Basic Mindfulness Exercises: A step-by-step guide (Part I)

Basic Mindfulness Exercises: A step-by-step guide (Part I)

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Mindfulness exercises start with learning how to be present. The Mindfulness exercises or practices contained in this part I offer simple, traditional methods of bringing your awareness to present-time experience, which is why I recommend that beginners start here.

The mindfulness exercises will help you cultivate the ability to be here and now with patience, clarity, and strength. We will discuss how to bring the mind back when it wanders, let go of self-judgment, and respond with gentleness. Through dedicated effort, you will learn to train the mind in the art of awareness.

Also Read: Yoga for Beginners: Basics to Yoga

Basic Mindfulness Exercises: A step-by-step guide

1. Mindfulness Exercises #1: Finding the Breath

TIME: 5 Minutes

The body is always breathing, and the breath is constantly moving. Your breath is not only the best place to start; it’s a constant you can return to anytime you need a little centering.

In this first mindfulness exercises practice, you will gently find the breath in the body. There is nothing to figure out, there are no problems to solve, and there’s nothing special you need to do. Constantly return to your direct experience of the body breathing. You are training the mind to be with one experience without distraction.

Mindfulness Exercises #1: Steps

  1. Find a comfortable position for the body. Sitting is often recommended, as it helps keep the body awake and energized. You can also try lying flat on your back, or standing. You may sit on a yoga mat, meditation cushion, or chair. Find what feels comfortable and sustainable for a few minutes of stillness.
  2. Gently allow the eyes to close. If you’re more comfortable with the eyes open, try softly gazing at the floor or ceiling (depending on your position). Allow the eyes to relax and rest on one spot. The idea is to minimize distractions in your practice.
  3. Bring your awareness to the abdomen. Relaxing the muscles there, see if you can feel the natural rising and falling. Imagine the body is breathing itself. From the navel around to the obliques, notice the movement with each breath. Take a few deep breaths like this.
  4. Move your awareness up to the chest. As you inhale, tune in to the expansion of the lungs and the rising of the chest. As you exhale, feel the contraction and movement. See if you can follow the feeling of the breath from the beginning of your inhalation through the end of your exhalation.
  5. Now bring your attention to the nostrils. The feeling of the breath may be subtler here. Try taking a deep breath to see what is present for you. You may notice a slight tickle at the tip of the nose as you breathe in. You may notice the breath is slightly warmer on the way out.
  6. Rest your awareness on the body breathing in one of these three spots. When the mind wanders, refocus on the direct experience of the breath. Continue to observe the breath for a minute or two.
  7. Wrapping up this period of practice, bring this awareness with you into your daily life. Stay in touch with the breath in your body to help the mind remain present.

Note: The Wandering Mind

The natural tendency of the mind is to wander. Even the most accomplished meditators have wandering minds! The brain was designed to process information; it’s just doing its job. Rather than seeing this as a problem, approach it as an opportunity to strengthen your mindfulness. Try to bring forgiveness, curiosity, and patience to these moments, and whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.

2. Mindfulness Exercises #2: Points of Contact

TIME: 5 Minutes

The body is always in contact with something, whether it is a chair, the ground, your bed, or the air around you. This offers a powerful way to tune in to your present-time experience. You can be mindful of these points of contact anytime—in meditation or throughout your daily life. The sensations are generally easy to feel, making this an ideal practice for beginners to mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”


Mindfulness Exercises #2: Steps

  1. You can do this practice in any position, but I recommend trying it while sitting. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the posture of the body. Make any minor adjustments to help the body be at ease.
  2. Begin by noticing the places where the body is touching something else. Can you feel the contact between your feet and the floor? Pay attention to the physical feeling of the feet. There is nothing special to do. Just observe how the feet feel in this moment.
  3. Continue up to where you can feel the contact between your rear end and the chair or cushion. Notice the contact and pressure of the upper thighs with the chair. Rest your awareness here, mindfully observing what this feels like in the body.
  4. Bring the attention to the hands, however, they may be resting. Feel the places where the hands are touching each other, sitting in the lap, or resting on the knees. Focus on whatever part of the hand is in contact with something else.
  5. Now see where you can feel the sensation of the clothes on the body. You can scan the body to see where this sensation is present. It may be easiest to feel the places where the clothing stops and the skin is exposed, such as the arms, neck, or ankles.
  6. Finally, bring your awareness to the sensation of the air on your skin. You may notice the temperature of the air feels different on the palm than on the back of the hand. You may also feel the wind if you are sitting outside. There is no right or wrong. Be true to your own experience.
  7. Finishing this practice, bring mindfulness to the points of contact during the day. Whenever you sit down, feel the body come into contact with the chair. When you stand up, notice your feet on the floor.

