In this article, we’ll explore some effective mindfulness exercises for a calmer and peaceful life. To become more mindful, keep on practicing these exercises regularly.
MINDFULNESS is our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others, and we can work wonders. If we practice mindfulness exercises every day and live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place.
The object of your mindfulness exercises can be anything. You can look at the sky and breathe in and say, “Breathing in, I’m aware of the blue sky.” So you are mindful of the blue sky. The blue sky becomes the object of your mindfulness. “Breathing out, I smile to the blue sky.” Smiling is another kind of practice.
First of all, you recognize the blue sky as existing. And if you continue the practice, you will see that the blue sky is wonderful. It may be that you’ve lived thirty or forty years but you have never seen and touched the blue sky that deeply.
In the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha offers four layers of mindfulness exercises or practice: mindfulness of the body, of the emotions, of the mind, and the objects of mind. Mindfulness exercises at each layer can be the foundation of well-being and happiness. When we don’t practice mindfulness, we suffer in our body, our mind, and our relationships.
In practicing mindfulness exercises, we become a peaceful refuge for ourselves and others. When the seed of mindfulness in us is watered, it can grow into enlightenment, understanding, compassion, and transformation. The more we practice mindfulness, the stronger this seed will grow.
Clarity flows from mindfulness. When we are mindful, we can practice Right Thinking and Right Speech. With the energy of mindfulness, we can always return to our true home, the present moment.
The Chinese character for mindfulness reveals its meaning. The upper part of the character means “now” and the lower part stands for “mind” or “heart.” The Vietnamese word for mindfulness, chan niem, means to be truly in the present moment. Mindfulness exercises help us to come back to the here and now, to be aware of what is going on in the present moment, and to be in touch with the wonders of life.
I. Creating a mindfulness habit
It isn’t necessary to be mindful in all your waking hours, but unless you make a concerted effort to be mindful daily it’s easy to get distracted by myriad things that divert your attention through the day.
Occasional attempts at ‘being in the moment or to ‘notice the little things more’ and ‘live in the now’ are well-meaning, but distractions and preoccupations take over, and resolutions to be more mindful fall by the wayside.
What to do? You need to make mindfulness a habit, something that you do regularly until it becomes your normal practice. Your mind can do this! Establishing new ways of thinking and doing is not difficult, provided the new ways are constantly repeated.
How come? When you think or do something in a new way, you create new connections, or neural pathways, in your brain. Then, every time you repeat that thought or action, every time you continue using these new pathways, they become stronger and more established.
It’s like walking through a field of long grass, each step helps to create a new path, and every time you walk that new path you establish a clear route that becomes easier to use each time. It becomes a habit to use that route. Since your distracted and preoccupied mind isn’t going to remind you to be mindful, you need something else to remind you.
‘Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last, we cannot break it.’ – Horace Mann
Mindfulness Exercises #1: In Practice
‘The hard must become a habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.’ – Doug Henning
Set a timer on your phone (with a soothing tone)
To remind you to be mindful at random times of your day. A ‘Mindfulness Bell’ app is useful here. It rings periodically during the day to allow you to pause for a moment and consider where you are, what you are doing, and what you are thinking.
Put a note on your bathroom mirror saying:
‘Be mindful.’ Decide to do things differently to experience different results. Write them on self-sticking notes and place them on the wall above your desk or on the fridge to remind you to do things differently.
Make a mindfulness date with yourself
A time in your day when you do something specifically devoted to mindfulness. It could be taking a short walk, eating a quiet meal, or drinking a cup of tea.
Commit to being mindful every time you open a door.
When you open a door, drop what’s in your mind (you can pick it up again shortly) and, instead, watch your hand push the door or grasp the doorknob. Open the door with purpose and patience. Feel its weight and whether it opens easily.
Take in the new scene that’s revealed. Smell the air and notice any change in temperature of the outside space or room you are entering. Listen to the sound of the space you’ve just left, give way to the room or space you’ve just entered.
It’s a small commitment, maybe five seconds at a time, a handful of times a day. Just be sure that when you open a door, you open the door. You’re going to do it anyway. Make it an opportunity to be present.
II. Bringing Out Your Confidence
Do you feel that life would improve for you if you had more self-confidence? When faced with a new challenge or opportunity, are you filled with self-doubt? Do you say to yourself, ‘I’ll never be able to do this, or ‘I’m not good enough, or ‘I can’t?
