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10 simple mindfulness exercises

November 9, 2009

in Mindfulness Meditation, Spiritual Growth

I was eating at an Ethiopian restaurant yesterday. For those not familiar with that cuisine, the food is served on thin pancakes and one is supposed to eat one’s dinner with the right hand. For me it was a painful exercise in overcoming my conditionings. The table went quiet: a measure of the concentration we all needed to not eat warm food with knife and fork. We were suddenly fully there: eating.

In this post I’m stepping away from the abstract philosophical to the practical every day. One of the ways we complicate our lives is by lack of mindfulness, not being ‘in the moment’. Sometimes this is OK. It isn’t really a problem to not be aware of your chair when you’re online. Now that you’ve just read that, you probably ARE aware of your chair. Perhaps you’re sitting a bit straighter as well. That’s the start of mindfulness.

The exercises below are meant for those times when you are so fluttered you bump into doors and chairs, for instance. Or when you just can’t get that quarrel with a colleague out of your head. These are all exercises I’ve tried, but I certainly don’t pretend to do them daily or even in all cases successfully. Just something to work with to get back to yourself.

  1. Mind your feet while you’re grocery shopping. (my yoga teacher)
  2. Mind your chair while you’re typing.
  3. When going through a door, think ‘I am I’ (Fourth Way exercise)
  4. When putting on your shoes, try and put on the one you usually put on second first. (also Fourth Way, Ravi Ravindra)
  5. Drink your tea without sugar if you’re used to sugar in your tea. If you’re used to no sugar, just once put in sugar. Works with coffee too obviously. The point is, like the previous one, to become aware of patterns and how hard it is to break them (Jiddu Krishnamurti). The point is NOT to change the pattern. A new pattern is just as much a pattern as the old one. Just create a bit more flexibility.
  6. When you have to wait for something (grocery line, pc starting up etc.) breath consciously.
  7. Cleaning the house: be aware of every step of cleaning.
  8. Keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings. The goal isn’t to create literature, but to observe. So don’t mind repetition.
  9. Notice… take a deep breath; notice five things you can see. notice five things you can hear; notice five things you can feel (shoes, pants, hair against forehead etc.)
  10. When you’re annoyed at waiting for a stopping sign, or anything else for that matter, just SMILE (Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhism)

In all these cases the point isn’t to beat yourself over the head if you can’t do it consistently. Just try – the trying is the exercise.

If you liked that, you may also like these mindfulness calendars and mindfulness books.

{ 32 comments }

Spiritual Healing November 9, 2009 at 11:46 pm

I would like to add some more points to be aware about…
I have been reading about living in present and being aware of all the things every now and then. I try to follow it wherever possible. Specially liked the point of drinking tea without sugar and putting the second shoe first…. Very good way to force your mind to be aware.

1) While drinking water- drink calmly, feel the water touching the teeth, tongue, throat, stomach etc….

2) While climbing the stairs. Feel the pressure in your legs. your soles touching the ground. etc

3) Try to eat with left hand ( if you are right handed ) and vice versa.

Glowing Face Man November 13, 2009 at 4:38 am

Cool, I’ll have to try the idea about thinking “I am I” whenever going through a door.. another similar one: whenever going up or down some stairs, try to skip every other step and do it in such a way that you always skip the last one.. forces you to remember where you are :) Check this out: http://www.glowingfaceman.com/blog/ways-to-be-more-present/

tagnahoor November 13, 2009 at 6:28 am

This is a nice posting to see. It is good to have practical implementations of practice in daily life and not have consciousness separated into a unique activity. I do my regular practice on the subway. It’s a great environment in which to practice compassion as well. Motorcycle riding is also a great way to practice mindfulness. Thank you for your lovely post.

Belinda November 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm

I have been doing mindfulness practice for 2 years now. It still amazes me how much calmer I am after I notice what I’m doing(in the moment). Thanks for the 10 exercises given above, I’ll have to try them.

Paul November 16, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I am pleased to see this as I need practical tips to try out. I am in recovery and need to develop these practices in my life.

David November 16, 2009 at 10:15 pm

And it is SO simple but SO elusive. Freedom from grinding pattern comes and goes. And these silly little beloved and despised patterns… a certain routine in the kitchen, comforting and numbing. Or even a certain way of of hoping for a transforming glimpse of beauty in the light on the water and chasing it away with the hoping. But even the long oppressed Jews of Russia felt sad when leaving the villages where they had seen so much poverty and so many pograms. Because that reality was LIFE. Just like those struggles plates and forks in the kitchen and the elusive glimpses of joy.

jo November 17, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I love the I Am I, the diary, and noticing 5 things. These are all great ways to start being present, which is something I tend to struggle with. Thank you so much for this post!!

Katinka - Spirituality November 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Glad to see so many new names commenting :) Thanks for the extra tips.

Kathy November 19, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Thanks for the great list. For the last several months, I have been blogging about meditation experiences in everyday life. I’m going to try some of your exercises and write about them. Thanks again.
http://meditationsnippets.wordpress.com/

Melissa Foster November 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Great post! I loved these ideas – especially #4,6, and 9:)

Thank you,
Melissa

Alan Furth November 26, 2009 at 3:16 pm

I totally agree that spiritual enlightenment has to be practiced in everyday life… great post!

