Mindfulness is a way to ground yourself in the present by paying attention -- moment by moment -- to your feelings, physical sensations, and outside environment. Mindfulness exercises and techniques can help us develop nonjudgmental acceptance of our thoughts and feelings. Instead of trying to change things, rehashing the past, or imagining a future, we remain in the moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Many people find that practicing mindfulness brings them peace, purpose, and a renewed sense of happiness.
A few of the most common benefits of practicing mindfulness include:
Improved well-being. Mindfulness supports acceptance and gratitude for where you are in your life. Being mindful makes it easier to enjoy the pleasures of life and stay engaged in what you’re doing as you do it. When unpleasant circumstances show up, you’ll be able to handle them in a calmer, more effective way. You’ll likely find it easier to release your worries and let go of unwanted, repetitive thoughts.
Improved physical health. Scientists have found a link between practicing mindfulness and reduced stress, lowered heart disease, lowered blood pressure, reduced chronic pain, better gut health, and improved sleep.
Improved mental health. Mental health care professionals have found mindfulness to be effective in the treatment of such mental disorders as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Helpful Mindfulness Exercises and Mindfulness Techniques
You can practice mindfulness by following a few easy steps.
Pay attention. It’s common for people to go through most days on autopilot, following a routine. Life is busy, and it can be hard to stay in the moment. Mindfulness reminds us to take a break and pay attention to all the experiences life offers. For instance, take time to enjoy the warm water on your hands as you wash them, or take more time to taste delicious food as you eat it.
Live in the moment. Life is busy, and it can be hard to stay present in the moment. Bring yourself back to the present as often as you can. If you catch your mind wandering, gently accept what you’re experiencing, take a breath, and bring yourself back into the now.
Accept yourself. One of the biggest themes of mindfulness is non-judgmental acceptance of whatever is happening in life. This doesn’t mean we have to love our circumstances, but accept it for what it is, with faith that even the worst things will pass.
Focus on your breathing. Breath work is about bringing conscious awareness to each breath, feeling it as the air enters your nose, down to your lungs, expanding your diaphragm, and releasing as you exhale.
You can also try more structured mindfulness exercises, such as:
Body scan meditation. Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions, or thoughts associated with each part of your body.
Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then return your focus to your breath.
Walking meditation. Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing, and the subtle movements that help you keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.
How Often to Practice Mindfulness
The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced any time, anywhere. You can be at work, at home, or even socializing with friends and family. All you have to do is bring your attention back to the present moment, grounding yourself with your breath and paying attention to the sounds, scents, and activities happening around you.
If you’re interested in trying a more structured mindfulness exercise, like sitting meditation, it helps to find a space where you can be alone, without distraction or interruption. Many people practice this type of structured mindfulness practice in the early morning before starting their daily routine.
You can choose how often and how long you practice mindfulness, but most people find the more they do it, the more benefits they experience. You may start to notice things you didn’t before, learn to master your racing thoughts, or perhaps feel happier and more at peace.
Limits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness exercises and mindfulness techniques can be incredibly helpful. Just be aware of what you are focusing on and how it’s making you feel. You may not be able to control what’s going on around you, but you can control where your attention goes.
It’s also important to consider that while mindfulness can be a powerful tool for regulating and shifting your emotions, it's not a substitute for professional mental health treatment. Also consider talking to a licensed mental health professional.