Six Ways to Practice Mindfulness and Realize Six Significant Benefits
by Diane Berenbaum
How many times in a day are you pulled in different directions? Perhaps you have to respond to last minute requests or “urgent” matters, or new demands and competing priorities. And, how many times do you lose your focus and energy as a result? Mindfulness is maintaining awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment. It’s also about managing ourselves in all those moments.
When we practice mindfulness, we focus on the present moment, rather than rehashing the past or wondering about the future. It also involves acceptance, in an objective way. In other words, we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. But, we don’t judge them or believe there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in any given moment.
Alfred James, the founder of Pocketmindfulness.com, teaches that mindfulness is a “pathway to self-acceptance.” He is also a mindfulness coach, and author of the globally popular Pocket Mindfulness blog. James notes that we tend to squeeze in as much as we can in our days. Yet, we don’t always recognize the impact that may have on us, and those around us.
This practice helps us understand what we do, and why we think and feel the way we do. So, how do we practice mindfulness in a way that helps us slow down and appreciate the world around us? James recommends six different ways.
Six Ways to Practice Mindfulness
1. Mindful Breathing
This exercise can be done standing up or sitting down; anywhere and anytime. It’s about being still, focusing on your breath for just one minute. Here’s how you practice it:
Breathe in through your nose and out with your mouth…slowly. Let your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body.
Let go of your thoughts for a minute. Let go of things you have to do later today or pending projects that need your attention.
Simply let yourself be still for one minute.
Purposefully watch your breath, as it enters your body and fills you up. Then watch it work its way out of your mouth as its energy dissipates into the world.
This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful. It is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, something that is easily missed when we are rushing around in the car or hopping on and off trains on the way to work.
2. Mindful Observation
Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a flower or an insect, or even the clouds or the moon.
Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. Simply relax into a harmony for as long as your concentration allows. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Visually explore every aspect of its formation. Allow yourself to be consumed by its presence. Allow yourself to connect with its energy and its role and purpose in the natural world.
This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks and the results they achieve.
3. Mindful Awareness
Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted, like opening a door, for example. At the very moment you touch the doorknob to open the door, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel in that moment and where the door will lead you. Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that facilitates your understanding of how to use the computer.
These touchpoint cues don’t have to be physical ones. For example: each time you think a negative thought you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity. Or, perhaps each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how lucky you are to have good food to eat and share with your family and friends.
Choose a touch point that resonates with you today. Instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing and the blessings it brings your life.
4. Mindful Listening
This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way. So much of what we see and hear on a daily basis is influenced by our past experiences, but when we listen mindfully, we achieve a neutral, present awareness that lets us hear sound without preconception.
Select a piece of music you have never heard before. You may have something in your own collection that you have never listened to, or you might choose to turn the radio dial until something catches your ear.
Close your eyes and put on your headphones. Try not to get drawn into judging the music by its genre, title or artist name before it has begun playing. Instead, ignore any labels and neutrally allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song. Allow yourself to explore every aspect of track. Even if the music isn’t to your liking at first, let go of your dislike and give your awareness full permission to climb inside the track and dance among the sound waves.
The idea is to just listen, to become fully entwined with the composition without preconception or judgment of the genre, artist, lyrics or instrumentation.
5. Mindful Immersion
The intention of this exercise is to cultivate contentment in the moment and escape the persistent striving we find ourselves caught up in on a daily basis. Rather than anxiously wanting to finish an everyday routine task in order to get on with doing something else, take that regular routine and fully experience it like never before.
For example: if you are cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of the activity. Rather than treat this as a regular chore, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your actions: Feel and become the motion when sweeping the floor, sense the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, develop a more efficient way of wiping the windows clean. The idea is to get creative and discover new experiences within a familiar routine task.
Instead of laboring through and constantly thinking about finishing the task, become aware of every step and fully immerse yourself in the progress. Take the activity beyond a routine by aligning yourself with it physically, mentally and spiritually. Who knows, you might even enjoy the cleaning for once!
6. Mindful Appreciation
List five things in your day that you usually don’t notice or appreciate. They can be processes, people or objects; of any size or color. It’s up to you. Use a notepad to jot down and check off five by the end of each day.
Then, step back and look at them objectively. Simply give thanks and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life; the things that support our existence but rarely get a second thought amidst our desire for bigger and better things.
For example: electricity powers your kettle, the postman delivers your mail, your clothes provide you warmth, your nose lets you smell the flowers in the park, your ears let you hear the birds in the tree by the bus stop, but…
Once you have identified your five things, find out everything you can about their creation and purpose to truly appreciate the way in which they support your life.
Do you know how these things/processes came to exist, or how they really work?
Have you ever properly acknowledged how these things benefit your life and the lives of others?
Have you ever thought about what life might be like without these things?
Have you ever stopped to notice their finer, more intricate details?
Have you ever sat down and thought about the relationships between these things and how together they play an interconnected role in the functioning of the earth?
The good news is that these exercises take only a few minutes a day. And ultimately, they will help you empty your mind and find much needed calm during your hectic days. So, try them out, and see which one(s) help you find a sense of calm and a quieter, more peaceful place.
Six Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
Mindfulness has a multitude of benefits. Here are just a few:
1. Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A National Institutes of Health study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
2. It is good for our minds: Several studies found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. One study suggested it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
3. It can change our brains for the better. Scientists from the University of British Columbia and Chemnitz University of Technology pooled data from more than 20 studies to determine which areas of the brain are affected by this practice. They observed significant increases in the density of gray matter in the brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
4. It helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
5. It fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
6. It enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationships, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and helps people feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing."
~Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
~James Baraz, a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, coauthor of Awakening Joy
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult; we just need to remember to do it.”
~Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher, New York Times best-selling author, and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society.
How mindful are you? Find out by taking the Greater Good mindfulness quiz, which is based on the Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .