In this busy world of ours, the mind gets pulled from one place to the next, scattering thoughts everywhere and leaving us stressed, highly-strung and often anxious. Most of us don’t have five minutes to sit down and relax, let alone 30 minutes or more for a session of meditation!
But it’s essential for our wellbeing to take a few minutes each day to cultivate mental spaciousness and a positive mind-body balance. So if you’re a busy bee like me, try using these simple, practical mindfulness exercises to empty your mind and find some much-needed stress relief and calm, present awareness amidst the madness of your hectic day.
1. One Minute Breathing
This exercise can be done anywhere at any time, standing up or sitting down. All you have to do is focus on your breath for just one minute. Start by breathing in and out slowly, holding your breath for a count of six once you’ve inhaled. Then breathe out slowly, letting the breath flow effortlessly out back into the atmosphere. Naturally your mind will try and wander amidst the valleys of its thoughts, but simply notice these thoughts, let them be for what they are and return to watching your breath. Literally watch your breath with your senses as it enters your body and fills you with life, and then watch it work its way up and out of your body as the energy dissipates into the universe.
If you’re someone who thought they’d never be able to meditate, guess what? You’re half way there already! If you enjoyed one minute of this mind-calming exercise, why not try two?
2. Mindful Observation
This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful. It is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, which is easily missed when we’re rushing around…
Pick a natural organism within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a flower or an insect, the clouds or the moon. Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. But really notice it. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Visually explore very aspect of this glorious organism of the natural world. Allow yourself to be consumed by its presence and possibilities. Allow your spirit to connect with its role and purpose in the world. Allow yourself just to notice and ‘be’.
3. Touch Points
This exercise is designed to make us appreciate our lives by slowing the pace down, coming into purer awareness and resting in the moment for a while.
Think of something that happens every day more than once, something you take for granted, like opening a door for example. At the very moment you touch the door knob to open the door, allow yourself to be completely mindful of where you are, how you feel and what you are doing. Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that let you do this, and the brain that will help you use the computer.
The cues don’t have to be physical ones. It could be that every time you think something negative you take a mindful moment to release the negative thought, or it could be that every time you smell food you take a mindful moment to rest in the appreciation of having food to eat. Choose a touch point that resonates with you today. Instead of going through the motions on auto-pilot, stop and stay in the moment for a while and rest in the awareness of this blessed daily activity.
4. Mindful Listening
This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgemental way. So much of what we see and hear on a daily basis is influenced by thoughts of past experiences. Mindful listening helps us leave the past where it is and come into a neutral, present awareness.
Select a new piece of music from your music collection, something you’ve never heard before but makes you wonder what it might sound like. Close our eyes and use headphones if you can. Don’t think about the genre or the artist. Instead, allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song. Allow yourself to explore the intricacies of the music. Let your awareness climb inside the track and play among the sound waves. The idea is to just listen and allow yourself to become fully entwined with what is being played/sung, without preconception or judgement of the genre, artist, lyrics, instrumentation or its origin.
If you don’t have any music to hand that you’ve never listened to before, turn on the radio and turn the dial until something catches your interest.
If you don’t have a radio then take a moment to simply listen to the sounds in your environment. Don’t try and determine the origin or type of sounds you hear, just listen and absorb the experience of their texture and resonance with your being. If you recognise the sound then label it with what you know it to be and move on, allowing your ears to catch new sounds.
5. Fully Experiencing a Regular Routine
The intention of this exercise is to cultivate contentedness in the moment, rather than finding yourself caught up in that familiar feeling of wanting something to end so that you can get on to doing something else. It might even make you enjoy some of those boring daily chores too!
Take a regular routine that you find yourself “just doing” without really noticing your actions. For example, when cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of the activity. Rather than a routine job or chore, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your actions. Feel and become the motion of sweeping the floor, notice the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, observe the formation of dirt on the windows and see if you can create a more efficient way of removing it. Don’t labour through thinking about the finish line, be aware of every step and enjoy your progress. Take the activity beyond a routine by merging with it physically and mentally.
6. A Game of Fives
In this mindfulness exercise, all you have to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed and unappreciated. These could be things you hear, smell, feel or see. For example, might see the walls of your front room, hear the birds in the tree outside in the morning, feel your clothes on your skin as you walk to work, or smell the flowers in the park. But are you truly aware of these things and the connections they have with the world?
- Are you aware of how these things really benefit your life and the lives of others?
- Do you really know what these look and sound like?
- Have you ever noticed their finer, more intricate details?
- Have you thought about what life might be without these things?
- Have you thought about how amazing these things are?
Let your creative mind explore the wonder, impact and possibilities these usually unnoticed things have on your life. Allow yourself to fall awake into the world and fully experience the environment.
By becoming mindful of who we are, where we are, what we are doing and the purpose, if any at all, and how everything else in our environment interacts with our being, we cultivate a truer awareness of being.
This helps us learn to identify and reduce stress and anxiety and difficult, painful and perhaps frightening thoughts, feelings and sensations. Mindfulness exercises help centre the mind and restore balance to our lives, tempering that “monkey mind” that persistently leaps from branch to branch. Rather than being led by thoughts and feelings, often influenced by past experiences and fears of future occurrences, we are able to live with full attention and purpose in the moment.
If you want to practice more mindfulness exercises, you might like to try my popular Mindfulness Exercises book.