What is Mindfulness and what are some of the most efficient mindfulness training exercises? The answer to this question is a life-transforming idea, a lifestyle and set of practices that will bring you inner peace, joy, and contentment.
I don’t need to be at peace, I need to be out there and make a mark for myself is what you say. But understand that your success is measured by your discipline and inner peace. Remember the story from Kung Fu Panda 2 where he defeats Lord Shen after finding the inner peace?
Mindfulness has turned out to be an elixir for people stressed to the core by their busy-till-death lifestyle. Mindfulness exercises have proved immensely beneficial to the people struggling with anxiety disorders, depression, and mood swings. Even people with suicidal behaviors have found respite by practicing mindfulness training exercises.
What is Mindfulness?
As per the words of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinh, a prominent mindfulness expert,
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Now let us break down this definition.
Paying attention: This is the first step of mindfulness where you come out of your auto-pilot mode of living and start paying complete attention to the current activity in hand. Furthermore, this is not just performing series of bodily motions, like washing dishes, but being engrossed in the moment.
On Purpose: You force your mind to stay immersed in the activity and prevent it from wandering off in different directions. This is done on purpose to gain control over your monkey-mind.
Present Moment: This is crucial as more often than not when we are performing a daily chore like driving, walking or brushing our teeth, our mind is bombarded by anxieties of the future or regrets and worries of the past. This continuous noise blocks our creativity and disturbs our inner peace.
Non-Judgemental: The idea here is to not judge the experience and take it as it is. The reason is that our prejudiced mind takes a course of its own with respect to an experience and our mind gets burdened by the train of thoughts that ensue.
Another interesting read on mindfulness – See the article
People are making countless efforts to find happiness and peace of mind. However, everything goes in vain because we turn to external factors for our problems. We resort to hoarding material stuffs to fill the gap we feel in our heart.
The answers are within you.
It is not that you do not know peace, joy or happiness. You were born with it. It is just that now you are not aware of your body and its energies.
This lack of awareness is very similar to driving a car and not being aware of the two pedals. If you simply press them at your will, you might move forward but it won’t be a smooth ride.
Recall the time when you were sitting in a classroom and not able to comprehend even a single word that your teacher was saying. The sound was still hitting your eardrums but you were simply not able to perceive anything because your awareness level had gone down.
Logically, if it can go down then it can be brought to higher levels too.
Now, as your awareness or wakefulness goes into higher dimensions, your perception becomes clearer and the penetration power of your perception deepens. Once perception deepens, it changes the quality of your experience. Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Did you enjoy how he magically solved mysteries just with his power of perception?
A recent Harvard research shows that our mind wanders 47% of our time in a day, different to the task we are currently doing. If you extrapolate it to a lifetime then that is nearly half of our life that we missed experiencing.
In Mindfulness, one is not only restful and happy but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion, it is a serene encounter with reality
– Thich Nhat Hanh, a prominent Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist nominated for peace prize by Martin Luther King.
Mindfulness Training Exercises You Should Try Today
You can fit some of these mindfulness exercises if not all into your life while carrying out regular tasks like walking, brushing your teeth or just listening to your favorite music track.
This is the most common of the practiced and preached mindfulness training exercises.
It is because your breath establishes a connection between your mind, body, and soul. It is the only involuntary bodily function which we can control unlike digestion, heart beating, etc. ( some of the mystics have been reported to reach an awareness where they can control their heartbeat and pulse).
Let me break down the steps for focused breathing.
- Sit down, cross your legs and keep your spine erect.
- Close your eyes and bring your focus on the tip of your nose.
- Observe the breath as you inhale and exhale.
- Your mind will be bombarded with thoughts. Do not chase any thoughts.
- Your mind will be pulled by different thoughts but pull your focus back on your breath.
- Do not force your breathing. Just be observant of the air filling in your lungs and out.
Try to do this for 5-10 minutes initially. Slowly you will get better at this. With continued practice, you will get better at this. This activity alone has the capacity to recharge your body with positive energy.
For further reading check this insightful article on Simple Meditation Technique
The breath is a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so enjoy the experience and feel it heal your body.
2. Mindful Observation
This is one of those mindful training exercises which may sound simple and of no consequence but the effect is truly very profound.
It will allow you to appreciate and experience simple elements of your surroundings in a more rewarding way.
The intent of this exercise is to connect us with the beauty and the complexity of nature’s elements, something that we always miss to acknowledge in the hustle bustle of our daily activities.
Pick an object from your immediate surroundings and focus on watching it intently with no biased thoughts. This could be a flower, a leaf, a stone or even the clouds.
Be observant of its color, pattern, design, and touch. Simply immerse yourself into this object by closely focussing on its existence.
Look at this object from a child’s eye or as if you are seeing it for the very first time.
Notice every aspect of its formation, and immerse yourself by its presence.
Feel yourself connecting with its energy.
