Mindfulness is the act of being nonjudgmentally aware of your place in the present moment. There are many benefits to cultivating mindfulness and a variety of approaches to the practice. Mindfulness has its foundations in Buddhism. However, it’s incorporated into many spiritual traditions.
You don’t have to be religious to practice mindfulness. You just have to be willing to be appreciative of the present and open to expanding your perspective on life. In this article, we’ll tell you more about the benefits of mindfulness activities and explain how to do them.
How Can Mindfulness Help You?
You don’t have to be into new-age pursuits to cultivate mindfulness. Evidence shows that the practice has many benefits for your physical and psychological health.
It’s Easier to Focus on the Positive
Do you ever find yourself concentrating on the negative aspects of life even though there is plenty to be grateful for? That’s not your fault. It’s human nature.
Experts refer to it as the negativity bias. It explains how the brain’s sensitivity to unpleasant stimuli is automatic and hard to shift. When the mind experiences something negative, it has a surge in electrical activity. All of this signaling leads you to notice and remember distressing situations more than uplifting ones.
Mindfulness can change this programming. Scientists have found that the practice reduces rumination, which is the tendency to focus attention on your distress.
It Reduces Stress
Most people are so busy that they don’t stop to pay attention to what they’re doing. How often have you forgotten where you placed your keys or spent Sunday evening trying to recall what you did over the weekend? Without mindfulness, you walk through the world on autopilot mode.
You may not feel like you’re under pressure. But if you pack your schedule without giving yourself time for breaks, you are probably dealing with a certain level of chronic stress.
When something distressing or significant does happen, do you find it hard to handle? Mindfulness can make it easier to cope.
Research shows that practicing mindfulness alleviates feelings of anxiety. People who are grounded in the present are also less likely to react strongly to adverse or stressful events or situations.
It Improves Working Memory
During one experiment, scientists found that people who did 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation every day were better at cognitive processing tasks. Working memory, attention, and long-term memory improved in volunteers who did meditation training compared with those who listened to an audiobook.
Working memory is an essential element of fluid intelligence. It allows you to retain information long enough to access it when you need it. Your working memory is involved in tasks like reading and doing math. With a poor working memory, you have fewer resources to work with when you’re performing a task.
The area of the brain that affects working memory also helps you stay focused. When you remember what you need to pay attention to, you can perform tasks more efficiently.
It Improves Metacognition
Metacognition is a type of inner awareness that allows you to reflect on your own consciousness. In other words, it’s thinking about thinking. The ability to do this is something that separates humans from other species.
You use metacognition in daily activities, such as deciding which strategy is better for solving a problem. It also helps us notice how our biases affect our behaviors.
Metacognition is also directly linked to improved learning outcomes. When you’ve mastered the ability to think about your thoughts, you can better understand your goals, decide on the best strategies, and evaluate your needs. It’s a strategy for optimizing your life, and mindfulness can help you hone it.
While metacognition is similar to mindfulness, it’s not the same thing. Mindfulness practice can facilitate metacognitive insights, however.
It Reduces Emotional Reactivity
Do you fly off the handle or become upset quickly? Mindfulness can help you feel more balanced. In one study, participants who did a guided meditation had more subdued emotional reactions to distressing images than those who had listened to control audio.
One significant finding in this experiment was that people didn’t have to have a natural predisposition to mindfulness. Even though the participants were all novice meditators, they still experienced positive effects.
Anyone can achieve mindfulness with a little practice. The activities that we describe below can help you harness presence in everything that you do.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation. All of them have to do with sinking into stillness and observing without judgment. Technically, any form of meditation is mindful. It allows you to notice your thoughts and surroundings without letting your emotions get in the way.
But if you’ve never meditated before, you might find some instruction helpful. These mindfulness meditation instructions from Mindware can get you started:
- Begin by sitting upright in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax your body.
- Allow yourself to settle into your space without trying to change or control anything.
- Start drawing your awareness to your breathing.
- Notice where your breath seems to flow smoothly. Maybe you can feel it moving down your throat or filling your lungs or belly.
