5 mindfulness exercises you can try
Helpful tips on how you can build mindfulness into your life and make it work for you using quick and easy exercises.
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Practising mindfulness comes with lots of benefits. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of what’s happening in the present moment, both inside of your body and in the world around you. It can reduce stress, combat overthinking, improve focus and memory, and boost life satisfaction. If you don’t like meditating, you might think that you can’t enjoy the benefits of mindfulness, but that’s not true. Mindfulness and meditation are talked about together so often, it can be easy to forget that they are not the same thing.
Mindfulness is a broad topic that extends far beyond meditation, and meditating is not the only way to practise mindfulness. Meditation is a useful tool for lots of people but there are also many other activities that you can use to live more mindfully. Any activity that helps you to be present in the moment can be a route to mindfulness. Whether you’re just starting your mindfulness journey or you are looking for new ideas to enhance your practice, these suggestions can help. If at any time you find that meditation or mindfulness is making you feel worse or that you are struggling in any way, it’s ok to drop the practice and try something different.
Find a breathing exercise that works for you.
Breathing exercises are at the heart of mindfulness practice. Mindful breathing is a simple activity where you focus your attention on your breath, feeling the rhythm as you inhale and exhale. Lots of people find that regularly using simple breathing exercises helps them to regulate their mood and manage stress.
The way you breathe has a close relationship with your levels of stress. When you’re feeling anxious or under pressure, your breathing can become quicker and shallower. This is part of your body’s fight or flight response that prepares you to respond to threats. While these breathing changes are a natural reaction to stress, they can often be unhelpful and make you feel more anxious. Mindful breathing helps your body to relax by taking slower and deeper breaths.
One of the useful things about mindful breathing exercises is that you can practise them while doing other things, which means lots of activities can be turned into an opportunity for mindfulness. There’s a wide range of different mindful breathing techniques and exercises out there and different people prefer different ones. It can take a bit of experimenting to find one that works for you, and they all take a bit of practice at first, but once you’ve got it figured out, you have a simple and flexible tool for managing stress and reconnecting with the moment. Here are some breathing exercises you can try. Some people find these easier to do when they’re sitting comfortably with good posture, but you can do them however you feel most comfortable.
- Belly breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds.
- Box breathing: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, wait 4 seconds before breathing in again.
- Alternate nostril breathing: Using your thumb to cover one nostril, take a deep breath in through the other nostril. Move your thumb to the other nostril and breathe out through the first nostril. Repeat while switching nostrils for every breath.
If you have issues with your breath, breathing in or out for set times can be challenging, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t practice mindful breathing. You can still focus attention on your breath while breathing in whatever way is comfortable and natural for you.
Give people your full attention
It can be harder than you think to be fully present when you’re interacting with the people in your life. When you’re talking to a friend or family member, your attention can be easily distracted by what’s happening around you or the thoughts in your head. You might find yourself thinking about what you have to do tomorrow while you’re mid-conversation with someone or even thinking about what you want to say next instead of truly listening to what they’re saying to you.
Using a mindful approach can really enrich the time you spend with others. Use your undivided attention to focus on the other person, taking care to hear what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, and to notice how you’re feeling during the conversation.
Keep a gratitude journal
Journalling is a great way to practice mindfulness. Taking time to write down your thoughts and feelings trains your brain to notice your internal world. Journaling can take many forms. Some people like to write about what happened in their day, others like to write about their emotions or even their dreams.
One type of journal that can be particularly good for keeping a mindful outlook is a gratitude journal. Dealing with stress and worry can cause you to view the world in a more negative way and the positives can get harder to see. Practising gratitude can help you see through the fog of life and find the things that are most important to you and that you’re thankful for.
Starting a gratitude journal is really easy. First, you need a place to write your journal entries. You could pick out a nice new notebook to use as your journal if you like, but you could also use one you already have or you could even use a notes app on your phone. Start small by writing down one thing that you are grateful for every day. Some days you might find it hard to think of something, but be patient with yourself, there’s always something. Don’t worry if you miss a day, you can always try again tomorrow. Once you’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for a while, you can read back through some of your entries to lift your mood if you’re feeling low.
Change your routine
When your daily schedule gets busy, it can sometimes feel like you’re moving through your life on autopilot. If it seems like you’re just going through the motions and moving from one task to the next, switching up your routine can help stimulate your mind and draw your attention to the present. The change doesn’t have to be a big one. You could eat something different for lunch, listen to some new music on your commute, or go to a different store for your shopping. You could also set aside some time for a new activity like creating something or trying out a sport. Introducing a bit of novelty in your life will make it easier to appreciate the little things and live in the moment.
Try out mindful eating
People are often distracted when they’re eating. You might eat while scrolling through your phone, watching TV, or planning what you’re going to do once you finish eating. Mindful eating encourages you to resist the urge to multitask while you’re eating and instead, use mealtimes as an opportunity to be present in the moment. The goal of mindful eating isn’t to change what you eat or when you eat, but to savour the moment and enjoy mealtime instead of mindlessly rushing.
Here are some steps you can take to practice mindful eating.
- Pay attention and try to notice as much as you can about what you’re eating. Engage all your senses.
- Look at the colours of your food, notice the smells. Notice each bite that you’re taking.
- Slow down and savour the taste.
- Notice how you feel after you’ve eaten different foods; which ones give you energy and help you feel good?
- Consider all the different elements that have gone into producing the food- sun, rain, hands that grew the food, processed the food, and delivered the food.
Mindful eating is also about paying attention to your body’s signals. Notice when your body tells you that you’re getting hungry or getting full. Learning how to listen to your body makes it easier to recognise your needs and respond to them.