10 Surprising Exercises to Improve Mindfulness
You've probably heard of mindfulness exercises like meditation, yoga, and journaling.
There are, however, many highly beneficial but relatively unexplored techniques that can contribute to awareness of the present moment and reduce stress.
The point of these exercises is to give you new ideas about how to decrease stress. They aren't meant to replace meditation, yoga, or another stress reduction technique; they are meant to supplement them.
You could experience:
- stress relief
- slower heart rate
- slower breathing rate
- raised awareness
- tingling sensations
- clarity of mind
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a tried, true, and studied method for improving cardiovascular function and calming the mind (Dhungel, Malhotra, Sarkar, & Prajapati 2008).
- Sit with your legs crossed. Make sure you’re comfortable! Feel free to grab a blanket or a pillow to sit on.
- With your right thumb close your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger and then exhale through your right nostril.
- Now reverse the order—inhale through your right nostril while your left nostril is still pressed with your ring finger. Then close your right nostril with your right thumb again and exhale through the left nostril.
- Concentrate on your breathing. Take it as slow as possible. Exhaling should be longer than inhaling to reduce anxiety and stress.
- Repeat this alternation until you start feeling calmer and more present.
- After you’re done, lower your right hand, press it against your right knee and then do the same with your left hand and knee.
2. Engage All 5 Senses for 5 Minutes
According to Dr. Vinita Mehta in her article How to Use All 5 Senses to Beat Stress, engaging all five senses can help improve our moods. Focus on the moment entirely, activating your five senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
Take a moment to soak up all stimuli that reality has to offer.
This is the perfect exercise to do while in nature, or maybe at home while sipping your morning coffee.
- Listen: Hear the birds chirping. Smell the scent of pine trees.
- Touch: Feel the grass beneath you, noticing its smoothness.
- Look: See the greenery around you and the blueness of the sky above you.
- Smell: Breath deeply to taste the fresh air on your lips.
- Taste: Savor that sip of morning coffee.
Try to do this exercise as often as possible to break the habit of paying attention to the present moment. Identify each one of your senses.
3. Focus on Your Body
Lie comfortably in your bed.
Feel how the bed supports your entire body with ease.
Then focus on your body all the way from your toes to the tip of your head—slowly. Try tensing each muscle individually to bring awareness to the body. This technique is known as progressive muscle relaxation or PMR. Studies show PMR can successfully calm the mind.
Pay close attention to each and every part of your body and try to relax your muscles while you do this. When you get to your head, make sure you relax all tiny muscles working around your eyebrows, cheeks, and lips, and finally relax your jaw. Allow it to become loose.
Feel the tingling sensation in all of your body parts. Expect to become conscious of all the muscles that are working for you every second of the day while at the same time becoming more detached from your body.
4. ASMR Videos
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation. This tingle is said to originate in a person’s head and spread to the spine (and sometimes the limbs) in response to stimulation.
(What Does ASMR Mean?, n.d., para. 1)
ASMR videos cause feelings of relaxation and calm by the use of distinct sounds.
Video creators often perform everyday tasks such as giving someone a haircut or tearing paper, or they gently whisper into the camera.
The sounds we're usually unaware of are amplified and produce a kind of tingling sensation described above.
Some people enjoy the accompanying videos, while others simply want to listen to the audio. Please note that not everyone experiences ASMR in the same way, or at all!
Whatever your choice might be, make sure you plug in your headphones so you can dedicate your mind completely to this relaxing technique.
5. Pause and Reflect
Before you carry out an action automatically, pause and focus on the action itself.
- If your phone rings and your first instinct is to run towards it and answer it immediately, fight the urge and pause. Take a deep breath and then answer your phone, making yourself aware of the moment.
- If you're getting dressed for work in the morning, don't just robotically put on your clothes. Pause again and take a deep breath. Feel the fabric. How does it feel on your skin? How does it feel putting it on? Does this piece of clothing evoke any feelings in you? Is there a link to a special moment in your life when you were wearing it?
Don't try to consciously answer these or your own set of questions.
Let them come to you instead. If no thoughts arise that's even better, because you can now fully commit yourself to the moment and what you're doing.
