The basic premise of mindfulness exercises is very simple. The body does many things without our awareness. When germs invade, our white blood cells attack the invaders without our knowledge. However, we can train ourselves to become aware of the things we do consciously with the body, such as walking, standing, talking, eating, drinking, writing, reading, playing, and other physical activities with the help of mindfulness exercises.
We can also develop moment-to-moment awareness of our emotions, sensations, thoughts, and other mental activities with various effective mindfulness exercises mentioned in this article. Mindfulness trains us to do everything we do with full awareness.
You may be wondering, “Why is full awareness important?” As anyone who tries mindfulness exercises or practice quickly discovers, the more aware we are of our actions and of the feelings, thoughts, and perceptions that give rise to them, the more insight we have into why we are doing what we are doing.
Mindful awareness allows us to see whether our actions spring from beneficial or harmful impulses. Beneficial motivations include generosity, friendliness, compassion, and wisdom; harmful actions are caused primarily by greed, hatred, and delusion. When we are mindful of the deep roots from which our thoughts, words, and deeds grow, we have the opportunity to cultivate those that are beneficial and weed out those that are harmful.
The Buddha is very clear that the primary aim of all his teachings is “the end of suffering.” Mindfulness helps us to recognize that beneficial actions bring peace of mind and happiness to our everyday lives. They also help us progress on the Buddha’s path toward Nibbana—liberation, complete freedom from suffering.
Similarly, mindfulness teaches us that actions motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion make us miserable and anxious. They imprison us in samsara, the life-after-life cycle of repeated suffering.
When we practice mindfulness or mindfulness exercises before we speak we ask ourselves: “Are these words truthful and beneficial to me and others? Will they bring peace, or will they create problems?” When we think mindfully, we ask: “Does this thought make me calm and happy, or distressed and fearful?”
Before we act, we ask: “Will this action cause suffering for me and others?” Being mindful allows us to choose: “Do I want joy and contentment or misery and worry?” Mindfulness also trains us to remember to pay attention to the changes that are continually taking place inside our body and mind and in the world around us.
Normally, we forget to pay attention because the countless things that are happening simultaneously distract our minds. We get carried away by the superficial and lose sight of the flow. The mind wants to see what is next, what is next, and what is next. We get excited by the show and forget that it is, indeed, simply a show.
The Buddha taught: “That which is impermanent is suffering.” The truth of these words becomes clear when we simply pay attention. Eventually, the mind gets tired of moving from one impermanent thing to the next. Losing interest in the futile pursuit, the mind rests and finds joy.
In Pali, the word for “to remember” is sati, which can also be translated as “mindfulness.” Remembering is simply paying direct, non-verbal attention to what is happening from one moment to the next. Resting comfortably in awareness, we relax into things as they are right now in this very moment, without slipping away into what happened in the past or will happen in the future.
Normally, because we do not understand, we tend to blame the world for our pain and suffering. But with sati, mindful remembering, we understand that the only place to find peace and freedom from suffering is this very place, right here in our own body and mind.
So, let’s start our mindfulness exercises to become more mindful in our everyday life and to find peace and freedom from all sufferings.
Related: Basic Mindfulness Exercises: A Step-By-Step Guide (Part I)
Basic Mindfulness Exercises: A Step-By-Step Guide
1. Mindfulness Exercises #1: Scanning the Body
TIME: 10 Minutes
Body scans are a foundational mindfulness practice used in many traditions. This practice was first introduced to me by a therapist, but it may also be found in Buddhist traditions, MBSR practices, and yoga classes. By scanning the body, we get to know the feelings we experience more clearly. The mind also learns to rest in the present-time experience and focus on what is in front of us.
Mindfulness Exercises #1: Steps
- Sit in an upright and energized position if you’re able to do so. Allow the eyes to close and make any minor adjustments to be comfortable. Take a few deep breaths, arriving in the present-time experience of breathing.
- Bring your awareness up to the crown of the head. What can you physically feel up here at the top of your head? You don’t need to fix anything, figure anything out, or make anything special happen.
- Continue down to the forehead and brow. You may be able to feel the temperature of the air on the skin, some tension, or maybe the simple, neutral feeling of the skin. Whatever you can feel, tend to it with mindfulness.
- Move your awareness to the cheeks and jaw. Moving through the body like this, just rest your awareness, gently observing what you can physically feel.
- Tune in to the feeling at the nostrils and upper lip. Although you may feel many things here, the breath is generally the most obvious. Feel the sensations of breathing with each inhalation and exhalation.
- Next, move into the mouth, focusing on the tongue, lips, and teeth. Notice how the tongue is resting, the sensation of saliva, and any movement in the mouth.
- Continue to move through the upper body like this. Move the awareness slowly through the neck, out the shoulders, and down to the hands. Rest with each part of the body for a few moments, patiently observing what is present.
- Bring the awareness back up to the shoulder blades, and move down the back. Feel the posture of the spine, the muscles in the back, and any expansion and contraction as the body breathes.
- Tune in to the front of the torso, starting at the chest. You may feel the clothes on the body or the breath in the body. As you continue down into the abdomen and stomach, you may notice feelings related to hunger or digestion.
- Move through the pelvis and hips, down the legs, and into the feet. Notice the points of contact, the feeling in the joints, and any tension that arises.
- When you reach the tips of the toes, open up to feel the body as a whole. From head to toe, sit with the experience of having a body. Try to feel the outline of the body, the posture, and the subtle changes as you breathe.
Note: THE BEDTIME BODY SCAN
Body scanning is one of the most useful practices to help encourage sleep. As a bedtime practice, you can do a body scan while lying down. Start at the feet, and slowly move up through the body. Feel the contact of the body with the bed, and focus on bringing gentleness to the body. Breathe into any points of tension, and allow yourself to naturally relax. Don’t strain to fall asleep or relax. Try to move from toe to head with kind awareness.
2. Mindfulness Exercises #2: Every Breath Counts
TIME: 10 Minutes
Bodhipaksa, a Tibetan Buddhist author and professor, said this about concentration: “Concentration allows us to enjoy what we’re doing: whether it’s being in the country or reading a book, writing, or talking or thinking. Concentration allows us to think more clearly and deeply.”
When you first start practicing, you may find the mind wandering quite a bit. Concentration practice helps you train the mind to focus by giving it something to do. like mindfulness, this takes time. When the mind wanders, you bring it back. Over time, the mind will learn to focus and let go of distracting thoughts on its own.
Mindfulness Exercises #2: Steps
- Find a comfortable sitting posture on a chair or cushion. Straighten the spine, but allow the muscles to relax. Briefly check in with the body. Allow the shoulders to drop, soften the muscles of the abdomen, and invite in relaxation.
- Notice where you can feel the breath in the body. It may be the abdomen, the chest, or the nostrils. For now, pick one place where you can feel the breath most easily. Rest with the sensations of the breath in this one spot.
- Begin counting the breaths. Inhale and exhale with awareness, and count one. Inhale, exhale, and count two. Continue like this up to eight, then start back at one.
- Remember that counting serves as an aid to practice, giving the mind something extra on which to focus. It is not a competition or measurement of how well you are doing.
- When the mind wanders, just come back to the breath. Begin back at one as many times as necessary. Watch out for judgment and let go of any harsh self-talk.
- Continue like this, counting the breaths and building focus. When the mind wanders, notice it. Or, when the mind is concentrated, notice this as well!
- When 10 minutes have passed, allow the eyes to open. Continue with your day, noticing when your mind is focused or wandering.
Note: Switching The Count
There are many ways to practice counting your breath. Concentration is an important practice, helping establish mindfulness, focus during meditation, and greater presence in daily life. By making slight adjustments, you can keep this practice interesting and prevent the mind from going into autopilot.
Try counting up to eight, then back down to one. Or try counting with each inhale and each exhales—inhale and count one, exhale and count two. You may also change the number to which you count. Investigate for yourself what is useful.
3. Mindfulness Exercises #3: The Mindful Body
TIME: 10 Minutes
During mindfulness practice—especially when you’re just starting—the body can grow anxious, restless, or agitated. To help with this, you can learn to respond to those sensations with compassion and gentleness.
In this mindfulness exercise, you will work to offer kindness and compassion to the body. You can use this method of calming the body during periods of mindfulness practice, at various moments in your daily life, or whenever you notice difficulties arising.
Mindfulness Exercises #3: Steps
- Allow the eyes to gently close, and make any adjustments to the body that feel helpful. As you breathe in, reach the spine up. With the exhalation, relax the muscles. Take a few deep breaths like this to arrive in the body, invite in energy, and encourage relaxation.
- Rest in awareness of the body for a few moments. You can use the practice of observing points of contact or scanning the body to help yourself settle. Don’t force the mind to do anything. Relax into present-time awareness.
- Connect with your intention to be calm and at ease. Although there may be tension, anxiety, or discomfort in the body, recognize your natural wish for the body to be comfortable.
- Begin offering a few phrases of loving-kindness to the body. These phrases serve as a way of connecting with our intentions to care for the body. Try saying them slowly, connecting with the words and their meanings. You may try offering a phrase with each exhale. Intending to cultivate care, offer these phrases:
- May my body be at ease.
- May my body be healthy.
- Or, may I be at ease with the body?
- Tune in to specific parts of the body that grab your attention. Whatever body part comes up, offer a few phrases of loving-kindness.
- Open your awareness to any part of the body that is experiencing difficulty or pain. Recognizing the discomfort, offer a few phrases of compassion. Compassion is simply attending to pain with a tender and open heart. Try using these phrases:
- May my [body part] be free from discomfort.
- May I care about this discomfort?
- Or, may I be present for this discomfort?
- After a few moments of resting with the discomfort in the body part, open the awareness again. Where else are you feeling discomfort? Offer phrases of compassion again here.
- Continue with this practice as many times as necessary.
Note: Phrases and Mantras
The phrases used in meditation serve as a method of tuning in deeply to an intention. They are a type of mantra, a repeated phrase used to aid concentration. If you decide to experiment with them, know that the traditional phrases used in this mindfulness exercise may not feel authentic to you, and that’s okay.
