4 Easy Mindfulness Exercises You Can Do Anywhere
A look at some mindfulness exercises that you can practice wherever you are, to help you live a calmer, more worry-free life.
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But what's mindfulness, and why should we practice it?
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As a previous sufferer of anxiety and worry (I still have my moments, they're just much less severe and shorter-lived), I know that when you get into a situation where you worry or fret about something - even something small - you end up going over and over the worry in your head. You think that by worrying and analysing a problem over and over again, you'll come up with a solution for it that will solve all your worries and life will be fantastic again. Except, in my experience, this never happens.
What mindfulness does is interrupt that cycle of worry, which is sometimes called 'rumination'. It breaks you out of that mode of thought, where you're focused on negativity and, often, the worst case scenario. When you worry like this, your brain kind of gets stuck in 'chatter mode'. And no good comes of it. You're not productive, you're very often not thinking rationally, and all the while your body is showing physiological signs of stress - increased heart rate, shallow breathing and butterflies in your tummy. Which will probably make you feel more anxious. And then the cycle continues.
You need to learn to turn that off and give yourself a break.
By practicing mindfulness, even when we're not feeling stressed out or worried, we silence the chattering part of the brain that tries to fix problems we often don't even have. By concentrating on what is happening NOW, rather than what you think will happen, the chattering part of the brain never gets engaged. And the best part is that you don't need twinkly lights, a download of chants or a yoga mat to do it. You can do it now. Right now.
Try these exercises, wherever you are, whenever you remember to do it. The more often you practice, the easier it becomes until eventually, it's like second nature. Don't wait for when you feel anxious - just start practicing mindfulness whenever it's safe and appropriate to do so. Try it and let me know what you think.
By the way, do practice these exercises in a safe, neutral environment. Don't try and do them when you're driving or operating machinery, for example. Get yourself in a comfortable, safe situation first. And if you're really struggling with anxiety, make an appointment to see your doctor. There's help out there, if you need it.
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While you're walking somewhere quiet (I wouldn't suggest doing this while walking in a city or busy area with traffic and lots of other people - use your judgement here and stay alert), just tune in to what the ground feels like beneath your feet. Keep your wits about you of course, but just notice how your toes feel as they scrunch up a little bit inside your shoe on every step. Listen for the crackle of leaves, or the sound of your shoe as it hits the pavement. Feel the contraction of your calf muscles and the flex of your knee. Feel the spread of the flesh in the soles of your feet as they take it in turns to hold the weight of your body, as you walk. Just noticing what's going on as you walk helps to bring you into what's happening this instant and shuts up your internal chatter. If your negative ruminating thoughts come back, just quietly let them float past and don't give them any attention. Just gently direct your attention back to your walking.
Immersing Yourself in Nature
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Ever look up at the sky and notice all the colours - the different shades of oranges, pinks, purples, greys and blues that make up the skyline at different times of the day? I never did, before I discovered mindfulness. As you go about your day, look at nature with a childlike curiosity. The smooth gloss on the surface of a holly leaf. The streak of pink in a sunset. The smell of a pine tree, or rosemary sprig. It's also been stated, as I mentioned in my ebook Simple Tips to Help Ease Anxiety, that being in nature can be really good for the mind and can lessen anxiety, so you're just amplifying the effects of nature here by paying more attention to it. Hurray!
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This was explained to me by a therapist that helped me deal with my long term anxiety, and I tried it and then Googled it and discovered it was an actual thing, and loads of people were doing it, too. Take a piece of fruit that you are going to eat - she recommended a tangerine, or small orange, but you could try it with any of your favourite fruits. First, look at the tangerine. Notice the colour - the variations in colour or shape. Really look at the texture of its skin, how it looks. Take some time to do that - don't rush. Next, hold it in your hand. feel its temperature, the texture, the dimples in the surface of the skin. Take some time now to think about its weight as you hold it. Next, slowly peel a little of the peel away from the fruit. How does it feel, smell, look? How did it sound, as you peeled it? Was there a slight 'ripping' sound as you broke the peel? Sniff the tangerine now, taking in the scent. Next, very slowly break a segment of the tangerine away. How did that look, feel, sound or smell? Lift it to your nose and take in the scent. Did it smell different to the peel? Squeeze it a little and notice any tiny droplets of juice that escape from the segment. Next, pop the tangerine segment in your mouth, and just hold it there. Direct your attention to how this feels or tastes, or any other sensations you can feel. Finally, bite the tangerine segment. How does this feel, taste, smell?
The great thing about mindful eating is that no one need know you're doing it. Everyone will think you're at your desk eating a 2 minute snack, but afterwards it will feel like you've had a 15-minute break, as you give your brain time to slow right down and silence itself. You'll be surprised at all the sensory information you get just from eating a tangerine, something you probably just take for granted, pop it in your mouth and don't even think about.
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I learned this technique from the book The Mindful Way Through Depression. As the authors say, your breath is always with you and can be used as an anchor for a mindfulness practice at any time. To do this exercise, just pay attention to your breath. Don't try to slow it down, or change its rhythm, just be aware of it flowing in and out of your body. Breathing is something we all do, but most days I expect we don't even notice it. Feel the air as it enters the back of your throat as you breathe in - is it cool, or warm? Are you breathing in the upper part of your chest, or deep down, in your belly? What's the speed of your breathing? As I said, don't try and change your breathing tempo - but you may find that it changes naturally as you give it your awareness. You can do this anywhere - while you're watching TV, queueing for groceries or waiting for the gates to open on the school run.
Engage Your Senses
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This kind of ties up the other exercises, but it's important. Take a minute to engage all of your senses, one by one. For example, if you're walking to work, feel the breeze as it hits your skin. Notice the temperature. How does the fabric of your clothes feel against your skin? The shoes on your feet. Look at the shapes in the clouds - we spend a lot of time as children noticing figures and shapes in the random alignment of the clouds, but as adults it's something we tend to ignore. Pay attention to the smells of all the different shops and restaurants as you stroll through town. Just by noticing more of what's happening around you, you can learn to switch off the part of your brain that loves problem solving, but isn't always very good at it, and plunge your awareness into what's happening now. Practice this for a few minutes at a time.
Interested in adding more mindfulness into your life easily? I've developed a guide on how to do just that for the Autoimmune Healing Intensive - click for more details.
What are your favourite techniques for practising mindfulness? Share them with me in the comments below!
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