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Willem Jagtman - 01/01/2020

Mindfulness exercises for more serenity and focus

If you feel like you could use a little serenity, it’s a good idea to start doing mindfulness exercises. You probably know that living your life with awareness and consciousness has a positive impact on your mental health. You may have had plans to ‘start working on mindfulness’ for a while now. So why aren’t you? Chances are that you’re making it too much of a ‘thing’. By integrating small exercises into your daily activities, you can make mindfulness simple, accessible and effective. 

The difference between mindfulness and meditation

Do mindfulness and meditation sound the same to you? They’re definitely related, but they are separate things. Meditation is an exercise which is used to calm down body and soul, and in doing so enables you to reach a different state of consciousness. The idea that you’re not meditating until you’ve completely cleared your head is a common misconception. It’s about accepting, observing, and most of all not judging your thoughts. 

Mindfulness is a conscious way of living life, in which you are aware of the moment and the world around you. An example is really enjoying your first cup of coffee of the day, rather than thoughtlessly knocking it back while you’re reading the news. In a nutshell, you could say that meditation is the exercise and mindfulness is the result. You can achieve mindfulness through meditation, but also through other types of exercises (such as a self-reflection exercise from Chapters).

Why should you do mindfulness exercises? 

Before you start doing mindfulness exercises, you should know why they’re so useful! Obviously living more thoughtfully can decrease stress. But there are other advantages too! You might be able to memorize things better, your focus and productivity will improve and your responsiveness will increase. Besides, mindfulness exercises can improve your relationships as well. Thoughtfulness leads to more empathy, and if you’re able to empathize with others this will enable you to create more profound bonds. Finally, mindfulness can help you make better decisions. By clearing your head you give yourself the space to not react immediately to a trigger or situation, but to think about it first instead. Mindfulness can make self-reflection simple and help you make the decisions that line up with what really matters to you.  

Simple mindfulness exercises

Okay, so there are plenty of reasons to start doing mindfulness exercises. Let’s actually do some! You can do these short and simple exercises anywhere, anytime. 

1. Thoughtfully perform a normal, everyday activity

By far the simplest way to practise mindfulness is by thoughtfully performing normal, everyday activities. Do you usually listen to podcasts while you’re cooking? Or do you call a friend to have someone to chat with while you clean? Do you do a few quick dishes while your coffee is brewing? Try doing just one thing at a time. This sounds easier than it actually is, because a lot of us have turned seeking out distractions and multitasking into habits. Don’t lose yourself to thoughts or worries, but simply focus on the activity at hand. Smell the coffee, focus on dicing your vegetables as evenly as possible. Is your mind still wandering? Pull it back gently and without judgement. And give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve managed to finish the task mindfully!

2. Use all your senses

If you’re in a situation where you can’t find the time for a meditation session but you still want to take a moment to practise some mindfulness, you can try the following. Focus on all your senses, one by one. What sounds can you hear? Which ones are near and which ones are further away? What can you see around you? Make sure to notice details you hadn’t paid attention to before. Can you taste anything? And is there a particular smell around you, or are there a bunch of different ones all mixed together? Finally, focus on what you can feel. This can be the chair you’re sitting in, the wind in your hair or a tingling on your back. Take your time to perceive with every sense, without judging what those perceptions are.

3. Take a deep breath

Everybody breathes all day long, without even thinking about it. That’s why we often don’t even notice it when our breathing changes, for example when we’re stressed and our breathing gets more shallow. By consciously focusing on your breathing for a few minutes you can calm down your breathing and your thoughts. You have to give it your full attention for this to work. Observe your breathing and try not to have an opinion about it or change it. Feel how the air flows into your nose or mouth, hear the noise it makes and observe what the air feels like. Follow your breath as it flows into your body and then back out. Let thoughts come without paying any particular attention to them. Counting your breaths or thinking “breathe in” and “breathe out” can make it easier to fully concentrate on this exercise.

Persevere with the mindfulness exercises

The first time you do one of these exercises will be difficult, and it might not work at all. Don’t let that discourage you from trying a second, third, and eventually an umpteeth time! Mindfulness can be trained; it’s comparable to a muscle. You can’t expect to go to the gym once and come out looking like a bodybuilder. You’ll have to get better over time and see more and more results. And if you find it difficult to take the time out of your day to do mindfulness exercises, do them with someone else. For example, you and a friend can ask each other if you’ve had your mindfulness moment once every day. You’ll see for yourself how quickly it will become a habit!

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