built-up tension in parts of the body manifesting as headaches, muscle pains, and fatigue (10).
This may be uncomfortable at first but these feelings can be temporary, a mindful body scan may help you move through these and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress (10).
Try it out:
- Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down. You can close your eyes or leave them open.
- Start with focusing your attention on your feet; wiggle your toes, stretch your foot, push against the floor beneath you; tune in and notice any sensations arising.
- When discomfort arises take a deep breath in through your nose and then actively exhale through your mouth releasing and letting go of any tension in that area.
- Continue this process by working your way up through your body, moving your focus to your ankles, knees, legs, stomach, etc. until you finally reach the crown of your head
- Focusing on each muscle group, body part or whatever feels tight or stuck and use your breath to release tension
Take as long or as little time as you'd like to complete your body check-in, focusing on bringing non-judgmental awareness to your body and acceptance of where you are at right in this moment.
Try out a mindful body scan while you're still in bed in the morning, when you are at work, or right before going to bed at night to aide releasing tension in your body.
5. Make a Gratitude List
There is no denying that experiencing gratitude and appreciation tends to foster positive feelings, which in turn contributes to our overall happiness, decreased depression, and increased satisfaction with ourselves and life (11).
Some studies suggest that when you focus on more positive emotional words and begin using less negative ones, you’re more likely to feel better (12).
Writing down or mentally taking stock of things we appreciate or are grateful for is another way to practice mindfulness. It shifts our brain away from toxic negativity, such as resentment and frustration, to focusing on all the things that make us happy or what we find pleasure in; learning how to be mindful of our lifestyle and wellness.
Make a gratitude meditation a part of your morning or bedtime routine, use it as a journaling prompt, or a way to keep yourself motivated.
Try it out right now! What are 3 things you are grateful for?
6. Try Mindful Eating
If we are not consciously connected to how we feel, our motivation, and our strengths then our actions and choices become mindless. Mindless eating can manifest as restrictive eating, emotional eating, binge eating, and overall an imbalanced relationship with food (13,14).
Research suggests that those who practice mindful eating tend to be more compassionate to themselves and are less likely to reward themselves with unhealthy food, leading to improved body image and more self-love (15).
Try out a mindful eating meditation exercise or start by slowing down your eating by using some of the following tips:
- Take 30-60 seconds before enjoying a meal to pause and look at your meal; observe the color, textures, smell, and arrangement on your plate.
- Give thanks before your meals, taking time to acknowledge the gift of eating
- Eat with your non-dominant hand
- Put down your fork between each couple of bites
Eating mindfully means becoming more conscious (mindful) about what you’re eating, how it tastes, smells, looks, and taking more time to be present in the experience of your meal.
7. Practice Music Meditation
The goal of music meditation is to slow down your conscious mind and connect back to your breath, body, and present; this brings short-term benefits like calming the mind but also helps build resilience against stress over time (16).
You can do this practice anywhere you'd like and for how every long you desire simply get comfortable, close your eyes, and begin to relax.
- Choose meditation music that you enjoy listening to, and preferably music without distracting lyrics.
- Take in the sound of the music, focusing on the feelings in your body the music evokes.
- Any time your mind wanders or a thought pops up, redirect your focus to the music and let it help quiet your inner thoughts so you can connect fully to the music.
Music meditation is wonderful for beginners and great for your nightly bed time ritual.
8. Strech Your Body Or Take Up Yoga
Both stretching and yoga cultivate mindfulness by bringing awareness to your body but do so in different ways.
Stretching refers to holding a position to lengthen and put tension on a targeted muscle then release it; typically incorporated into exercise routines to try and improve performance.
Yoga, on the other hand, is a form of mind-body movement involving both muscular activity and internal mindful focus on your breath, energy, and self (24).
Research suggests therapeutic yoga may enhance muscular strength, flexibility, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life (24).
Include a 5-10 minute morning stretch during your morning routine or take a moment at work and reach your arms to the sky and then folding over to touch your toes to practice mindful movements.
Take up a yoga practice by looking up local yoga studios or try a free yoga for beginners video online!
9. Dance a Little
Dancing, in any form, may be considered a mindful activity; freely moving and surrendering to the music and moment.
Ecstatic dance is a free form movement-based style of meditation and similar to a music meditation but instead of sitting still, you are free to let go and move your body however you'd like.
Ecstatic dance is about being present in your body and dropping any judgments. You can dance as wild and expressive as you want; shake, jump, make sounds, whatever you are feeling!
Dance therapy is also being studied as a psychotherapeutic movement to support cognitive, emotional, physical, and social well-being (19).
Get into a comfortable space, put on what every music you'd like and move your body; Allow what comes up to flow through as you focus on the music and moving freely.
10. Shake it off with a Shaking Meditation
This style of meditation is another movement-based form of meditation; meditation doesn't always have to be sitting quietly!
This is called a shaking meditation, or Trauma Releasing Exercise (TRE) and it’s an integrative neuropsychological approach to help mitigate the experience of excess stress; essentially a mindfulness tool used to help us practice letting go.
The idea is to shake out all the built-up tension in your body and mind. You can try this out by getting into a comfortable space and starting to shake your feet, then your whole leg, then your hands, you get the gist.
Whenever you start to feel frustrated or the tension the built-up try a shaking meditation to shake it off!
11. Mindful Intention Setting
When we practice mindfulness we cultivate the ability to consciously choose how we show up and relate to our inner and outer worlds.
Taking a pause and connect back to your inner values with mindful intention setting; this is as simple as slowing down for 4-5 minutes when you first wake up in the morning and mindfully setting an intention for how you'd like to experience your day.
This isn't about setting goals or completing tasks; setting mindful intentions is an ongoing direction in life, and will feel light and inspiring.
Mindful intentions could be:
- Living in the present
- Being more non-judgemental
- Embracing happiness
- Letting go of stress as it arises
Begin each day by taking a a minute or two to think about what your intentions are, and say to yourself "Today I will be...." adding your intention.
12. Connect to Your Senses Exercise
Using our senses can be a great way to practice mindfulness and reign back in our minds when we start to overthink.
Try out this exercise using your 5 senses to connect back to the present moment:
- What are 5 things you see? Look around and become aware of your environment, look at colors, textures, lighting.
- Now pick out 4 things you can touch and feel. Turning your attention to the texture of your clothing, your desk, or maybe a plant if you are outdoors.
- Shift your focus to what you hear, what are 3 things you can hear; Listen for the small hums in the background from an appliance or the wind outside.
- Notice 2 things you can smell. Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
- Finally, bring attention to 1 thing you can taste. Take a sip of coffee or tea, grab some gum or eat a bit of food and sink into the flavor.
Using the five senses exercise is similar to the walking meditation; calming your mind by brining our attention to our environment.
How To Choose Mindfulness Practices That Works For You
How often or what type of mindfulness practice you decide to do is up to you.
Mindfulness isn't an all-or-nothing activity, so there is no time limit or expectation for the number of days you practice.
Start with whatever feels good and works for you, explore the exercises below, and pick out 1 to try out once every other day to start or once a week and work up to including a mindfulness exercise daily.
You'll find that over time mindfulness may become effortless. Ultimately choosing to practice any for of mindfulness is an act of self-care and nurtures your relationship with yourself.
If you enjoy having some tech support you can download a mindfulness app to guide you through specific meditations, breathing techniques; many of these also provide a variety of soothing music.
Think about what you want to bring more of into your life by becoming more mindful. Then choose an exercise that feels right for the lifestyle you are creating to be the best version of yourself.
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