10 Mindfulness Exercises to Help You Stay Present
What is mindfulness?
According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is a state of mind, where you pay more attention to the present. When you’re more mindful you become more observant, less judgmental, more awake, you get in touch with your feelings, you become more focused, you become more excited about your present and your future.
Yes, mindfulness is a state of mind. It is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. While it has many advantages, some of which we will discuss in this article, some people will argue mindfulness could also be harmful. Mindfulness techniques, promote ways of thinking, that will be beneficial to some and detrimental to others.
For example, mindfulness promotes awareness of one‘s environment, and acceptance of one‘s emotions. In normal social situations, this pattern of thinking will promote the behavior of acceptance (including self-acceptance) and empathy.
The same pattern of thinking, may be perpetuating antisocial behavior in humans susceptible to criminal actions. This is because mindfulness will increase the feelings of being entitled to more than others, rejecting authority, demanding immediate gratification.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is scientifically proven to have positive results in many situations.
For one, mindfulness reduces anxiety. For patients with generalized anxiety disorder, mindfulness techniques were proven to reduce stress, and increase the sense of control. Patients reported feeling better after an eight week treatment.
Second, mindfulness promotes empathy, leading to counteracting to bias – gender bias, age bias, race bias, etc.
Mindfulness is a therapy for depression. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduces stress and promotes positive cognitive behavior. It helps patients recognize destructive thought patterns before they relapse into depression.
Next, mindfulness is proven to improve body dysmorphic disorder. After a three-week meditation training, women who underwent the treatment, compared to women from the control group, experienced less body dissatisfaction, they had greater self-compassion and self-appreciation.
Mindfulness can improve your mood, reduce your fatigue, improve your focus, and significantly increase your level of functioning in your everyday life. It is a very successful technique against allowing distractions. A study from Harvard University claims that mindfulness stimulates the cortex – the part of the brain that controls the inflow of information. Your brain cortex, in a mindfulness state, will be better prepared to sift through information, retain the useful, and reject the meaningless.
WHAT EXERCISES HELP WITH MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is a way to stay in the present. Therefore, you will notice a repeating theme in our exercises. Anything that gets you out of your routine, anything that breaks your habits, anything that will get you out of your automatic actions, or automatic thoughts will promote mindfulness for you.
Try to become polydextrous
Being polydextrous means you are able to write with both of your hands. Writing is one of those things, we do automatically. Breaking the habit will make you appreciate the art of writing in a new light, and with that, you will become more aware of your actions.
Our brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left part of the brain is responsible for anything that has to do with logic–thinking in words, sequences, seeing patterns, mathematics, facts. The right part of our brain is responsible for anything that has to do with creativity–feelings, imagination, intuition, instinct, rhythm, holistic thinking, religion, arts.
What is even more confusing is, the right part of the brain controls the left parts of the body and of the left part of the brain controls the right part of the body. The reason is, the neural pathways get twisted and switch positions in your neck.
Scientists claim that writing with your non-dominant hand is a very successful form of art therapy. It’s a way to tap into the thinking process of your inner child – bring back some of the emotions – curiosity, hope.
What happens is when you write alternatively with your dominant and non-dominant hand you’re strengthening the relationship between the two hemispheres of the brain – the logical person and the artist.
How to attempt at the exercise?
- Get a beautiful notebook. With a cover that will inspire you.
- Journal for 10 minutes every night.
- Alternate your left and right hand for every paragraph.
- When you feel more comfortable try adding some sketches–draw something that grabbed your attention during the day. A tree, a person, a dress, an animal…
- Once you get further into the experiment journal about the new feelings and thoughts you attribute to the exercise.
- Most people who have tried this technique report feeling stronger emotions, experiencing playfulness, heightened creativity, better physical stamina, stronger intuition and instinct.
Reorganize your personal space
First of all, try and preserve order. For what you’re trying to achieve, creative chaos will not work. There is no order in chaos and there is no difference between one type of chaos and another. It will be more difficult for you to feel in the present if there is no significant pattern in your surroundings to grab onto.
That being said, you need to switch up things in your environment. If everything always stays the same you will stop noticing it. Everything will merge into a blur of things and possessions.
Do you need an example? Alright, here it is. When was the last time you bought yourself a book, but didn’t have time to start reading it right now so you just left it on the shelf. You only discovered it the next time you are reorganizing your space. It was pretty soon? There you go.
Here are several ideas you can use to reorganize your space:
- When cleaning your bookshelf, order your books from the tallest one to the shortest one from left to right on one shelf and from the right to the left on the next shelf. Next time you do your cleaning reorganize again by the name of the author.
