What is mindfulness? It’s the ideal of remaining 100% alert to the present moment. Too often, humans get lost in their heads, ruminating on the past or trying to control every aspect of an inherently unpredictable future.
You can develop this quality in yourself through various techniques. How can you be more present? Try these seven mindfulness activities to find your zen.
People in the western world have a complicated relationship with food. While some people struggle to get enough, many of us have more than we need. As a result, we mindlessly snack while engaged in other activities like working, then wonder why we can’t button our jeans without a battle.
When was the last time you mindfully savored a meal? You don’t have to go out to a gourmet restaurant to employ these techniques. It’s best to practice with a simple square of chocolate.
Smell, gaze at and nibble your piece before popping it into your mouth. Once you do, savor the sensation and flavor on your tongue. Pay attention to how your body feels. Does your stomach growl with anticipation? Do you feel your stress levels begin to dissipate?
This technique is a handy one to keep in your pocket when you feel panic start to threaten. It’s also a useful exercise to do anytime you need to get out of your headspace and back to the present moment.
Start by naming five things that you can see. Follow with four you can touch, then three you can hear. Finish with two you can smell and one you can taste. Engaging all five senses is the perfect way to ground yourself in the here and now. The mental concentration required to form your lists can help shoo away the panic butterflies.
If you’re an artist, you might find drawing or painting a mindful activity. However, not everyone has the talent — but anyone can pick up some crayons or colored pencils and stay within the lines.
Fortunately, you no longer have to raid your toddler’s toy chest to find pictures. You’ll find no shortage of adult coloring books. From healthy expressions of gratitude to more foul-mouthed fare, you’ll find a version to suit any mood.
Going for a walk can become a mindful experience. It’s also a useful technique for avoiding panic and confrontational situations. Doing so when you feel tense makes evolutionary sense — it diffuses your body’s innate fight-or-flight response you feel when your adrenaline and cortisol levels rise.
While you stroll, pay attention to the way your feet and legs feel as you traverse the pavement or trail. Notice how the air feels against your skin. Tune into your body’s physiological responses. Can you feel your heart rate accelerate? Your brain fog clearing as you improve your oxygen intake?
Yoga is the ultimate mind-body practice. The original form didn’t involve physical movement at all, only meditation. It wasn’t until yogis discovered that they could induce a state of calm through activity that the methods we recognize today arose.
Best of all, you can find a style for any fitness level and taste. Gentle yin classes suit nearly everybody, even those with physical disabilities. More active Ashtanga sessions come in handy on those days when you need a vigorous release before getting contemplative.
You can use mindfulness as part of your meditation practice, although you can also use it anytime, anywhere you need to ground yourself. However, sitting still and clearing your mind is challenging, especially at first. It’s one thing to say, “observe your thoughts, then let them go.” It’s quite another to keep yourself from ruminating about that zero you missed on your last budget report.
The solution? Try a guided meditation. You can do so for free. All you need to do is type the search phrase into YouTube. Jason Stephenson and John Moyer are excellent channels to tune into to get your zen groove going.
The easiest way to get mindful is also the most accessible. All you need to do is focus your awareness on your breath.
You can use various techniques to calm and relax your body. One method is the Navy SEAL version, where you inhale for a 4-count, hold your breath for four, then exhale to the same 4-count.
Another technique to try is 2-to-1 breathing. In this version, you inhale for a 4-count, pause, then exhale for twice as long (an 8-count). Doing so taps into your parasympathetic nervous system — the part of your central nervous system that cues your body to rest and digest. It’s a useful tool for preventing panic.
Much human suffering comes from ruminating on an unchangeable past or trying to fix a future that hasn’t yet arrived. Learn how to be present and stay in the moment with these seven mindfulness exercises.