“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Stress is inevitable… and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When stress comes in the form of eustress, it can serve as a valuable motivating force that helps us spring into action, maintain necessary momentum, or stay alert and focused. On the other hand, when stress manifests itself in the form of distress, it can chip away at our mental, physical, and emotion reserves… causing us unnecessary suffering and inner turmoil. Fortunately, it is possible to effectively tolerate distress by cultivating a more mindful attitude and approaching distress in a proactive manner.
Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
The idea of beginning to cultivate a regular mindfulness practice may seem a bit daunting at first. It’s natural to experience a sense of tension or pressure when you’re in the early stages of developing and engaging in a new healthy habit. For those of us who long for more hours in the day to accomplish both necessary and desirable tasks, the notion of taking time out of your day to engage in a brief mindfulness exercise might seem unrealistic. If you’re feeling a bit ambivalent about whether or not developing a mindfulness practice is for you, it might help boost your motivation to engage in mindfulness exercises to know just a few of the many benefits associated with mindfulness:
- You will be better able to live in the present moment, as opposed to dwelling on the past (which is unchangeable) or the future (which is subject to change).
- You may be able to strengthen your emotional intelligence, which means greater awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, as well as their impact on others.
- You are likely to develop a greater sense of overall well-being, including reduced stress levels and mood disturbances, as well as a greater sense of empathy and likelihood to engage in altruistic behaviors.
The truth is, we all have small pockets of free time throughout each day… the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth, take a restroom break, or eat a meal. In order to reap the benefits of increased levels of mindfulness, we need only commit to a regular practice. If you’re still not sure that spending a few minutes each day engaging in a brief mindfulness exercise is realistic, consider challenging yourself to practice one of the following mini mindfulness exercises each day, for the next two weeks.
3 Mini Mindfulness Exercises
(1) Five-Minute Mindfulness Meditation
Find a quiet place where you can sit, undisturbed for about five minutes. If it’s useful for you to set a timer on your phone, go ahead and do this as you settle into a comfortable, yet alert, seated posture. Without being overly focused on the time, simply allow yourself to use the next few minutes to turn your focus inward and settle into the present moment. Know that the timer will chime in a few minutes, and all you need to do for now is give yourself permission to tune in to the rhythm of your breath.
Focus your attention on your breath as it enters your nose or mouth, as your chest or belly rises, and as the air leaves your nose or mouth on the exhale. Pay attention to the temperature of the air as you inhale – perhaps it feels cool and crisp – and the temperature of the air as you exhale – perhaps it feels warm and soft. Use your breath as an anchor to keep your attention grounded in the present moment, allowing all mental chatter, physical sensations, and emotional experiences to come and go with each inhale and exhale. Notice how you feel after having taken just a few minutes to tune into the present moment through paying mindful attention to your breath in this manner.
You can also choose to engage in a mini mindfulness exercise focused on tapping into, strengthening, and enhancing self-compassion. The benefits associated with increased self-compassion may include a greater sense of emotional peace or stability, a greater ability to forgive yourself and others, and even potential increases in some aspects of emotional intelligence. Consider keeping a handwritten or electronic journal purely dedicated to cultivating self-compassion. Each time you notice a self-critical, self-invalidating, or self-punishing/critical voice arise, use this awareness as an opportunity to actively observe, accept, and release that self-criticism. Pause to write down the critical thought in your journal. Now, take a moment to notice its content with a curious and nonjudgmental attitude, accept the presence of the thought in the moment, and then allow it to pass.
Remember that acceptance is not the same thing as approval, and that by choosing to accept the presence of something unpleasant you are moving toward releasing it from your experience. It needn’t create additional, unnecessary suffering. Consider a more compassionate, realistic, and kindhearted thought or sentiment to replace the critical one. Write it down. Now, go through the same brief process of observing this new, more compassionate thought or expression, accepting it fully, and then releasing it from awareness. You may notice a greater ability to sit with uncomfortable thoughts or emotions, and skillfully replace them with more compassionate ones through intentionally engaging in this form of mindful self-compassion.
(3) Five Senses
This mini mindfulness exercise can easily be done anywhere, anytime, and likely without anyone noticing you are doing it. It is an easy way to ground yourself more fully in the present moment, revitalize your wakefulness or attention, or simply stay engaged in the task at hand. Look around you and notice five things that you can see… for instance, in this moment I can see my laptop, a cushion, my cat, a book, and some trees. Now, notice four things around you that you can hear. I notice the sounds of a fan, my fingers typing along the keyboard, my cat purring, and footsteps in the apartment above me. Now, pause to observe three things that you can feel or touch. For instance, I can feel the smoothness of the keyboard on my laptop, the softness of the cushion beneath me, and the weight of a blanket around my shoulders. Now, observe two things that you can smell. I can smell the scent of some spearmint lotion on my hands and the smell of the remainder of my lunch on the table beside me. Now, pause to see if there is one thing you can taste in the present moment. For me, can still taste a bit of kombucha that I recently sipped.
This mini mindfulness exercise is a fun, simple way to become more attuned to your sensory experiences in the present moment and perhaps become aware that there is more to observe and experience within each passing moment than you might believe there to be upon a cursory glance. This can also serve to increase your sense of gratitude for the richness inherent in each present moment.
The Importance of Practice
I am confident that you can engage in the new habit of practicing mindfulness for a few minutes each day, for the next two weeks. As with any new habit that you wish to develop, remember to make the new behavior as simple as possible to accomplish. For some people, this means setting a reminder on their phones at a specific time each day, for others this means placing a visual reminder to practice mindfulness in a location they see or interact with on a daily basis. The idea is to figure out what works best for you, and to follow through on your personal commitment to practice.
Featured image: Meditation by Tina Leggio / CC BY NC-ND-2.0