- Slowly move your attention around. Can you feel cold air moving through the entrance to your nostrils? Can you feel the warm air flowing out? Does your belly move when you breathe?
- You are going to get distracted, especially if you are new to meditation. Allow each distraction to serve as a signal to bring your attention back to your breath. If you keep getting distracted, continue to return to your inhalations and exhalations without judgment.
- Once you feel still, it’s ok to allow other sensations to come into the foreground. You might notice the birds chirping outside. When you do, label that “hearing.” Notice for how long it retains your attention. Observe how the experience shifts. When it starts to fall away, bring your concentration back to your breathing.
During a meditation, do you ever feel like distractions take your attention away from your breathing? Distractions are simply a new thing for you to notice.
The universe, Spirit, and our bodies communicate with us through our sensations. If you’re feeling something strongly, try to notice that. Don’t worry about your breathing.
The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to notice whatever happens in the present. When you focus on the sensations that you feel right now, you are less likely to be fixated on the past or anxious about the future.
One of the keys to practicing this is to differentiate between the physical representation of an emotion and the thought that triggered it. The way that the emotion feels in your body isn’t permanent. It moves through you within about 90 seconds before it dissipates. When the thoughts trigger the same sentiment, though, that feeling can feel as though it never leaves.
Therefore, during mindfulness meditation, it’s ok to feel all of your feelings. Just keep your attention on the physical sensations. Track your emotions as they course through your body instead of returning to the thought that activated them in the first place.
There is a difference between having certain thoughts and participating in them. Mindfulness meditation aims to allow you to feel everything that your human body can receive without interference.
Traditional meditation involves nothing but yourself. But you can take the practice one step further by writing while you meditate. Sometimes, people refer to this as observational writing. Other times, they call it meditative writing.
The act of writing is powerful. It uses neural pathways that aren’t involved in thinking.
Seeing your thoughts on the paper removes them from you. Reading an external translation of what goes on inside your mind can remind you that you are not your thoughts, emotions, or ideas. You are a witness to all of the connections that move through you.
Like regular meditation, meditative writing can be done through a variety of approaches.
One way to do it is to sit quietly with a journal, notebook, or piece of paper in your lap. Writing longhand might give you more time to process information than typing does.
Look in front of you. What do you see? Write about it. Try to examine it as profoundly and descriptively as possible. Use as many senses as possible to describe the view.
You can write about something as simple as an object. You can expand your view and describe a vista.
Challenge yourself to notice the subtle elements of the scene. How do the shadows fall? Are there cracks on the surface?
Don’t worry about tone, grammar, or accuracy. The activity is about being present. It doesn’t matter if it comes out sounding poetic.
Morning Pages are another form of meditative writing. The activity was coined by Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way.”
With this exercise, you are encouraged to write whatever you’d like, filling up three letter-sized sheets of paper. You can write about what you see or what you think. You can even write your name if you feel stuck.
Once you find the flow, you might be surprised by what makes it onto the paper. You might end up jotting down your shopping list or writing something like, “I have no idea what to write about.”
Soon, words will start coming easily. If you feel blocked, you’re probably being overly judgmental or critical of your work. This is not supposed to be a work of art; it’s simply a way to witness what’s going on in your brain and put it on paper so that you clear your mind.
A body scan is a type of meditation that requires you to pay attention to your body. To do it, start as you would with regular meditation. Some people find it easier to perform a body scan if they’re lying down. Place your hands at your sides with your palms up. Allow your feet to fall to the sides.
Allow yourself to relax, breathing deeply. Notice the rhythm of the breath and the way that each inhalation and exhalation affects the body. Don’t try to change your breathing pattern.
Next, bring your attention to your body, starting at the toes. Relax them further, noticing if there is any tension, pain, or pleasure associated with that body part. Move up slowly, addressing the arches of your feet, heels, tops of your feet, ankles, and so on. Move as slowly as you can without getting bored or losing your attention.
Once you’ve made it to the top of your head, go back through your body. This time, notice any specifics, such as numbness, tingling, or soreness. Check if any parts feel exceptionally light or heavy.
