Mindfulness exercises have been around for thousands of years.
The benefits of staying in the present moment have been recognized for millennia and have recently been acknowledged by modern science. If you aren't practicing mindfulness throughout your day, you're missing out on an opportunity to vastly improve every aspect of your life.
Of course, it is important to define exactly what mindfulness is before we get into explaining why it's a critical part of a healthy life and how you can achieve it.
Have you ever taken a walk on a shoreline or even in your neighborhood and felt peace and calm as you noticed the birds singing and the smell of fragrant flowers or the salty sea?
In that moment, you were mindful.
Mindfulness is simply the state of being aware, but not judgmental or analytical. You may be alert to your surroundings, but if you are afraid of them or even excited by them, you are not in a state of mindfulness. Rather, mindfulness is the act of simple awareness of the present moment without judgment.
Why should you practice mindfulness?
When you practice mindfulness, you are allowing all of your preconceived notions to exist without affecting you.
In other words, you may think or feel certain ways about a situation, but when you are mindful, you are able to distinguish the truth from your ideas about the truth.
In doing so, you get to know yourself better and you make wiser decisions.
Beyond wisdom, there is a peacefulness that comes in the absence of judgment.
As you become aware of your surroundings and you don't project your bias on them, you begin to feel a sense of calm because you realize that the only things you truly control are your thoughts and actions.
Mindfulness brings about the release of the need to control and therefore brings peace.
Making wiser choices, being less judgmental and feeling calmer about your experiences will naturally enhance every part of your life.
Your relationships will become more honest and fulfilling.
Your life's work will become apparent.
You'll feel the confidence to pursue it.
When negative situations arise, you'll feel peace because you'll recognize that it is merely another thing happening outside of you and you're in full control of what happens inside of you.
Simple, daily exercises to help you achieve mindfulness
1. Be Mindful of What You Sense
When to use it: This is a great exercise to do when you are feeling full of anxiety and stress. In those moments, you are judging what is happening to you and you are creating expectations about the future.
Instead, focus on what is by using your 5 senses.
The benefit: You'll be taken out of your head and into the present moment. You'll be free from worry, judgment and fear.
How to do it:
• Choose an object near you that you can easily hold.
• Focus your attention on the object and say (out loud if you can), what you see. Describe the colors, textures and shapes. Don't judge. In other words, don't say "I see a gross color green." or "It looks weird." Only state the facts.
• Next, focus your attention on how the object feels in your hands. If you can, rub the object on your face or down your arm. Drum on the object or squeeze it. Describe what it feels like without judgment words.
• Now, smell the object and describe it. If you don't like the smell, don't say, "It smells awful." Instead, use a comparison like, "It smells earthy and old, like compost."
• If you can taste the object, do so. If not, close your eyes and focus on what you taste in your mouth. Maybe you can taste coffee or your lunch, or perhaps you simply taste the air. Describe it in detail without judgment.
• Finally, hold the object up to your ear and listen to it. Tap on it or shake it and see what sound it makes. Focus deeply and listen for even the faintest sound. Describe it in detail without judgment.
2. Be Mindful of What You Eat
When to use it: Anytime you sit down for a snack or a meal. This exercise is especially beneficial if you find yourself mindlessly eating while watching TV.
The benefit: Mindful eating actually helps the body digest food better. If you suffer from digestive problems, practicing this exercise can decrease your symptoms by helping your body tune in to the digestion process. This exercise can also help you stay on track with your diet or nutrition plan.
How to do it:
• Before you begin eating, look at your food and describe what it looks like. Describe the colors, textures and shapes without using judgmental words.
• Next, smell your food and attempt to describe the smell without judgment. This can be tricky because you'll want to say something like, "It smells great." Try instead to say things like, "It smells spicy, earthy and sweet."
• Next, listen to your food. Is it sizzling? Can you hear air moving through it. Use your utensil to move it around. What does that sound like?
• Now, take a small bite of your food. Experience the food in your mouth first, without chewing. Make a mental note of what it tastes like. Now, slowly chew your food and take note of all the sensations. Notice how it tastes on different parts of your tongue. Notice how it feels against your cheek and on your teeth.
• Finally, swallow your food and take a moment to feel the food moving down your throat in into your esophagus. Don’t take another bite until you've fully focused your attention on the movement and sensations of your first bite of food. After you do, take another bite and repeat the last 2 steps.
3. Be Mindful of Your Breath
When to use it: Anytime!
The benefit: Mindful breathing is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do to bring yourself to the present moment. It can instantly bring a sense of calm and peace in even the most stressful situations. The more you practice it, the better you will be.
How to use it:
• Take in a deep breath and then attempt to breathe out for the same length of time.
• Now, simply focus on your breath. Feel it enter your nose, fill your lungs and exit through your mouth.
• Notice any sensations in your body as you breathe in and out. Just notice them; don't judge them or attempt to change them.
• If a thought comes into your mind, let it pass by without analyzing it. Acknowledge it and allow it to pass while bringing your attention back to your breath.
• Do not judge yourself if you get distracted. Just let it happen and bring your attention back to your breath. Allow everything to simply happen around you, acknowledge it and then go back to focusing on your breath.
Tips to Make Mindfulness a Habit
By practicing these exercises every day, you will very quickly notice the positive effects in your life. The more you take the time to practice, the more benefits you will see.
To make it a habit, set an alarm for 3 moments each day. Pick a time when you know you'll be busy and distracted. When the alarm goes off, excuse yourself from what you're doing and take 10 minutes to practice one of the exercises above.
Change your alarms every day if you find yourself making excuses like "oh it's not a good time, I'll do it later." Surprise yourself with a random time like 2:43 pm or 10:19 am. If you do, you'll likely catch yourself in a busy moment where the exercise of mindfulness will come as a relief.