If you want to teach mindfulness, it is best to become a practitioner yourself first. You will learn what mindfulness feels like and how it affects you and develop empathy for the individuals you teach. Mindfulness is pure experience and putting an academic label on it before you understand its subtleties may cause you to come off as inauthentic.
As previously stated, mindfulness involves observing and being in the present moment, the now! It is impossible to practice while your mind is racing between the thing you regretted saying yesterday and worrying about what you are going to make for the party next weekend. When the mind is in the past or future constantly chattering, it is impossible to be in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness and meditation will invariably quiet the mind, but it is important to understand that our mind will not necessarily be completely quiet, it is always going to be doing something. Mindfulness will greatly lessen the confusion and chaos that exists in the mind from one moment to the next.
In order to quiet the mind, it is imperative to learn to let things go or face getting stuck thinking about things in endless loops with the mind in the past or future instead of the present. In order to snap out of the endless loops and get the mind to quiet down, one author recommended this exercise13:
- With the eyes closed
- Inhale slowly for a count of seven
- Hold for a couple of seconds
- Exhale slowly for a count of eleven
- This should be continued for a few minutes until the participant feels calmer
- Turn your attention to your thoughts if they are going wild
- Yell “STOP” in your mind as loud as you can (to disrupt the pattern)
- Picture pure black
- If/when the thoughts resume yell “stop” again
- If the thoughts are seen against the black, feel free to push them away
- Continue this for five minutes increments
Most experts recommend that mindfulness be integrated with meditation practices because then the practice is holistic and rooted in its historical origins. For those not quite ready to delve into the practice of meditation, mindfulness can still be a helpful tool.14
The following is a small compilation of mindfulness exercises you can try yourself, then with clients; there are thousands of ideas in the literature and on the internet. Keep in mind that these are tools and nothing more, exercises are not what mindfulness is about, but they may assist individuals to experience certain states that will ultimately lead to mindfulness.
Mindful Hand Awareness Exercise
Grasp your hands really tight and hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then release and pay attention to how your hands feel. Keep your attention focused on the feeling for as long as you can.
Mental Focus Exercise
Stare at any object and try to remain focused on just that object for as long as possible. Keep a mental watch on when your mind starts to wander, then just bring it back to the object. The longer you can remain focused, the better, do this whenever you think about it, and try to increase your focus time each day.
Pinch your arm and pay close attention to how it feels and what emotions you experience. Pay attention to the pain and how it radiates out from the site you pinched. This exercise can really tune you into how your body deals with discomfort and the feelings around that. Do you get angry when you feel pain?
Musical Stimuli Exercise
Listen to your favorite songs and pay attention to how they make you feel. What emotions do they stir? What memories come up, and how do those memories make you feel? Engage the emotions and see where they lead.
Smell something strong like coffee beans or perfume and pay close attention to what happens in your nose, and then what feelings different scents evoke. You can also elicit gustatory awareness by using this exercise with taste instead of smell.
Sit and relax, and imagine yourself melting into everything around you. You might begin to feel at one with everything after some practice.
Full Sensory Awareness Exercise
Wherever you are, stop and look around if it’s safe to do so. Take a few deep breaths and become aware of everything that your senses pick up. How do you feel; over-stimulated or anxious? What do you smell, hear, see, take in all the details of this moment?
Spend an hour or two in complete silence, and just absorb your surroundings. Earplugs might help this exercise.13
This exercise can be done standing up or sitting down and pretty much anywhere at any time. If you can sit down in the meditation (lotus) position, that's great. All you have to do is be still and focus on your breath for just one minute.
- Start by breathing in and out slowly. One breath cycle should last for approximately 6 seconds.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body.
- Let go of your thoughts. Let go of things you have to do later today or pending projects that need your attention. Simply let thoughts rise and fall of their own accord and be at one with your breath.
- Purposefully watch your breath, focusing your sense of awareness and on its pathway as it enters your body and fills you with life.
- Then, watch with your awareness as it works its way up and out of your mouth, and its energy dissipates into the world.
- If you are someone who thought they’d never be able to meditate, guess what? You are halfway there already! If you enjoyed one minute of this mind-calming exercise, why not try two or three?
This exercise is simple but powerful; it helps you notice and appreciate seemingly simple elements of your environment in a more profound way. It is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, something that is easily missed when we are rushing from one place to another in our daily lives.
- Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and focus on it for a minute or two. This could be a flower or an insect, the clouds, or the moon.
- Do not do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. Simply relax into watching for as long as your concentration allows.
- Look at this object as if you are seeing it for the first time.
- Visually explore every aspect of its formation and allow yourself to be consumed by its presence.
- Allow yourself to connect with its energy and its purpose within the natural world.
This is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks. Think of something that happens every day more than once, something you take for granted, like opening a door, for example.
- The very moment you touch the doorknob, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel at that moment, and where the door will lead you.
- Or, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process, the brain that facilitates using it, and appreciate the technology that went into it to make our world easier.
- These ‘touchpoint' cues do not have to be physical ones.
- For example, Each time you think a negative thought, you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought, and replace it with a more positive one.
- Each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how blessed you are to have access to healthy food that nourishes your body.
- Choose a touchpoint that resonates with you today, instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing and appreciate what is in your life.
This is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way and to train your mind to be less swayed by the influence of past experiences and preconceptions. Past experiences influence much of what we feel emotionally. For example, we may dislike a song because it reminds us of a breakup or another period of life when things were not going so well. The purpose of this exercise is to listen to music from a neutral standpoint, with a present awareness unhindered by preconception.
- Select a music track, one you have never listened to before. Close your eyes and put on your headphones.
- Try not to get drawn into judging the music by its genre, title, or artist name. Ignore labels and neutrally allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song.
- Be mindful and explore every aspect of the track. Even if the music is not to your liking at first, let go and give your awareness full permission to climb inside the track and dance among the sound waves.
- Explore the song by listening to the dynamics of the instruments, separate each sound in your mind, and hear the differences in each one.
- Focus in on the vocals: the sound of the voice, including the range and tones. If there is more than one voice, attend to the differences.
- Listen mindfully and become fully present with the composition; hear with your ears, not your mind.
The intention of this exercise is to cultivate the intention to live in the moment and escape the persistent striving we find ourselves caught up in daily. Rather than anxiously rushing through in order to finish an everyday task, embrace the routine, and experience it fully. If you are cleaning your house, pay attention to as many details of the activity as you can; the smell of the cleaning products, how shiny the floors look, the tracks the vacuum makes in the carpet, or your beautiful face in the clean mirror. The key here is to attend to the task, not what you are doing later or what you did yesterday.
- Feel and become the motion when sweeping the floor, sense the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, notice the pattern on the dishes, how warm the water feels, etc.
- Be creative and discover new experiences within that routine.
- Be aware of every step and fully immerse yourself in the progress.
- Who knows, you might even enjoy cleaning!
For this exercise, notice five things during your day that usually go by unappreciated. These things can be objects or people. Use a notepad or the notes app on your phone to jot down the five things as you go about your day. The intent of this exercise is to give thanks and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life, the things we take for granted that support our existence but typically slide by unnoticed. Examples might be; the electricity that powers your kettle, the postman that delivers your mail, the clothes that provide you warmth, your nose that lets you smell, or the people you pass at the grocery store.
- Notice how some of these things work, touch, smell, feel, or what they do for you, or even just acknowledge that they are there.
- Appreciate these people or things either to yourself or let them know by telling them, we all want to be appreciated.
- As you begin with five things you will likely find and notice many others, integrating mindfulness into your daily life and quite possibly making you happier!15