This exercise is a crucial element of the mindfulness training exercises’ toolkit as it reforms our thinking to be observant of the magic around us. By focussing on the object at hand, you pull yourself from the external world and thus save yourself from expending the precious energy and mental peace to the worries of the past and future.
The whole idea is to be observant, but not critical of the object itself. To increase your awareness and not be fixated upon an idea.
This helpful article on Mindfulness will prove very helpful to you.
3. Listening as a Mindful Exercise
This exercise is in continuation to train your mind to use your senses to live in the moment and perceive the facts in a non-judgmental way.
On an average, there are hundreds of sounds in and around you. There are people talking, machines running, birds chirping, cars racing, neighbors shouting. They are there right now but you notice them only once you bring your attention to it.
Let us now take the simple act of listening to the music.
Our choice of music largely depends on our mood. We play a fast track when we feel good and slow track when we feel low. Then as soon as we hit the play button, we are consumed in the pool of thoughts that flood our mind-gates.
So the idea of this exercise is to listen to some music from a neutral standpoint and be totally present in the moment.
Select a music that randomly comes to your head ( preferably a soft soothing music) Close your eyes and put on your headphones or play it loud.
Do not have any preconceived thoughts about the song, the artist or the genre. Just flow with the song.
Now explore every aspect of the track. The upscale and downscale of the music notes. The pauses in between the sound notes.
Differentiate each note and the different instruments you listen in the song.
Explore every fathomable detail in a non-judgemental way.
Read more on Mindful Listening by Dr. Elizabeth Hall.
4. Mindful Immersion
This mindful exercise is one of those exercises that you can carry out as part of your regular routine work.
The motive for practicing this task is to train the mind to savor the moment and avoid being caught up in the chain of thoughts on a daily basis.
Try this out next time when you carry out a daily chore.
Instead of anxiously waiting to get over with the task, convert that task into a healing and blissful experience.
For instance: Take the simple activity of shampooing your hair, washing dishes, ironing your clothes or cleaning your closet. Instead of rushing through the act, pay attention to every detail of the activity.
Do not just rush through the motion but observe each effort that you make to complete the task.
Here is another handy exercise that you can try and benefit from.
Next time when you stop at a red light, eagerly waiting for it to turn green, try practicing mindfulness.
Let red light be a reminder to take make necessary stops in your life. Use this time to sit back and relax. Use the ten seconds of the red light to practice mindful breathing and release the tension in the body.
5. The Body Scan or Shavasana (corpse asana)
This is a very relaxing exercise and you will experience ultimate inner peace and joy once you complete the exercise.
- Lie down on your back with your palms facing upwards and feet falling slightly apart.
- Start the body scan by bringing your awareness to your breath. It is important that you do not force your breath.
- Now slowly bring your focus to the fingers of your feet. Drift your focus gently from the little finger to the thumb one by one.
- Traverse from left to right and from bottom to top of your body, gently pausing at each stop for 5 seconds.
- Work your way from feet (left to right) to your leg, thighs, waist, back, stomach, shoulders, fingers (left to right), hands (left to right), neck, head, eyes, ears, nose, lips and finally in the region between your eyebrows.
- So to reiterate, the idea is to move from left body parts to right and bottom to top.
- Whenever you make a stop at a body part, feel the tension being released from that part.
- Once you are done, rub the palms of both your hand to generate some body heat and gently place them over your eyes before you open them.
6. Exercising the gift of smell
Smelling is an activity which we generally tend to ignore unless the fragrance is very good or bad.
Awaken your olfactory lobes by bringing your awareness to smells that you usually ignore. Do not label them as pleasant or unpleasant.
Observe the different fragrance that the breeze carries and segregate the sources from one another.
7.Mindful Walking – A Walk to Remember
This one is my personal favorite as it not only caters to the necessary physical movement that is very important( especially when you have a predominantly sedentary job) but also helps me heighten my awareness.
This activity just like mindful breathing and immersion is one of those mindful training exercises that you can do as part of your daily chore.
Just include it in your daily routine to experience remarkable changes.
Our busy schedule dictates that we keep rushing from one point to another. We exhaust ourselves to get the work done but at what cost. It has cost us peace and joy. We have forgotten to smile and be thankful for the life we have.
Make this activity an initiative to connect with yourself and to your surroundings. Walk gently and be aware of how you place your feet.
With every step, feel the earth and its solidity and rejoice in the fact that you are where you need to be. Let this be an act of reverence. Be thoughtful and grateful for everything that you see around you.
Feel, hear, smell the different elements that add to your experience.
You have arrived at where life is really available- the present moment.
8. Effective Mindfulness Exercises – DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive-behavioral treatment that was initially drafted to heal suicidal cases and is currently held as a standard for the psychological treatment of such patients.
This therapy has proven to be very effective in multiple cases of other disorders such as substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating and sleeping disorders.
