One of the best mindfulness sources: Jim Hopper’s Mindfulness and Kindness: Inner Sources of Freedom and Happiness. From this site, Hopper’s definition of what mindfulness is:
- “Paying attention”
- How much of the time are you really paying attention to what’s happening in your life – as opposed to thinking about something else, remembering things, imagining possible futures, and acting out habitual patterns or, more accurately, reacting to people and situations based on old habits of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and behaving?
- Paying conscious attention can be especially hard when a current interaction reminds us of past hurts or betrayals – and before even realizing it, we can automatically and defensively responded as if those old experiences were happening again.
- All of us have our habitual patterns, our vulnerabilities to automatic reactions based on past experiences of hurt, our “buttons” that can get “pushed.” This is particularly true when we are already stressed and/or in a hurry. Truly paying attention in our lives is a challenge for anyone.
- “On purpose”
- It takes a conscious decision, and effort by one’s mind and brain, to pay attention to what’s happening in the present. In fact, such choices and efforts are required over and over again, since we are continually pulled back into habitual ways of processing information and responding to things.
- Too often we’re on “auto pilot,” not even trying to pay attention to what’s actually happening in the unique situations and interactions that make up our lives.
- “In the present moment”
- Most of us, most of the time, are absorbed in memories of the past or visions and plans for the future.
- For most people, it is rare to be aware, without some amount of distraction or multi-tasking, of what is actually occurring in the present moment.
- Particularly when strong emotions arise, people often respond not to situations as they are, but to reactive perceptions and thoughts based on painful experiences in the past. In the most extreme instances, one may not be “here” in the present, but “back there,” reliving the past through responses to present situations.
- This is one of the hardest things to achieve. We so often react intensely to our experiences, particularly unwanted experiences, and to our initial responses to them.
- “This is horrible!” “What an idiot!” “How could I do that?!” “I can’t take this any more!” “Here I go again.” You know the ways you can instantaneously and automatically judge situations, other people, and your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors – often in a chain reaction of increasing judgment and distress.
- “I need…” “I want…” “I deserve…” Positive judgments and the cravings they evoke can also be a problem, particularly when they are automatic and intense. We can lose our focus, forget what’s important, get caught in cycles of addiction, selfishly take advantage of others, etc.
- In contrast, the non-judgmental quality of mindfulness brings great freedom – to see things more clearly, to evaluate situations with some distance from our habitual emotional reactions and impulses, to observe emotions and impulses as they arise without either trying to escape them or letting them carry us away.
- We all have at least glimpses of this potential, when we are feeling so positive and relaxed that something which would normally cause strong judgment and negative emotions is seen as no big deal, more clearly for what it is: a passing unwanted experience or temptation to indulge.
- But to bring this non-judgmental quality into our daily lives, consistently, even at very stressful times, this is something many of us can hardly imagine. Yet it is possible, by practicing mindfulness (and kindness).
- And for those who are vulnerable to remembering and reliving painful experiences from the past, to strong waves of emotion, to intense self-criticism – the cultivation of non-judgmental mindfulness can bring tremendous relief and freedom from old patterns.
In addition to defining what mindfulness is, it’s important to define what it is not. Here are two common misconceptions:
- Paying attention mindfully is not about detaching from your experience and failing to emotionally engage with your life. It does not cause apathy. It does not kill passion. In fact, mindfulness allows one to engage more fully with one’s emotions and other experiences, rather than simply reacting to them with habitual patterns of avoidance or acting out.
- For positive emotions, this means having more access to them and greater ability to put them into beneficial action.
- For negative emotions, such direct and open engagement is a foundation for making them more manageable, a protection against attempting immediate escape or impulsively acting out. (Of course, more access to negative emotions can be difficult, and requires emotion-regulation skills, as discussed below, in the section, “Caution: Mindfulness Includes Pain, and Requires Readiness.”)
- Non-judgmental awareness is not the same as passively accepting whatever happens, including harmful things. It does not mean failing to evaluate whether others’ actions or your own are harmful, or failing to protect yourself from victimization, or failing to prevent yourself from causing harm. Quite the opposite: non-judgmental mindfulness enables one to respond to such situations from awareness and thoughtfulness rather than habit, over-reaction, compulsion, addiction, etc.
Now here’s one especially useful, ultra-brief, and very simple mindfulness practice, that you can easily incorporate into your busy daily routine, no matter how pressed for time you are. It’s called the Mindful S.T.O.P. Here’s how it goes:
S – Slow down (slow down your breathing; or slowly press your feet into the floor; or slowly stretch your arms; or slowly press your fingertips together)
T – Take note (with a sense of curiosity, notice your thoughts & feelings; notice what you can see and hear and touch and taste and smell; notice where you are and what you are doing)
O – Open up (open up and make room for your thoughts & feelings, and allow them to freely flow through you; use any defusion or expansion skill you like)
P – Pursue values (reconnect with your values, and let them guide whatever you do next)
The lovely thing about a Mindful STOP is you can make it as short or as long as you like. You can zip through this in under thirty seconds – e.g. while you’re waiting at a red traffic light, or stuck in a supermarket queue, or waiting for your kids to come sit at to the dinner table – or you can stretch it out into a thirty minute formal meditation practice. I encourage you to try it out for yourself – not just once, but over and over and over again: Slow down; Take note; Open up; and Pursue your values. A regular Mindful STOP works wonders. Thanks to Russ Harris for this post.
6 Mindfulness Exercises That Each Take Less Than 1 Minute from Alice Boyes:
1. Two mindful bites.
Instead of attempting to do mindful eating all the time, try mindful eating for the first two bites of any meal or snack.
For the first two bites of any meal or snack you eat, pay attention to the sensory experiences – the texture, taste, smell, and appearance of the food, and the sounds when you bite into your food.
You don’t need to savor per se, you’re just paying attention to your sensory experience in an experiential rather than evaluative way.
6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today from Alfred James:
1. One Minute Breathing
This exercise can be done anywhere at any time. All you have to do is focus on your breathing for just one minute. Breath in and out slowly, holding your your breath for a count of six as you inhale. Naturally your mind will try and wander, but just try to just focus on the rise and fall of your breath and let thoughts go as they arise. Watch the breath as it enters your body and fills you with life, and then watch it leave effortlessly from your body as the energy dissipates into the universe.
2. Mindful Observation
This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful. Pick a natural organism within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for one minute. This could be a flower or an insect, the clouds or the moon. Let thoughts of anything else in your life drop away as you concentrate and visually explore this glorious organism of the natural world.
3. Touch Points
Think of something that happens every day more than once, something you take for granted, like opening a door for example. At that moment when you touch the door knob, allow yourself to be completely mindful of where you are, how you feel and what you are doing. The cues don’t have to be physical; it could be that every time you think something negative you take a mindful moment to release the negative thought.Or it could be that every time you smell food you take a mindful moment to rest in the appreciation of having food to eat. Choose a touch point that resonates with you today, and stop and stay with it for a while.
4. Mindful Listening
Choose a new piece of music, something you’ve never heard before. Don’t think about the genre or the artist, instead just allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song. The idea is to just listen; to do nothing else but hear, without preconception or judgement. If you can’t find any music you like, simply listen to the sounds in your environment. Don’t try and determine what the sounds are, just listen and effortlessly absorb the experience.
5. Fully Experience a Regular Routine
Take a regular routine that you don’t think much about and make it a mindful one. For example, when cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of cleaning. Be mindful of what you are doing. Watch and feel the motion of sweeping the floor or scrubbing the dishes. Be in the moment, aware and present. Don’t simply clean on auto-pilot as you usually would, feel your way through the routine and merge with the activity, physically and mentally.
6. The Game of Five
In this mindfulness exercise, all you need to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed. These could be things you hear, smell, feel or see. For example you might see the walls, hear the birds, feel your clothes or smell the flowers. Of course, you may already do these things, but are you really aware of these things and the connections they have with your world?
Everyday Mindfulness Exercises For Stress Relief from Elizabeth Scott:
Mindfulness Exercise #1: Meditation
Meditation brings many benefits in its own right, and has been one of the most popular and traditional ways to achieve mindfulness for centuries, so it tops the list of mindfulness exercises. Meditation becomes easier with practice, but it need not be difficult for beginners. Simply find a comfortable place, free of distractions, and quiet your mind. (See this article for more meditation techniques, or this one for a basic meditation for beginners.)
Mindfulness Exercise #2: Deep Breathing
That’s right: mindfulness can be as simple as breathing! Seriously, though, one of the most simple ways to experience mindfulness, which can be done as you go about your daily activities (convenient for those who feel they don’t have time to meditate), is to focus on your breathing. Breathe from your belly rather than from your chest, and try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focusing on the sound and rhythm of your breath, especially when you’re upset, can have a calming effect and help you stay grounded in the present moment. (See this article for more on breathing exercises.)
Mindfulness Exercise #3: Listening to Music
Listening to music has many benefits — so many, in fact, that music is being used therapeutically in a new branch of complimentary medicine known as music therapy. That’s part of why listening to music makes a great mindfulness exercise. You can play soothing new-age music, classical music, or another type of slow-tempo music to feel calming effects, and make it an exercise in mindfulness by really focusing on the sound and vibration of each note, the feelings that the music brings up within you, and other sensations that are happening “right now” as you listen. If other thoughts creep into your head, congratulate yourself for noticing, and gently bring your attention back to the current moment and the music you are hearing.
Mindfulness Exercise #4: Cleaning House
The term “cleaning house” has a literal meaning (cleaning up your actual house) as well as a figurative one (getting rid of “emotional baggage,” letting go of things that non longer serve you), and both can be great stress relievers! Because clutter has several hidden costs and can be a subtle but significant stressor, cleaning house and de-cluttering as a mindfulness exercise can bring lasting benefits. To bring mindfulness to cleaning, you first need to view it as a positive event, an exercise in self-understanding and stress relief, rather than simply as a chore. Then, as you clean, focus on what you are doing as you are doing it — and nothing else. Feel the warm, soapy water on your hands as you wash dishes; experience the vibrations of the vacuum cleaner as you cover the area of the floor; enjoy the warmth of the laundry as you fold it; feel the freedom of letting go of unneeded objects as you put them in the donations bag. It may sound a little silly as you read it here, but if you approach cleaning as an exercise in mindfulness, it can become one. (I also recommend adding music to the equation.)
Mindfulness Exercise #5: Observing Your Thoughts
Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)
Mindfulness Exercise #6: Create Your Own!
You are probably now getting the idea that virtually any activity can be a mindfulness exercise, and in a way, you’re right. It helps to practice meditation or another exercise that really focuses on mindfulness, but you can bring mindfulness to anything you do, and find yourself less stressed and more grounded in the process.