You don’t have to do anything about the sensations that you feel. The aim of this exercise is just to notice them.
Are you a mindful listener? Most people aren’t. Instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying, many individuals spend their time thinking about what they’re going to say next or concentrating on their emotional reactions.
Mindful listening might feel awkward at first. It involves fully focusing on what the other person is saying without forming judgments or opinions. Instead of passing their words through your brain, try to use your senses to understand them. Doing this helps you exit your running commentary of thoughts so that you can be fully present with the other person.
Some of the benefits of mindful listening include:
- Increased empathy
- Better self-awareness
- Deeper relationships
- Enhanced attention
- Improved communication
- Boosted positivity
Moreover, mindful listening isn’t just beneficial for the listener. It helps the other party feel heard and appreciated.
Here are some ways to practice mindful listening:
- Set an intention to listen mindfully. If you don’t feel like you can do that, ask if you can have the conversation another time.
- Avoid distractions. Move to a quiet place and put away your phone.
- Paraphrase what the other person said, repeating it back to them in your own words. You can start with, “I hear you saying that…”
- Nod, smile, and ask to hear more.
- Remain on the same physical level as the other person. Stand if they are standing and sit if they are sitting.
- Don’t interrupt. If you do, apologize and ask them to continue.
- Take some time to process what the other person said before responding. It’s ok to pause so that you can reflect thoughtfully.
- When you do respond, consider asking open-ended questions to encourage conversation.
- Don’t finish someone else’s thoughts or sentences.
- Be mindful of the way the conversation makes you feel. If you don’t agree with the other person, instead of reacting, notice how the disagreement arises in your body.
You can practice mindful listening intentionally. With a partner, decide who is going to talk and who will listen. The person speaking should have about three minutes to express themselves. The listener should follow the steps in the bullet points above.
If you already have a mindful listening practice, consider trying deep listening. With this activity, you’ll concentrate on self-awareness as the other person speaks. It seems counterintuitive and even narcissistic to do this. However, when you are aware of what creates mental and emotional blocks, you’ll be a better listener.
You might even want to journal about how you felt while you were speaking and listening if you try this exercise.
Loving-kindness meditation goes beyond mindfulness. It helps you develop compassion. Some people refer to this as the metta meditation.
To practice this, you send out unconditional love to yourself and others. You don’t worry about whether people deserve that love. You assume that everyone deserves love, and you don’t expect anything in return.
Before you start the speaking portion of the meditation, quiet your body and mind. Get comfortable and relax. You can put your hands on your heart or place your palms together in front of your heart. Doing this will bring your attention to that space.
Feel your chest and heart expand as you breathe. Inhale and exhale from this center, allowing positive energy to expand. Feel it flowing in and out of you. Try to harness the feelings of gratitude and love.
Then, repeat the following phrases:
- May I be free and happy.
- May I live with ease.
- May I be free of heartache and pain.
Say these sentences several times.
Next, think about someone whom you love very much. Imagine that this person is standing in front of you. Feel the love that flows between the two of you. Then, direct your words toward them:
- May you be free and happy.
- May you live with ease.
- May you be free of heartache and pain.
Now, think about someone who you feel neutral about. Again, imagine that they are standing in front of you. Although you may not feel a great deal of tenderness, allow your heart to expand toward them. Then, embrace the feelings of love as you repeat the phrases.
Then, do the same thing with someone who you dislike. It can be difficult to bring up positive feelings about someone who generally imbues you with negative ones. If you start to notice ill will toward this person, go back to your loved one. Repeat the meditation for that individual, then return to this person.
You can end the meditation with the following phrases:
- May all living beings be free and happy.
- May all living beings live with ease.
- May all living beings be free of heartache and pain.
Many people recommend doing the loving kindness meditation for yourself one last time before completing it. If you don’t know how to do a full meditation, check out this loving kindness meditation script here.
Do you enjoy going for walks? You can make them more mindful by meditating while you move. You can do this in any way that works for you. Some people suggest walking barefoot to establish the greatest connection with the earth.