Note: Dealing with feeling Overwhelmed

When you first begin investigating mindfulness of the body, you may notice several sensations grabbing your attention at once. To help keep your mind focused, try using a mental note or simple mantra while observing a specific place in the body.

For example, while tuning in to the feet, think, “feet. feet. feet.” Or, if you think a command would work better (it sometimes does), try, “feel my feet. feel my feet. feel my feet.” link the rhythm of the words with your inhales and exhales. Congratulations! You’re using mantras—it’s that simple.

3. Mindfulness Exercises #3: The Power of the Mind

TIME: 5 Minutes

A mind is a powerful tool. In mindfulness practice, you learn to train and work with this tool in an intentional, focused way. This practice lets you play with the power of your mind, showing you how to gently coax it in different ways. You’ll also witness the mind’s auditory and visual thinking patterns. Bring some playfulness and curiosity to this practice, and try not to take yourself too seriously.

Mindfulness Exercises #3: Steps

  1. For this practice, you will need to close your eyes. Take a moment to notice how the body is resting. Keep the spine as straight as possible and allow the muscles to relax.
  2. With eyes closed, try to bring to mind the room or space in which you are sitting. Can you picture where in the room your body is resting? Try to visualize the room in your mind. Picture the floor, the walls, and any doors. See what else you can bring up to piece together the space in your mind.
  3. Letting go of the room, picture yourself somewhere peaceful. It may be a beach, a forest, or wherever your “happy place” is. In the same way, picture the space around you. Try to bring up as many details as possible.
  4. Letting go of the visualization, bring to mind a song or tune you know well. Try to hear the words or melody in your head.
  5. Now use the mind to change the experience of hearing the song. Try to turn the volume down, making the song quiet in your head. Turn the volume up a bit. Investigate what it is like to slow the song down or speed it up.
  6. Pause for a moment at the end of this practice to recognize the power of your mind. With a small amount of effort, you can conjure up visualizations, play music, and alter the experience in any way you choose!

Note: Losing focus

While meditating, you may notice your concentration slowly leaking. sometimes you’ll lose yourself in a long train of thought for several minutes before you realize you’ve done so. When you lose focus during any period of meditation, bring your attention back to the last thing you remember observing mindfully, and if that doesn’t work, return to the breath.

Noticing the mind has wandered off, you have the opportunity to train it to be present. Come back to your practice as many times as necessary.

4. Mindfulness Exercises #4: Who Is listening?

TIME: 5 Minutes

In mindfulness practice, the focus is often on the feelings in the body and the thoughts in the mind. However, tuning in to your other senses can facilitate a strong feeling of presence and awareness. Just as you observed the breath in the first exercise, you can use the sounds around you as the object of your awareness.

Sounds come and go throughout your day and offer a consistent focal point for your mindful attention—no matter where you live or what you do for a living, it’s nearly impossible to remove all sound. During meditation, investigate the experience of hearing. You can also bring this practice into your life, pausing to listen closely to the sounds around you at any point during your day.

Also Read: Breathing Techniques For Anxiety

Mindfulness Exercises #4: Steps

  1. Begin by finding a comfortable posture and allowing the eyes to close. Bring your awareness to the breath, but instead of focusing on the physical feeling of breathing, listen to the sound of the body breathing. Inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils, listen closely to any noises coming from the breath.
  2. Open up your awareness to the other sounds present. You may notice sounds of cars passing, noises within your home, or sounds from nature. Whatever is present, tune in to it.
  3. The mind habitually recognizes what it hears. When a car goes by, you immediately know it is a car. Instead of identifying and defining what each sound is, try to focus on the experience of hearing. Imagine your ears as microphones, just picking up sound. Recognize the rising and passing of the noise, how far away it appears, and from what direction it is coming.
  4. As one sound grabs your awareness, tune in to it for a few moments. Experience the sound fully. Then, open your mind and listen to other noises. Hearing mindfully, continue listening, investigating, and opening up.
  5. At the end of the period, return to the breath for a minute. Without forcing or straining, encourage the mind to collect itself fully onto the sound of the breath in the body.
  6. Opening your eyes and moving back into your life, maintain some awareness of the sounds in your life. Notice the act of hearing during your day, and let it draw you back into present-time awareness.

Note: Distracting sounds

During periods of practice or in daily life, you may find certain sounds to be distracting. Noises, like construction, birdsong, or people talking loudly, can draw you out of practice. When you find yourself distracted, make the act of hearing part of your practice.

Try to remove yourself from judgment or criticism about where the sound is coming from, and imagine you’re hearing it for the first time. see if you can remove language from the sound and refrain from immediately identifying the source of the noise. Notice any aversion that arises, but don’t resist sounds you cannot control.

5. Mindfulness Exercises #5: Eating Mindfully

TIME: 10 Minutes

Now we’re going to shift away from mindfulness of the body and mindfulness of hearing and jump into the senses of taste, smell, and sight—starting with the food we eat. The celebrated Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers these words: “let us establish ourselves in the present moment, eating in such a way that solidity, joy, and peace be possible during the time of eating.” Eating is an opportunity to nourish your body while nourishing your mindfulness practice.

“This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it to work, realize it is play.”

—ALAN WATTS, The Essence of Alan Watts

Mindfulness Exercises #5: Steps

  1. You can do this practice in any position, but it is helpful to stay still while eating. This minimizes unnecessary stimulus and helps you focus on the experience. You can do this with any food. I recommend starting with something simple, like raisins, berries, or a few of your favorite vegetables.
  2. Begin by taking in the food visually. Notice the colors, shapes, and sizes. As you look at the food, notice the urge to start eating. There is nothing wrong with hunger, but allow the cravings to come and go. Return to the sight of the food.
  3. Next, investigate the smell of the food. Some foods may have stronger aromas than others, and you may have to hold the food up to your nose. Be present for the experience of smell. When the mind begins craving, just return to the smell in front of you.
  4. Before eating, take a brief moment to appreciate the energy that went into its production. People worked to grow this food and bring it to you. Nature provided nutrients, rainwater, and sunshine. Maybe somebody cooked, cleaned, or packaged it for you. Bring into your mind all of the energy from various sources that came together to create this meal.
  5. Now, slowly pick up the food. If you are using any utensils, tune in to the experience of touch as you feel the utensil. Mindfully feel how the food or utensil feels in your hand. Is the food stiff, soft, cold, or warm?
  6. As you put the food in your mouth, notice the desire to chew and swallow quickly. Instead, start by feeling the temperature of the food. Holding the food in your mouth, can you feel the shape?
  7. As you begin chewing, notice the texture of the food. Does it change as you continue to chew? Notice the flavors. You may have a hard time doing more than simply labeling what you’re eating, such as “It’s a raspberry.” Try to dig a little deeper. Are there multiple flavors present? Pay attention to the changing of flavors as you continue to chew.
  8. When you swallow your bite, tune in to the experience of swallowing. What does it feel like as the food moves down the throat? You may also notice the desire to quickly have another bite. Pause and notice if any flavor remains in the mouth for a moment.
  9. You can continue eating like this, reminding yourself to slow down and be present. Continue to check in with the sights, smells, tastes, feelings, and thoughts that arise.
  10. When you finish eating, allow yourself to feel gratitude for the food that is nourishing your body. Let the mind relax into a state of appreciation for the energy and life.

Note: Growing Impatient

Mindful eating is an exercise in patience and requires some self-control. As you try to eat slowly, you may come up against a strong desire to begin eating more quickly. Normally, most of us start preparing our next bite of food while still chewing the previous bite. The foundation of mindful eating is to eat slowly. If craving takes over, just pause, breathe, and slow it down.

Related: Practicing Mindfulness: The Nine Aspects of Mindfulness Practice

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