Mindfulness exercises are becoming increasingly popular as a holistic way to temper stress and anxiety, and as an alternative form of meditation to tame the ‘monkey mind'. Being mindful simply means being fully present and aware in the moment; to bring about clear seeing of the true reality of the now in a non-judgmental way.
Mindfulness exercises offer purposeful activity we can harness to keep the mind focused in the present and bring about much needed respite for the troubled mind.
Pretty much any activity that releases mental suffering and is kind to the mind, as it were, can be considered a mindfulness exercise. To sit and simply concentrate on breathing and being alive is in my opinion a personification of mindfulness. There is no elaborate training or course required; this is something we can all do, for free, wherever and whenever we want.
And that's the beauty of it.
Mindfulness is already in our ownership. We don't have to learn it, as such, but we do have to cultivate it, accept it and integrate it into our lives to really benefit. But here's the bit people struggle with most: We should not try to seek mindfulness or try to force it into being; only put one foot in front of the other and step towards it, and then embrace it when it appears in our presence.
Any exercise that fully enables the now – the letting go of thoughts of the past and worries of the future – can be considered a mindfulness exercise. Believe it or not, even cleaning the house can be a mindfulness exercise. Those of use who like a good tidy up will be familiar with the feeling that takes you into the clearing up zone: on goes the music, the sleeves are rolled up and the mission is set. You become fully immersed in finding a place for everything and putting everything in its place. For that period of time, you aren't thinking about the accident you had last year or what might happen if it rains on the weekend and the trip you have planned gets ruined; you are just as you are – in the moment, in your mission to make your environment a tidier, nicer place to be.
Similarly, a walk in the park can be a mindfulness exercise. What better way to dust off the cobwebs in the corners of your mind and sweep out the valleys of thought than amidst the green grass, grand trees, pretty flowers and the beautiful interdependence of the natural world.
Most of have a special mindful place, too. Somewhere we go to let go, to find sanctuary in the moment and shake off the baggage, somewhere peaceful, calming, tranquil and serene. It might just be your favourite armchair, a place you seem to nod off to sleep every time you sit down, or perhaps a study where you read a book and play music. The fact is, you probably have a mindfulness exercise of your own without really knowing it, one that you probably don't do enough.
No one can tell you, “That's not a mindfulness exercise” or tell you what you should be doing to be ‘mindfully aware'. Mindfulness is a very personal experience that has a simple goal, and that is to be deeply aware of everything in the moment of being. But there's another aspect to this that presents a challenge for the restless mind. To be still, to relieve the mind of suffering and bring it home from its wondering self, we must calmly acknowledge and accept our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations in that moment. Whatever happens just is. And it must be let go of.
This isn't an easy state to achieve considering we spend much of our lives worrying about what has happened, what is happening and what might happen into the future. Being in a state of mindfulness is to exist outside of this worry. It is to also exist outside of the grasping; the wanting more, the lusting after that which we desire, the striving to be better and to be in some place nicer. So while the concept of a mindfulness exercise, and the idea of being full present is a simple one, the reality of truly being in this state takes considerable practice, and is an ongoing endeavour. Mindfulness isn't something you can do a few times and benefit permanently. In the same way you can't go to the gym for a month and expect to benefit indefinitely, the mind needs ongoing nurture, too.
How to Get Started Today
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you fall awake into the world by observing your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. Essentially you climb up onto the bank and out of the stream, and instead of being carried along like a floating log, you get to see the river in its true glory.
You can get started by simply stopping still and noticing what's going on around you. Don't judge what you see or attach preconceptions to the circumstances; relieve yourself of wanting to know anything and just accept what presents itself to you in that moment. In a nutshell, allow yourself to be free. Start by allowing yourself to see people not stereotypes, to see structure not buildings, to see nature not plants, to see oneness not separation. Once you reach this checkpoint, you will begin walking your own path as the same world you live in reveals itself for the very first time.
Practicing mindfulness exercises on a regular basis will help you gain clearer perspective of life and help you deal more adeptly with difficult circumstances. This in turn creates increased optimism, contentedness and general happiness. The large majority of practitioners see their health improve as a result of lower stress levels, increased ability to relax and better sleep. You will fear less, become more confident, more productive and feel more balanced and in tune with the world. Negativity will fall away as it becomes pacified to make way for compassion and acceptance of other, which will result in better conflict response and more fruitful personal relationships.
The overall result is a healthier, happier you.
If you'd to try some mindfulness exercises, check out these 6 easy ones to start with.