Self-confidence is not about what you can or can’t do: it’s what you believe you can or can’t do. If in the past, you’ve failed or not coped well with a particular situation, you may well believe that you will fail or struggle the next time. You won’t feel confident about doing it again.
And if you’ve now got something you have to do, something new you’ve never done before, you may believe you won’t be able to do it. You won’t feel confident about your ability to do it.
So if you lack self-confidence, you’ll avoid taking risks and stretching yourself and will probably not try at all. You’ll talk yourself out of it with negative self-talk, telling yourself that you can’t or won’t be able to do something.
You will make yourself believe that you can’t do certain things. (Negative self-talk also knocks your self-esteem, making you feel bad about yourself.) Instead of letting experience or future possibilities paralyze you, mindfulness can help you be aware of these judgemental thoughts and how unhelpful they are.
‘It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.’ – Denis Waitley
Mindfulness Exercises #2: In Practice
‘Accept your past without regret, handle your present with confidence and face your future without fear.’ – Unknown
Get yourself into a positive mindset.
Remind yourself of the things that you do well, activities where you feel a sense of control, no fear of failure, or feeling of self-consciousness. You know what you’re doing and where you’re heading: you feel confident in your abilities.
When you find yourself basing your beliefs about your abilities on what happened in the past, start again.
Take a ‘beginner’s mind’ approach: put the past judgments and conclusions aside and, instead, think about what you’ve learned from these experiences. You can’t change what happened the last time you did something, but you can change what happens next time. Identify new insights that could help you do things differently next time.
Make a plan.
If you’re faced with a new challenge or situation, something you’ve never done before, think through what steps you can take to manage potential difficulties.
Know that when you stop giving the situation any more unhelpful thoughts – thoughts based on the past and the future – you will have taken the first step towards moving ahead with confidence.
Use mindfulness to catch yourself when you think, ‘I can’t do this.’ There’s no need to judge yourself for having unhelpful thoughts. Just notice and make a different choice. Choose to think, ‘I can do this. I’ve thought it through. I have a plan.’
III. Carrying Yourself with Confidence
Do you remember the last time you had an interview or important meeting or had to give a presentation? The last time you went to a party where you hardly knew anyone there? A time when you had to stand up to someone else?
Were you aware of your body language: your posture, facial expressions, and gestures?
Perhaps your mind was too preoccupied with what to do, what to say, and how to say it to think about body language. Or perhaps, you may have been overly conscious, too aware of what message your body language may have been sending to other people.
But have you ever considered what message your body language might be sending to your brain?
Recent research suggests that the way you sit or stand can affect the way your brain functions. Carry yourself with confidence, and in a matter of minutes, the chemical balance – the testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain – alter, your body starts to feel it, and your brain starts to believe it.
So, by being aware of and focusing on just one or two aspects of your body language, you can directly influence the message your brain will receive.
You don’t have to learn a new repertoire of poses, gestures, and expressions that feel unnatural or uncomfortable. If you can alter just one or two things consistently, the rest of your body and mind will catch up, and you will feel more confident and come across as more confident and capable.
‘I speak two languages. Body and English.’ – Mae West
Mindfulness Exercises #3: In Practice
‘Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.’ – Amy Cuddy
If you want to feel calmer, more confident, and at the moment – not just appear confident but genuinely feel confident – simply choose to do just two or three of these actions:
- Stand or sit straight.
- Keep your head level.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Spread your weight evenly on both legs.
- If sitting, keep your elbows on the arms of your chair (rather than tightly against your sides).
- Make appropriate eye contact.
- Lower the pitch of your voice.
- Speak more slowly.
You can’t control all your non-verbal communication. In fact, the harder you try, the more unnatural you are likely to feel. But if you can keep your mind on doing one or two of those things consistently, your thoughts, feelings, and behavior can match up. Which one or two actions would you feel comfortable using? Practice using them right now!
Adopt a ‘Mona Lisa’ smile.
A ‘Mona Lisa’ smile is helpful in stressful situations because it is an easy way to be in the moment and create a feeling of calm. The Mona Lisa’s smile is almost imperceptible: you simply relax your jaw and let your mouth turn slightly upward at the ends.