You can—and should— create a phrase that lands as honest for you and your personal experience. I sometimes say “This stinks” when it’s all I can say honestly. I also like “I love you; keep going.” As you practice, rest your awareness on the phrases as you say them silently in your head. If you’re in a space where you may do so, you can also try saying the phrases out loud. Experiment with different words to see what feels supportive, caring, and true for you.
4. Mindfulness Exercises #4: Giving and Receiving
TIME: 10 Minutes
The breath can aid your practice in many different ways, including acting as a vehicle toward peace and acceptance. This practice is called tonglen, a Tibetan word that means “giving and receiving.”
In this meditation, you work with the breath to help cultivate care and loving-kindness toward yourself and those around you. It is a practice both in mindfulness and compassion. As you move through this exercise, notice any resistance that arises. When the mind wanders, bring it back to the body breathing.
“Tonglen practice begins to dissolve the illusion that each of us is alone with this personal suffering that no one else can understand.”
Mindfulness Exercises #4: Steps
- Gently close your eyes and bring your attention to the present moment. Notice where you are. What can you feel in the body? What can you hear? Where are you? There’s no need to do anything other than observe your present-time experience at this moment.
- Bring your awareness to a location in the body where you can feel the breath. For this practice, the chest works well. Be with the body breathing for a minute, feeling the inhalations and exhalations as they come and go.
- Start the giving and receiving with an intention of self-acceptance. As you breathe in, visualize yourself breathing in acceptance. As you exhale, let go of self-judgment. Breathe like this for a few deep breaths.
- Begin offering yourself some ease and peace with each inhale. Let go of stress and anxiety with each exhale. You may try the visualization of breathing in light of ease while exhaling the darkness of stress.
- Now inhale and offer yourself forgiveness. You do not need to go into any stories or rationalizations about this; just set the intention to forgive yourself. As you exhale, let go of resentment.
- Letting go of the forgiveness and resentment, picture yourself surrounded by people you love. Return to the first part of working with acceptance and judgment, but this time, flip it around. When inhaling, take in the pain of others as they judge themselves. When exhaling, offer acceptance to your loved ones.
- Continue to inhale the stress and anxiety in others, and give ease and peace as you exhale. Hold space for their stress, but don’t take it on yourself. By receiving, you’re just recognizing with compassion that others have difficult experiences as well.
- Finally, inhale and tune in to the resentments these people have toward themselves. Exhale and radiate forgiveness for these individuals.
- When 10 minutes have passed, allow the eyes to gently open. Let the body resume normal breathing. Remember, you can return to this practice at any point in your day.
Note: ADJUST THE PRACTICE
There are multiple ways to utilize this practice. Try choosing different difficult experiences and caring qualities to offer. You can also work with whatever arises. If you notice self-judgment arising, use that.
Breathe in and recognize that you are experiencing self-judgment. Breathe out and offer the wish that all others are also free from self-judgment. This can help us not get lost in our suffering or difficulty.
5. Mindfulness Exercises #5: Body Awareness
TIME: 10 Minutes
The body scan you practiced earlier is useful preparation for this exercise. Instead of moving through the body, resting on specific parts, however, this is more of an open awareness that lays the foundation for feeling the emotions in the body and responding with compassion. As with the body scan (or any of these practices), you can return to this anytime.
Mindfulness Exercises #5: Steps
- Find a comfortable meditation posture. You can lie down during this practice, but if you find yourself growing tired or falling asleep, sit up straight while meditating.
- Notice where in the body you can feel the breath. Pick one spot where the sensation of breathing is strongest, and collect the mind onto this part of the body. You may try using a simple mantra of “In, out.” For the first minute or so, give the mind some space to settle into practice.
- Expand that awareness to the whole body. From head to toe, acknowledge whenever something grabs your attention. You don’t need to seek anything special. Wait patiently with the breath for a feeling in the body to emerge.
- When something comes forward, observe what you feel. It may help to use a one-word label, discerning where in the body the sensation is occurring. For example, note “knee” when you feel a pain in the knee or “chest” when you notice the sensation of the breath in the chest. Don’t label what the feeling is; label where it is.
- Tend to the sensation for a few breaths, and return to the spot in the body where you are focusing on the breath. Continue to observe the breath until another sensation pops up.
- Maintain this practice of alternating between the breath and other sensations in the body. Each time your attention is drawn elsewhere in the body, stay with it for a few moments before returning to the breath. Get to know your body and explore its experiences with curiosity.
ADDING TO THE PRACTICE: If you want to add to this practice, start with a body scan before step 3 in this exercise. This can relax you and help you get more in tune with your bodily sensations.
Note: Pain in the Body
If you have consistent pain or discomfort in the body, it may continue to call for your attention. No matter how many times you try to shift your awareness, you are drawn back to this one place of pain. When that happens, listen. Maybe this area needs some loving attention. Try to look at the pain with a beginner’s mind. switch to a phrase of self-compassion for your body, even something simple, like “It’s okay.”
Also Read: Twenty Steps to Improve Your Mental Health and Take Charge of Your Life
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