13 Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness – And the Difference it Can Make

13 Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness - And the Difference it Can Make

What if there was something that could give you a stronger, healthier brain, lower your stress, help protect you against anxiety and depression, give you a better sleep, and improve your mood – all without any side effects except a happier, healthier, calmer version of you? What if science could back it up its restorative, protective, healing powers with countless research studies? And what if this remarkable, restorative gem was in your hands right now, without any need for you to stand in queues, rely on the internet behaving itself, or demand that you swap your cash for a handful of magic beans. 

Because it’s here. Well, technically, it never left, we did. It’s mindfulness. Far from being a gimmick or a fad, mindfulness is getting plenty of love and attention from all of the right corners, as in the ones in universities and research rooms.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. The idea is to allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go, without judgement or the need to do anything with them. 

It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness in the moment. It’s not so much about reaching an end goal, but about exploring your experience and expanding your awareness of your own inner world – the things that drive you, motivate you, get in your way, trip you up, keep you stuck. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will come to understand how your thoughts, feelings or sensations influence each other, as well as your mood and the way you respond to the world.

What else can it do, aside from turning up the feelgoods, coz, you know, I can get that from bakeries.

Research has shown that mindfulness can change the physiology of the body and brain in ways that strengthen, heal and protect. There are so many benefits that stream from mindfulness, all proven through research. Here are some of them:

  • Lowers stress. 
    Mindfulness lowers the physiological markers of stress and improves the brain’s ability to manage stress. Mindfulness does this by increasing the connectivity in the area of the brain that is important to attention and executive control (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). 

  • Restores emotional balance.
    Emotional situations can knock any of us off balance. The damage comes in the intensity or the duration of this. Mindfulness can help to improve recovery from emotional situations by keeping the emotional brain in check.  
  • Increases resilience.
    Practising mindfulness for as little as 25 minutes, for three consecutive days, has been shown to increase resilience to psychological stress.  
  • Reduces anxiety.
    Mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety in adolescents, and in adults by up to 38%. It does this by increasing activity in the part of the brain that processes cognitive and emotional information, and the part of the brain that controls worrying. 
  • Slows aging
    Mindfulness can slow the progression of age-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and other dementia. It has been shown to increase the connections in the parts of the brain that are activated when people remember the past or think about the future. (The greater the connectivity, the stronger that part of the brain and the better it will work.) Two hours of mindfulness a week can slow down atrophy in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions, learning and memory). 
  • Reduces physical pain.
    Mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce pain without activating the body’s opioid system, reducing the potential for addictive side effects. This is important for anyone who experiences ongoing physical pain, particularly people who have built up a tolerance to opiate based drugs.  
  • Reduces depression.
    Mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and the recurrence of depression.
  • Strengthens adolescent mental health.
    Protects against the development of stress, anxiety or the later development of depression in adolescents. 
  • Uncovers our own blind spots.
    Mindfulness can help to expand our awareness of our own internal world by uncovering our own blind spots in terms of patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour. This increased self-awareness can improve decision-making, academic achievement, life satisfaction, and help to reduce emotional and interpersonal problems.
  • Improve sleep quality, reduce fatigue.
    A regular mindfulness practice can improve sleep quality, and reduce insomnia and fatigue.
  • Improves concentration.
    Mindfulness can improve executive attention, increasing the ability to concentrate and ignore distractions. This is crucial for academic success for all children, particularly those with ADHD. (Findings presented by Dominic Crehan and Dr Michelle Ellefson (University of Cambridge) at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading 2013.)

There are plenty of ways to practice mindfulness. Here are 13 of them.

Mindfulness can be tricky at first. Our minds are used to wandering, and we will often be tempted to fix on a thought or a feeling, judge it as good or bad, or work hard to analyse or change it. Sometimes this will be useful, but we also need to be able to sit with our experience and be fully in the moment, without being dragged away by thoughts or feelings that might do damage if they hold on for too long. The truth is, the only place we can fully be is here and now. Of course, it is important to plan for the future or reflect on the past, but it’s about balance.

If you haven’t practised mindfulness before, try to replace any judgement you might have about whether or not you’re doing it properly, with acknowledgement that you are doing the very best you can in the moment. What’s important is that you are doing it. The rest will come with practice. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will become to stay present and focus your attention on where you want it, rather than on wherever your mind might take you.

Remember also that mindfulness is dose-related. The more you do it, the more you will benefit from it. The most important thing is to start, and to work towards a regular practice of at least twenty minutes each day. If twenty minutes is difficult to find, and sometimes it can be, try for two ten minute sessions. Here are some different ways to practice mindfulness:

  1. This will make you ‘app-y’. (Oh yes, you’re right, that was bad.)

    There are quite a few apps around that contain guided mindfulness sessions. Smiling Mind is a free one, developed by psychologists and health professionals and driven by research. Find out more about it, or download it here.