In addition to the clinically approved DBT mindfulness techniques, there are some other unique mindfulness exercises which can help people with anxiety, depression and other disorders.
a. Observing a leaf
I had heard of this technique from an Indian mystic in a youtube interview. I did not realize then that this simple activity can have such huge benefits.
Watch his interview on attaining success by paying attention –
This exercise requires a leaf and your attention.
Take a leaf, hold it in your hand. Try focussing on its color, shape, pattern, the edges. Give it your full attention for five minutes.
This immediately brings you in the present moment and help you attain a high level of attention to your current experience.
b. Mindful eating
I read about this activity of mindful eating from the brilliant book by Dr. Joan – Inner Peace for Busy People.
This requires you to be mindful when you are having your meal.
Most of us have got into this habit of eating with TV on, a book in our hand or earphones plugged into our ears. This takes our attention everywhere but the food.
As you take the first bite of your meal, try to experience the taste of the food.
Feel the aroma and the texture as you chew your food. Notice the taste and its texture against your tongue.
Jan Chozen Bays from psychology today suggests that our problems with calories and fat cells are not because of the food but our lack awareness of how we eat. – Check out the complete article
This is one of those fun mindfulness exercises that you can carry out as part of your daily routine and enjoy while doing it.
c. Observe your thoughts for fifteen minutes
We discussed this during our mindful breathing exercise. We need to sit in a relaxed state and observe our thoughts. No need to run after any thoughts, just observe them as a passive non-interfering entity.
Slowly, as the time progresses, you will notice that the intensity of the thoughts reduces i.e. fewer and fewer thoughts come to your thoughts. Eventually, a time is reached when we do not have any thought in our head. This further leads to a state of blissfulness called as Samadhi ( highest state of consciousness).
d. Mindfulness bell exercise
This is a variant of the mindful listening exercise that we discussed earlier. Here we are asked to listen to sound with rapt attention until it fades completely.
This exercise keeps us anchored in the present moment and help us come out of the trap of our guilt and worries.
Check out the Bell Meditation technique
e. Focussed Staring at the center
This exercise requires the person to focus on the center of a moving pattern of colors.
Again the intent is to force the body and the mind to be together present as a unit.
This activity reminds me of a similar exercise that we were taught in our school. We needed to focus on the flame of the candle and observe minutely the flickering and the movement of the flame.
9. Mindfulness Techniques for Depression
All of us have faced depression at one or the other stage of our lives. The feeling of I am not good enough, my life is a mess, no good ever happens to me, etc. have plagued us at some point or the other.
The feeling of shame and guilt is overbearing and it leads to depression.
But the fact is shame doesn’t work.
We can never achieve anything worthwhile till the time we let ourselves be dictated by guilt and shame.
This has been scientifically proven. When we experience shame, the part of the brain responsible for learning and growth shuts down. What happens is that amygdala triggers a flood of nonepinephrine and cortisol in our system.
Shame literally robs the brain of its capacity to learn and transform.
Watch Shauna Shapiro explain in length on this topic in a Ted Talk.
This is how mindfulness techniques prove helpful in depression.
Mindfulness allows the person to be present in the moment. This gives the necessary pauses to experience their thoughts and feelings. This enables them to respond rationally to any stimuli and not react to everything based in their present emotions.
Mindfulness boosts self confidence as it gives the person control over his thoughts, behaviour and actions.
Mindfulness allows patients to develop an empathetic outlook towards all.
It does not really matter how fast or expensive the car is. If it needs to move forward then you need to stop at gas stations to refuel the tanks.
Mindfulness training exercises are very similar to the gas stations. You cannot expect to move peacefully if you ignore to stop over at the check points.
Whenever you find some idle time, instead of checking your email, whatsapp or facebook messages, try mindful breathing. Focus on what you can see, feel, smell and hear. It has been medically proven that short sessions of mindfulness helps bring down the stress level significantly.
Why mindfulness training exercises?
Mindfulness has a profound effect on your mind and body chemistry. It strengthens the immune system, decreases cortisol levels, helps with insomnia, mood swings and anxiety disorders.
Our worries and anxieties are just our thoughts that causes problems in our lives. These mindfulness training exercises help us cope better with these difficult thoughts.
Once we learn to be in the present and not caught up in the plans for the future or the moments of the past, we learn to handle our challenges in a more clear, calm and assertive way.
We free ourselves from the self limiting and damaging thoughts and beliefs and unwind ourselves to a totally rewarding experience.
Our society has cultivated a culture of thinking and that is great. All our discoveries and inventions are a result of the possibility thinking. But, what we are not taught is how to stop thinking.
In a melodious song, the position of the empty notes are just as important as the sound notes. Otherwise you get only noise. Similarly, these mindfulness training exercises create the necessary moments of peace, joy and blissfulness to manifest a perfect symphony in our lives.