It can help to visualize the image of the Mona Lisa. Or imagine yourself looking into a mirror with a half-smile. The ‘Mona Lisa’ smile can be used with your breathing. Inhale the calm. Exhale with a half-smile.
IV. Developing Your Ability to ‘READ’ Others
How good are you at mind-reading? How good are you at knowing what someone is thinking or feeling without their having to tell you? You’re probably pretty good at it. You can get better.
When you observe a person’s body language, you can see what they are feeling and thinking as they feel and think it. If, for example, you see their face is contorted and they are banging their fist on the table, you know that person is angry.
Facial expressions, posture, touch, etc. are all emotionally driven and can clue you into a person’s true feelings and intentions in any one moment. Every shift in a person’s inner emotions is communicated through their nonverbal behavior, and it happens in the present.
However, not all emotions are as obvious and easy to read as anger or joy. Disappointment, for example, is expressed in far subtler ways than anger. It’s not so easy to read what’s going on.
Many emotions occur fleetingly – they happen at the moment – so you need to pay attention. By mindfully observing people as they communicate, you are more likely to notice those subtle fleeting cues as they happen. You can get a real insight into what’s going on for that person, at that moment.
‘The face is more honest than the mouth will ever be.’ – Daphne Orebaugh
Mindfulness Exercises #4: In Practice
‘The physical language of the body is so much more powerful than the words.’ – Bill Irwin
Practice your ability to ‘read’ other people.
Observe people on a bus, train, in a café and just notice how they act and react to each other. When you watch others, try to guess what they are saying or get a sense of what is going on between them.
Watch interviews, dramas, and documentaries on TV.
Turn the sound down and try to guess what emotions people are experiencing and displaying as they interact with each other.
Look for a combination of expressions and gestures in any one moment.
A single expression or gesture isn’t as reliable as two or three body language signals. If, for example, they were frowning, closing their eyes, and rubbing their head, you would probably conclude that they have a headache. Together, two or three signals more clearly indicate what’s going on at that moment.
Notice if what someone says matches
Or if it is at odds with their nonverbal behavior.
Pay attention to changes in body language.
Every shift in a person’s emotions is conveyed through their non-verbal behavior.
V. Keeping On Top When the Pressure is On
Think of a typically busy day at work, study, or at home. What time is it? Or, What are you doing? What are you thinking? Or, What do you have to do next? What haven’t you done? How do you feel?
At one time or another most of us experience busy periods at work, with study, or home life. There’s much to do and much to think about. You’re doing several things at once, and life just races by.
You’re caught up with what you haven’t done and what you’ve yet to do, and your mind is chattering away with judgments and commentary. You feel anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, and stressed. It’s impossible to think clearly.
How does this happen? It’s all in the mind!
There are two important parts to your brain: the limbic system and the neocortex. The limbic system in your brain is responsible for your emotions, emotions such as agitation, frustration, and disappointment which can overwhelm your mind. You react to what’s happening instinctively, without rational thought or reasoning. More so when you’re busy or under pressure.
The neocortex is responsible for thinking, remembering, and reasoning. Focus and attention are primary activities of the neocortex.
Mindfulness can calm unhelpful activity from the limbic system. Your mind becomes quieter. You can think more clearly and deliberately, bring yourself back to the present and just stay with what’s happening now.
‘You can do anything but not everything.’ – David Allen
Mindfulness Exercises #5: In Practice
‘If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.’ – Amit Ray
Acknowledge and accept the feeling of being overwhelmed.
This doesn’t mean you have to accept and resign yourself to difficult, stressful situations. You simply accept how you feel and how things are at this moment before thinking about what you can do to manage them. It’s a strategic acceptance. You may not like what’s happening but, instead of fighting it, by accepting it, you can engage the reasoning, thinking part of your brain, and find a solution.
Get some breathing space.
You can do this anywhere at any time. Simply take two or three minutes to stop what you’re doing and focus on breathing. A two-minute breathing space will help calm you down, collect and clarify your thoughts. It helps you to engage the rationalizing reasoning part of your brain.
During busy, stressful periods, try to get some breathing space two or three times a day.
Breaks give your mind space to digest, mentally process and assimilate what’s happening internally and externally. You don’t need to try to do it consciously. It’s something that the brain just does naturally below the surface.
Related: How to Practice Mindfulness?