6. Observe or Draw Mandalas
The word mandala is a Sanskrit term that means “circle” or “discoid object”. A mandala can be defined in two ways: externally as a schematic visual representation of the universe and internally as a guide for several psychophysical practices that take place in many Asian traditions, including meditation.
("Definition", 2013, September 07, para. 1)
I've found that simply observing or, better yet, drawing mandalas is a great method for anxiety relief and appreciating the present moment.
According to a study done by Vennet and Serice (2012), coloring mandalas lowers anxiety levels.
It's possible that the calming effects of mandalas are due in part to the perfectly symmetrical geometric structure and that humans see symmetry as beautiful. Seeing perfect and straightforward order in a mandala could be exactly what we seek in times of chaos in our own lives.
Some interpret mandalas as being visual representations of cosmos reflecting the universal order which applies to human beings as well as the whole of the universe. Our inborn trait is to look for meaning and mandalas may offer us exactly that in a visual, symbolic way.
If you want to draw a mandala, keep in mind that it should be circular in shape and symmetrical, but what you'll include in it is entirely up to you.
7. Visualize a Relaxing Scenerio
Ok, so this is pretty similar to typical visualization, but I advise personalizing this to fit your own idea of a relaxing scenario.
Are you enjoying the sun on a sandy beach?
Or do you prefer the shade you can find in the woods?
Come up with all the tiny details that you believe would make you feel calm.
Maybe you want to be alone, or maybe you'd rather have someone by your side.
Perhaps you went hiking, or you're possibly just binge-watching your favorite TV show on Netflix.
If it makes you feel peaceful, write about it.
The key thing to do here is to actually place yourself in that scenario, so it's like you're creating a story in which the main character is you!
Let the thoughts pour in if they have to. Don't worry about it and just keep writing.
8. Enjoy Your Tea
It doesn't actually have to be tea. It can be coffee, food, water—whatever you're nurturing yourself with.
This time, be really mindful about it.
Turn off the TV and shut down all other distractions.
Focus on the food or drink you're putting into your body and notice how it makes you feel. Do you feel good? Do you feel healthy? These are observations you can consciously make after but while you're actually consuming food or drink, concentrate on the sensations you're experiencing.
Certain teas are known to contribute to stress and anxiety relief. Some teas to try are green tea, peppermint tea, and ever-so-lovely chamomile tea.
9. Feel Your Heart Beating
Heartbeat can usually be felt:
- inside of wrists below the thumb
- on either side of the windpipe below the jawbone
- on top of feet
When you’ve managed to find your heartbeat, place your pointer and middle fingers on top.
Take a deep breath in and let a deep breath out.
Close your eyes and focus on your heart beating again and again.
Don’t be surprised if your heartbeat suddenly becomes louder.
This is normal because we’re focusing our attention on this isolated, repeating sound that is always there but remains unnoticed except in times of pain or suffering.
Focus on your heartbeat for as long as you’d like.
Not only is this a great form of meditation, but it also offers a conscious perception of ourselves as living beings whose bodies are entirely dedicated to prolongation of life.
It's best to either lie down or sit with your legs crossed while doing this.
10. Make a List of Daily Accomplishments
A lot of people, unfortunately, experience anxiety and stress because of the societal pressure that we must constantly be productive.
Your voice might be telling you:
- you’ll never succeed if you don’t get to work
- you don’t have a lot of time, so don’t waste it
- you’re weak because you experience anxiety
and many other negative things that only make your anxiety worse.
It’s hard to meditate, let alone become immersed in the present moment while you’re concerned about the mundane.
That’s why it can be helpful to list your accomplishments for the day.
You’ll probably be surprised by the length of the list!
This is a way for you to be more mindful of how you spend your time and give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulating yourself for being diligent and hardworking could alleviate some anxiety about being productive!
Dhungel, K. U., Malhotra, V., Sarkar, D., & Prajapati, R. (2008). Effect of alternate nostril breathing exercise on cardiorespiratory functions. Nepal Med Coll J ,10 (1), 25-27. Chicago. Retrieved August 6th, 2019.
van der Vennet, R., & Serice, S. (2012). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? A replication study. Art therapy , 29 (2), 87-92.Chicago
Violatti, C. (2013, September 07). Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
What does ASMR Mean? (n.d.) in Dictionary.com. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Dina Sostarec