What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the raw human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice daily.
Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses or to your state of mind via thoughts and emotions, you’re mindful. And there’s growing research showing that you’re actually remodeling your brain’s physical structure when you train your brain to be aware.
Practice awareness and find a sense of calm. For a moment, let go of the worry, fear, and distractions —
We all face stressful situations throughout our lives, ranging from minor annoyances like traffic jams to more serious worries, such as a loved one’s grave illness. No matter what the cause, stress floods your body with hormones. Your heart pounds, your breathing speeds up, and your muscles tense.
This is called “stress response,” which is a normal reaction to threatening situations, honed in our prehistory to help us survive threats like an animal attack or a flood.
Today we rarely face these physical dangers; however, challenging situations in daily life can set off the stress response. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.
When we activate the relaxation response, we can affect the following changes to our body:
- Our heart rate slows down.
- Breathing becomes slower and deeper
- Blood pressure reduces or stabilizes
- Our muscles relax
- Blood flow to our brain increases.
Four Mindfulness Exercises to Relax your Mind and Body
There are a variety of mindfulness exercises to suit everyone. We are all different and have different needs, preferences, fitness, and ways we react to stress.
The Raisin Exercise
This is a great introductory exercise for beginners to start practicing mindfulness. In this exercise, the participant pays careful attention to:
- The way the raisin looks
- Notice how it feels to touch
- Also, how your skin responds to manipulation
- Then, how the raisin smells
- And, its taste
When you’re able to focus on one single object, such as a raisin, it is meant to bring your mind to the present; to what is right in front of you. We may be used to raisins and not used to taking time to actually notice them.
When you follow the above instructions and notice, it is much easier to focus on what is in front of you. If your mind does wander, that is natural too. Gently guide it back to exercise.
The Body Scan
Another popular exercise of mindfulness is called the Body Scan. It requires very little in the way of props or tools and is easily accessible.
- The body scan begins with the participants lying on their backs with their palms facing up and their feet falling slightly apart. This exercise can also be done by sitting on a comfortable chair with feet resting on the floor
- Lie still for this exercise duration and move only with awareness if it becomes necessary to adjust the position.
- Bring awareness to the breath first, notice the rhythm, the experience of breathing in and out.
- Pay attention to your body: how it feels, the texture of clothing against the skin, the contours of the surface on which the body is resting, the body’s temperature, and the environment.
- Bring attention to the body parts tingling, sore, or feeling particularly heavy or light.
A typical body scan runs through each part of the body, paying particular attention to the way each area feels. The scan usually moves systematically through the body, e.g., starting at the feet and moving upwards.
For some, the absence of visual stimuli can feel stifling. After all, a healthy imagination does not come naturally to everyone. It is a simple exercise, requiring only a window with some kind of view. It is guided by the facilitator through the following steps.
- Find a space at a window where there are sights to be seen outside.
- Look at everything there is to see. Avoid labeling and categorizing what you see outside the window. Try noticing the colors, the patterns, or the textures.
- Pay attention to the movement of the grass or leaves in the breeze. Notice the many different shapes present in the small segment of the world. Try to see the world outside the window from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with these sights.
- Be observant, not critical.
- If you become distracted, gently pull your mind away from those thoughts and notice a shape or color again to put you back in the right frame of mind.
Mindfulness represents our ability to be aware of the present and to accept this moment as it is.
It is an important skill and can be a great single or group mindfulness exercise. In general, people thrive when they feel fully “heard” and “seen,” and mindful listening offers a break from focusing on the self or our own response.
Instead, this form of listening can create an inner stillness where the group feels free of preconceptions or judgments. The listener is not distracted by internal chatter while learning valuable positive communication skills.
The Mindful Listening exercise involves the following steps:
- You are invited to think about the one thing that you are stressed about and one thing you look forward to. You would share this with yourself.
- Each person then, in a group setting, would take turns unsharing their story. If you are alone, share this out loud.
- Then, each participant is encouraged to direct their attention to how it feels to speak, how it thinks about talking about something stressful, and how it feels to share something positive. When I am alone, I take the time to speak it into existence, write it down, or share it with someone I trust.
- Lastly, participants in a group are instructed to observe their own thoughts, feelings, and body sensations both when talking and when listening. As an observer, this is a process that you can do from start to finish.
Mindfulness represents our ability to be aware of the present and to accept this moment as it is. It doesn’t have to be a skill that you need to share with everyone.
I practice daily whenever I get moments to myself. I also practice wherever I can go to the gym or on the run to enjoy the activities I love without the distraction of whatever it is that I need to do next. Practicing is the key.
Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think, and leave me a message below or here!
- Four Ways to Calm Your Mind in Stressful Times — Mindful. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/four-ways-to-calm-your-mind-in-stressful-times/
- 6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.pocketmindfulness.com/6-mindfulness-exercises-you-can-try-today/
- Can mindfulness exercises help me?. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356