- Reorder the compartments in your drawers buy function once, and by color next time.
- Reorder your clothes on the hangers by height once and by color next time.
- Change decorations often. Have a theme. You can make it seasonal. Try fresh flowers during spring, colorful leaves during fall, change decorations for Halloween in November, in December make it’s holiday decorations. Celebrate something different every month.
The point of the exercise is to become more aware of your surroundings. Ideally, the changes you introduced will not be without a reason. They will reflect, or be inspired, but other events in your life.
In that case, you will switch off the automatic dismissal of your surroundings and will be more conscious of the present state.
Pay attention to automatic actions
Doing things in a hurry is never beneficial. In this section of the article we will talk about three things that we always do without much thinking even though it is widely accepted doing them slowly and cautiously will be better for our body and soul.
Have you heard the saying that from time to time you should stop and smell the flowers? It is of course a metaphor, however, it applies very well here. Slowing down your rhythm, and enjoying your surroundings, will stimulate your creativity. You will feel happier and healthier.
Aim at breaking your routine by doing a walk. Maybe hop off the bus earlier? Or go shopping by foot if you can. Try and find a way to take at least 30 minutes of walking a week.
Walking is the best way to enjoy your surroundings, but it is also very beneficial for your health – it will reduce your risk of high cholesterol, heart problems, stroke, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
And you will enjoy more if you do it consciously:
- Be the cliché. Smell the flowers.
- Pet someone’s dog. Ask for their name. Enjoy their affection.
- Change your way of walking – switching from flats to high platform shoes will help.
- Take notice of the architecture or nature around.
- Imagine the lives of strangers passing by. Even strike up conversation.
Gulping down large amounts of TV dinner in front of the screen is not your friend. You will have issues with your body, and with your mind.
Taking it slow, enjoying every taste in each bite, enjoying the change of feeling in your palate from when the food first touches your tongue, switching it around from side to side–that will improve your experience so much more.
Eating is a great source of pleasure. Why waste it by being in a hurry? There are no taste buds in your tummy.
Being conscious about your breathing is one of the main tasks in meditation – an activity proven to improve your intentional focus, to minimize the volume of negative thoughts, increase your concentration span, help your inner peace, reduce stress and fatigue.
To improve your breathing technique:
- Try to achieve the optimal pace of breathing. It should be slow enough to calm you down, but fast enough so you don’t feel out of breath.
- Try to take breaks – allow yourself several beats after you exhale and before you inhale again.
- Listen to your breath.
- Visualize – imagine oxygen filling your body from your mouth, through your lungs, to the tips of your toes and fingers.
Break your habits
You don’t need to stop yourself at walking, eating and breathing. Whenever you feel you are doing something automatically, stop and do it differently – in a reverse order, or simply with a twist.
- Buy a different style of clothes
- Hold your drink with the opposite hand
- Turn on another TV channel
- Listen to new music styles
- Give a chance to getting to know people you used to consider boring, intimidating, or stupid
- Buy a bold lipstick color
- Ask someone out whom you thought was out of your league, or you thought was not good enough for you.
Pro tip: Once you achieve mindfulness, you will not only find it helpful to stop doing things out of habit – you will also find it easier to break bad habits. Addiction happens because of the promise for a reward. If you are more aware of your urges, you will discover it is easier to ignore them in the name of your physical and mental health.
Stop the distractions
Are you used to watching the TV while eating dinner? Or listening to music while working?
While dozens of people report they find it so satisfying, we encourage you to take (the remote) control and switch off the small screen.
Multitasking does not work. Stop attempting to do multiple things at once. You are just tiring your brain. You are giving it an impossible task. Instead of performing several tasks at the same time, you are forcing it to switch from one to the other, giving neither your full attention.
- Turn off the music while you are driving your car. Commuting could be so much more interesting if you are not constantly attaching your mind to the same old noises coming from the radio.
- Stop wearing your earbuds at work. Pay attention to what you are doing. Learn to achieve optimum focus. Instead of putting off your most difficult or unpleasant tasks, challenge them. And beat them.
- Anything you ‘do in the background’. Stop it.
Remember the five
Whenever you feel too anxious, too distracted, too overwhelmed you can apply the remember-the-five technique that will bring you back to the present.
It’s idea is to attach your senses to the present moment.
Stop. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. And do the following things in this order:
- Try to remember 5 things from your surroundings. Try and see them with your mind’s eye, as accurately as you can, with their shape, their size, the material they are made out of. Imagine you are zooming in on them and seeing them closely.
- Try to distinguish 5 things you are hearing right now. Are children playing outside? How many? How old? What are they doing? Can you hear cars passing by? Can you hear your cat purring? Can you hear yourself breathing? Can you hear your heart pumping?