As much as we can cultivate awareness in our everyday lives, I am also sure we can cultivate a host of other higher values. In particular, I recently wrote about a 5-minute exercise that can help us become less judgmental:

http://alanfurth.com/how-to-become-less-judgmental-in-5-minutes-or-less-the-year-of-nothing-part-3

Interior Decor December 24, 2009 at 11:24 am

Excellent!

I have read quite a lot about doing the object meditation and the raising awareness through the power of the moment but have not come across the simplicity in awareness but then I consider myself a child in my learning. I will be sure to try these techniques.

Gurp

San April 18, 2010 at 6:51 am

Thank you for this most informative post. I’ll certainly be taking note of these useful suggestions…as with the other interesting information. I just love when awareness of the moment is felt…in fact I think it’s what makes life worth living!

WanderingAbout June 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm

When you feel an emotion, say it aloud. Then feel how it feels…starting in your head…in your throat…in your chest…in your stomach…in your groin..in your legs, and so on..
You may discover that each part of the body reacts..and actually feels…differently. Different senses of pleasure..or different senses of distress..or whatever the emotion..is responded to differently by different parts of the body.

Garrick June 16, 2010 at 12:32 am

Listen also, as well, to the music behind the music, until all you can hear is the single instrument that is a part of the whole.
Mindful listening opens new unheard areas in nature, in life, in your spirit.
Be mindful of each leave that falls, and realize that you, being conscious, are seeing this, as no one else does, at this time, in this exact way.

Alee June 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

#7 is totally up my alley. Awesome post!

Kaushik July 14, 2010 at 10:18 am

Great post. It’s a wonderful list and the it’s important to know that awakening is an everyday practice.

The simple things which resonate with me are: observing thoughts (and emotions), conscious breathing, learning to let go, allowing, conscious eating, patience, letting go of beliefs, being present…

Bob from 36 Bar Stools July 29, 2010 at 12:11 am

People go around in life in a bit of a sleepwalking state. Becoming more and more conscious is the best way to connect with your true self. Being aware of the mundane and patterns can be a great part of the process.

Carolyn Jolly August 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Good post. I have a different point of view because I have a chronic muscle disease. It has caused me to be conscious of every single movement and all things touching me, due to the possibility of falling. I long for the days of being on autopilot. But perhaps this was the lesson for me. Thanks for making me reflect.

Katinka - Spirituality August 13, 2010 at 1:23 am

Oh goodness. That must be awful. Yes, I’m sure in your case being mindful becomes quite a drag. Of course for most of us it’s the opposite: we do a lot on autopilot and it’s good every once in a while to become more conscious.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that the same exercise would be good for everybody.

gwendolyn October 25, 2010 at 10:32 pm

i also have a painful condition and it has made me practice mindfulness. i am also buddhist. i agree with the poster that says riding a motorcycle is good mindfulness practice, you are alert that a lapse in concentration for a second could mean death. i probably learned about mindfulness riding in my youth and that was a factor in becoming buddhist. all the time you are right there, this moment right now you are not in the past or the future and you are cutting your suffering down.
i am australian and my culture is awash with distractions that help the mind to be elsewhere (tv, alcohol, sugar, shopping etc). i do not do these things ( which makes me a bit wierd) but i go over things in my mind until i am sick of them. sometimes i say ‘this moment right now’ as a mantra to break up that game.

James February 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I love suggestions! What powerful yet simple exercises….

Abel lopez February 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm

in times of anger focus on the breath can relieve the pressure just like taking the lid off a pot of boiling water will stop the water form over flowing

Stephanie March 24, 2011 at 1:25 am

On the heels of left handed eating, I have a spiritual daily practice of left handed poetry writing, or at least writing in whatever form. It is very mindful and calming too.

Laurie June 21, 2011 at 9:02 am

So glad I found your blog. I was searching for a mindfulness exercise for a clutter group i am running. I am going to have them try the sugar/no sugar technique to lead into our discussion on decision making and what holds us back.
Thank you!

Courtney January 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I love number 6. I am really trying to take a different approach to breathing and notice when I do it, and taking this extra time could be monumental!

Rajesh March 2, 2012 at 6:14 am

I always keep myself remembering to be mindfull as we can easily forget this practice and get in to chaotic auto-pilot mode.Thanks Katinka, I found your suggestions regarding mindfullness are are very simple and easy to practice.

Donna Turner April 8, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Thank you, Katinka. We all need help in being more mindful. These are very practical, helpful suggestions. Some of them I haven’t tried before, but I will now.

roger July 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm

when i forget a simple task and ( say forgetting to put milk in coffee,and having to return to kitchen ).my initial reaction is to get angry or irritable.However, i try to see having to go back to the fridge as an opportunity to do mindfully.This helps me overcome the initial negative reaction as is of course an opportunity for mindfulness, and perhaps to start to use negativity as a trigger to be mindful.

katherine August 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm

i have been diagnosed with depression. recently started seeing cbt therapist. i like the idea of these exercises and will try to put them into practice. any idea regarding books i could read?

thanks

k

Katinka - Spirituality August 16, 2012 at 3:18 am

Since you’re dealing with psychological issues as well as the more normal ones I would recommend you start by reading about mindfulness from the psychological angle. The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems for instance.

Kathy Mason August 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Mindfulness meditation exercises have made a big difference in my life. Thank you for your important information. I will try out your ideas- even when vacuuming!

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