Three Mindfulness Exercises For Attuning Self Awareness
Though mindfulness meditation has its roots in ancient Buddhist practices, a secular form of its practice has spread rapidly throughout the west. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s extensive research and development of Mindfulness Based Stress Release (MBSR) has contributed significantly to the attention on the health benefits of mindfulness. It’s considered by many to be an effective way to counter anxiety and stress with its broad ranges of associated health improvements and wellbeing effects being acknowledged.
How To Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness describes the state of being conscious or aware of the present moment—without attachment. No attachment to our thoughts; potential outcomes, past or future dealings. Just quiet—non-judgmental—observation of the here and now. We can observe what is taking place around us (such as natural green spaces) or observe what’s occurring within ourselves (like the breath). With practice, we can begin to overcome our mental busyness and attachment to stressful thoughts. We can begin to shift into more calm, balanced states and meditate with increasing present—mindful awareness.
A light detached focus will support our ability to remain in the present moment. This means gently bringing our attention back to the present, when we find that we’ve begun to engage with the mind and become attached to this thought or that. From here we are more able to ‘let go’ (mentally, emotionally and physically) as we deepen our connection to the present. Just through mindful presence, we can experience a ripple of transformation through the synchronicity and harmonising of our whole being.
Within this mindful state, we’re open to much clearer states of knowing, truth and ease. Besides mindfulness meditation, we can also choose to engage in a number of other meditation disciplines, such as; qigong, visualisations, journeys, mantras, group and guided meditations. But for now, let’s start with learning more about the practice of mindfulness with three simple exercises.
‘Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.’ ~Thich Nhat Hanh
This mindful breathing exercise consists of three easy steps. Set yourself up by finding a place where you can relax uninterrupted for a while. Place your awareness solely on your breathing for a few minutes. If your attention drifts, gently return it to the awareness of your breath.
Initially it may be easier to focus your attention and block out any visual distractions with your eyes closed. However, it won’t be long before you are able to successfully practice with your eyes open. Begin with 2-3 minutes of practice before steadily increasing your practice time:
- Place yourself in a comfortable relaxed position;
- Take a few deep slow breaths while you allow yourself a few moments settle;
- Read as you observe your breathing as fully as you can, for as long as you are able to;
- Notice the effortlessness nature of your in-breath;
- Feel the sensations around your nose, mouth, throat and chest as you breathe in;
- Feel the upper chest rising followed by the expansion of your lower rib cage (at the deepest part of the in breath);
- Feel the subtle shifts in your entire body’s position as your lungs fill with air;
- Notice the effortlessness nature of your out-breath;
- Feel the ease and relaxation throughout your body as you slowly exhale;
- Notice the increase in mental relaxation and clarity as all attachments to your thoughts fall away;
- Quietly continue to observe the flowing restorative nature of your complete breathing cycle.
How do you feel? Have any changes occurred to your thoughts or overall feeling? What else have you become aware of?
‘In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?’ ~Buddha
Spending time in natural spaces is a great way to support groundedness, vitality and sense of harmony. This exercise will allow you some time to take in the scene (using all of your senses) while developing your ability to remain focused and present.
Aim to practice this mindful presence for 5-8 minutes. The longer you are able to stay connected, the better. Remember, if your attention drifts, simply bring it back to the present scene without judgment.
Find a natural environment and space to sit where you can observe its natural beauty:
- Settle into a comfortable seated position with a clear view of your surroundings;
- Find an object to gaze at located in the distance ahead of you—the horizon, a water feature, a flower, an insect;
- Lightly focus your attention on your chosen object, taking the time to appreciate its colours, form, movement and beauty;
- Try to feel its presence, its intention, its purpose;
- Feel the connection between you as you take in its presence;
- When you are ready, expand your attention back out to appreciate the entire scene. Try to appreciate the context of the scene in relation to object;
4. Repeat the process of gazing on another natural object or space and it’s relationship to the bigger picture;
5. While observing the entire scene, allow any feelings of gratitude that you may have to emerge.
How are you feeling now? What did you come to appreciate or better understand?
You can mindfully listen to any sound—the birds in the park, the rustling of the trees or the sounds of a nearby water feature. Mindful listening can be practiced in any position—static or whilst walking. Focusing your attention on sounds as you sit or walk will bring your attention to the present moment (while also helping you to let go of any mental attachments to this and that!).
If you have chosen to be seated, closing your eyes will amplify what you are able to hear. Use whatever sounds are available to you within your surroundings:
- Settle into a comfortable position (or stride) as you start to relax and take in the details of the scene;
- Dampen your visual focus by softening your gaze and taking in a as broad a perspective as you can.
- Listen to the array of sounds that you can hear all around you;
- Is there one overriding sound or a conglomerate of different sounds?
- Gently pick out each of the individual sounds as they arise;
- Are they continuous or fleeting in nature—regular or irregular? What patterns do you notice (if any)?
- Appreciate the direction each sound is coming from and the relationship between one sound and the next;
- Try to connect with the purpose of each sound;
- Tune into the musicality of the sounds as they combine to form one complete symphony;
4. Once again, focus your attention on the entire scene using all of your senses.
What did you become aware of? How do you feel now?
With mental chatter fast becoming the default pattern—particularly for the modern city dweller—mindfulness offers an effective and enjoyable way to free ourselves of mental attachment and reconnect us to the clarity of the present moment.