- Try to feel 5 things touching your skin right now. Can you feel your clothes moving on your body as you are breathing? Can you feel your fingers on the desk? Can you feel the humidity in the air? Can you feel your shoes scrubbing the floor?
- Once you have engaged your senses, linger for a while in the present moment. Try and imagine yourself in your surroundings. How your energy is interacting. How you are affecting the space. The warmth of your body filling in the room. The humidity of your breath going out in slow motion. See, hear and feel. You are in an ultimate focus mode. In the present moment. Chances are your anxiousness feels far away now.
Work out and meditate
Workouts in combination with meditation is the ultimate physical wellbeing routine.
First off, your workout is beneficial for your muscle tone, your endorphin levels, your heart.
But it will also raise your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone, that could be helpful in your everyday life for your mood and behavior if it is within limits. Go a little higher and you have yourself a compromised immune system and high blood sugar, leading to feelings of anxiousness and storing extra abdominal fat.
Workouts generate pain. And pain is a complex feeling, but also, a complex emotion.
Third, intense physical activity requires recovery, which meditation can provide.
A mindfulness meditation channels those feelings and energies and concentrates them in the present moment. Meditation has been proven to deal with pain better than opioid blockers.
On the other side, working out prevents cognitive decline.
As The Huffington Post reports:
‘While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45 Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.’
Feel all of your feelings
Society tells us we should be always happy.
We are treated better if we smile. People think higher of us if we portray a happy persona. We are encouraged to share the highest points of our lives on social media. But we are not always so happy.
And should we be.
In order to achieve the ultimate state of mindfulness, you need to be completely in touch with your emotions. Weather you a feeling nostalgia, boredom, disillusionment, regret, bitterness, fear or insecurity… Don’t force yourself to go back to happiness at any cost. If anything, this strategy will weigh you down.
Instead, feel your feeling. Ask yourself some questions. How are you actually feeling right now? Why? What got you here? What are the physical expressions of your feelings? Let yourself linger a little bit longer in your thoughts. You will discover it gets you out of the vicious spiral of unhappiness because it completely changes your thought process. You will be completely free of your slavery to happiness. You will no longer be unhappy because you are unhappy. You will feel increased self-acceptance and peace of mind.
Talk more than language
Part of achieving the ultimate state of mindfulness is being completely present for communication with your close ones.
Have you ever felt you are missing something from the dialogue? The words are there. But the meaning isn’t? You do not feel the intention behind what is being said.
Actually, words are only but a small percentage of communication. Need proof? Well, all you have to do is think about the difference between talking in person and talking via instant messaging. A lot of the meaning is lost, isn’t it?
What you are missing is the intonation, the facial expression, the body language, the posture.
Whenever you have a conversation in person, pay full attention to those. You will have more meaningful and truthful conversation if you learn to read those. Make sure you use them to the full extent to achieve the right expressions on your part.
Feel a dissonance? Someone is telling you one thing, but your gut is telling you another. You do not need to call the person out. But react to the full extent of the information you have. If you feel confident you can be of better help if you have a more honest conversation, do not tell them you know they are lying. Ask them questions. This is one of your best friends in this situation: ‘Are you sure this is how you are feeling?’
A great way to increase your mindfulness and live in the present is to stop thinking about your surroundings as just things or possessions. Instead, you can strive to become more aware of how objects are created. What it costs. How long it takes. How it is done.
Obviously, some of your possessions you cannot manufacture yourself. Just try and get more involved.
- Food. Most people have at least some skills in cooking for themselves. But even if you are a keen cook, you probably have something you get from the store. Try baking your own bread. Or doing your own mayo.
- Gifts. DIY gifts are not always acceptable unless it is a family occasion involving young kids. It is not the same for DIY cards. It is a cute hobby. Try it.
- Furniture. It is easier than it sounds. Try and construct yourself a simple shelf. The Internet will help you.
- Art. Paint a picture. Or do a collage. Frame it and put it over the fireplace.
Mindfulness is a technique you can employ to feel better about yourself and others. It will do you good for your personal well-being, your mental state, and even your behavior at the workplace.
It is little more than the state of being aware and awake all time – aware of your actions, aware of your appearance, aware of how your behavior affects others.
If you have to draw any conclusions of today’s article, we encourage you to break your routines. Do things differently. It will always force you to question your ways. It will always get you out if you’re stuck in bad behavior. It will always cause you to re-evaluate the way you do things. It will always bring you extra benefits.
Being referred to or described as “intelligent” is probably one of the best compliments you can hope …