Mindful walking is similar to many other activities on this page. You should dress comfortably and feel relaxed while you walk. You might want to avoid listening to music or talking to a friend so that you can focus on the world around you.
Begin by breathing, noticing the way that the air feels as it moves through you. You can also establish presence in your body by bringing your attention to the temperature and the way the air feels on your skin. Observe the texture of the ground under your feet and the weight of your body.
Take one step, placing it intentionally on the ground in front of you. Notice how your weight shifts as you go to take another step. Then, take that step. Pick up and place each foot on the ground using intention.
At first, all of your focus may be on your movements. You’ll gradually be able to move your attention around once your footsteps begin to flow. Using the same techniques as observational writing and basic meditation, allow yourself to witness everything that you see, hear, feel, and experience.
Let the thoughts and observations move through you with each footstep. Moving can help you clear your thoughts because you can imagine that you’re walking away from them.
Mindfulness Activities for Busy Days
Mindfulness activities don’t have to take long. When you have extra time, meditating or writing for 10, 20, or 30 minutes can be blissful. But some days, you can practice mindfulness in one minute.
Some mindfulness exercises that you can do quickly include:
- Stretch – Stop what you’re doing and stretch your muscles. Do this slowly, starting at the toes and moving through every muscle group. Notice where you feel the tension. As you do so, say hello to that spot so that you avoid being judgmental about the tightness.
- Yawn – Yawning resets your brain. When you open your mouth wide and take a deep breath, you activate the parts of the brain that are responsible for self-awareness, consciousness, and compassion. The increased oxygen to the brain that comes from inhaling deeply gives you greater alertness and concentration.
- Hug someone – Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh made hugging meditation Instead of embracing another person mindfully, allow yourself to feel the sensations of doing the hugging and being hugged. Breathing in sync with the other person is also grounding.
- Mindful eating – Using a small piece of tasty food, like rich chocolate or a juicy apple, allow yourself to delight in the slow experience of savoring it. Before placing it on your tongue, smell the aroma. Then, notice the texture, taste, and mouthfeel. Allow it to linger.
- Mindful breathing – You don’t have to do a full meditation to take advantage of slow, deep breaths. Set a timer, and breathe deeply for one minute, noticing your breath as it travels in and out of your body.
Mindfulness Activities for Kids
Mindfulness is just as vital for children as it is for adults. In fact, evidence confirms that practicing mindfulness can improve kids’ mental health, focus, and social skills. It’s a skill that helps children connect to their bodies and delight in simple pleasures. How important is this in an age where productivity and being busy are prized?
You can adapt any of the mindfulness activities for children. But the exercises below might be more engaging and age-appropriate.
The Calm Down Jar
Some of these exercises should be done when kids are calm. But this one is perfect for taming tantrums or helping an overwhelmed child find peace.
Fill a clear glass jar with water and glitter. After securely affixing the lid, shake the jar so that the glitter disperses. Tell kids that the glitter is like their feelings—it can twirl around and make it difficult to see clearly.
Encourage kids to sit still while the glitter settles. Explain that this stillness allows their thoughts and emotions to calm down in their bodies, just as it subsides in their minds.
Turn on Spidey Senses
Many kids resonate with superheroes. Therefore, using characters can help them embody their mindfulness.
Kids can practice using their “Spidey Senses” to explore the world. Tell them that they have an extra-sensitive sense of smell, touch, taste, hearing, and vision. Ask them to describe everything that they experience using those senses.
Children can get in tune with their bodies by practicing different poses that represent strength and confidence. The Superman pose involves standing with feet wider than hip-width and arms reaching for the sky. Kids should clench their fists and stretch out as much as they can.
They can also try Wonder Woman. To do this, they would assume the same position as the Superman, except they would put their hands on their hips.
Go on Safari
This game is ideal for playing when you’re out and about. Tell children that you’re going on an adventure, and you need to scope out as many plants and animals as possible. They’ll probably need to concentrate and focus their senses to locate insects, birds, and other critters.