  2. And breathe. 

    Get comfortable and start to breathe strong, deep, slow breaths. Make sure that your belly is moving up and down as you breathe. Be aware of what is happening in your body as the breath comes in, and then as it leaves you. Acknowledge your thoughts if they come. Let them be, and then let them go. If your mind moves away, just acknowledge that your mind has wandered, acknowledge where it went, and gently bring your focus back to your breath. Be present without needing to hurry things along, or move on to the next part of your day. This can be difficult, but remind yourself that whatever happens is okay. Just notice, let it be, and then let it go. 

  3. Notice body sensations.

    Move your attention gently through your body and notice any sensations that are there. There is a world of wisdom behind your sensations. Can you feel your aliveness? Maybe there’s a ‘deadness’ or a heaviness in you. Try to let go of any need to judge, understand or change those sensations. Just notice them. Let them be, and then let them go.

  4. Emotions.

    Notice any emotions that come to you. Perhaps they grow from attending to a sensation or a thought. Perhaps they are just there. Let your attention land softly on them, without needing to change or understand them. Any awareness you need will come to you when it’s ready. For now, it’s about creating the space for your experiences to ‘be’.

  5. Senses.

    As you move your attention through your body, notice what you see, feel, hear, taste, smell. Name them, without judgement, and then let them go.

  6. Surf your cravings.

    As you become aware of any needs or cravings, let them be there and notice how they feel as they sit within you. Habits, cravings or addictions do damage by creating automatic responses within us. The urge appears, and we instantly respond. Sometimes the response to satisfy the urge is so automatic, it happens without any real awareness or conscious thought. Try something different. Try to expand the space between your awareness of the urge and your response. Let the urge or craving be there, and try staying with the discomfort that comes with that. Rather than moving to get rid of the discomfort, acknowledge the certainty that the discomfort will soon pass on its own.   

  7. Wash the dishes.

    Ok. Stay with me. Washing the dishes wouldn’t typically make the top five sensual experiences, but doing it mindfully can switch on senses that might not ordinarily come to the party. The mundaneness of the task makes it easy to focus on the senses in the moment – the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water against your skin, the feel of the dishes in your hand, the sights, the sounds. Research shows that mindful dishwashing increases calm and decreases stress. People who washed the dishes mindfully reported a 27% decrease in nervousness, and a 25% increase in mental inspiration. 

  8. Take a mindful shower.

    Feel the water against your skin, the taste of the water, the smell of the soap, the calm of you. What do you notice about the temperature? Is it too cold? Too hot? Perfect? Watch and listen as the water as it hits your skin and falls to the ground. Touch your skin and notice what this is like for you. Is it nurturing? Uncomfortable? Familiar? Unfamiliar? Do you want more? Less? Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you do this. 

  9. Take mindful walk.

    Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as, ‘Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.’ To take a mindful walk, give your full attention to the experience of walking. Because walking is something we do a lot of, it becomes automatic. We do it without thinking. This is a good thing – we don’t want to have to think deliberately about every step we take – but occasionally bringing awareness back into the automatic, everyday things we do is a way to experience our ‘everyday‘ with a sense of newness and vitality. To walk mindfully, focus your attention on the actual experience of walking. Feel the ground beneath you as you walk. Listen and notice what this is like. Engage your senses as you do this. Notice the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the world as you move through it. 

  10. Mindful eating.

    Eating is another thing we tend to do automatically, often because we tend to do it while we are doing other things such as talking, thinking, reading, scrolling through emails, or watching television. To practice mindfulness while you are eating, engage fully with the experience of eating, without other distractions. Smell the food, touch the food, feel it inside you. Be fully present as you eat, without focusing on other people, the conversation, the things you have to do when you finish. Eating is one of the most powerful ways to nurture ourselves. Notice any thoughts or feelings that come to you as you are eating. Are you nurturing by nourishing? By emotional comfort? What are the feelings that come up for you when you eat? Happiness? Security? Warmth? Guilt? Sadness? What do you tell yourself about eating? Again, let go of any temptation to judge your thoughts or feelings. There are no right or wrong answers – just awareness.

  11. And when you’re with someone.

    Really engage with the person you are with. Notice them fully – the colour of their eyes, the sound of their voice, the way their voice lands on you when they speak. If you are speaking to someone over the phone, try closing your eyes to block out other distractions, so you can be fully present in the moment. Too often we hear what people are saying but we aren’t fully present, often thinking of a response or distracted with other things, mentally or physically. 

  12. Thought clouds.

    Mindfulness involves a ‘stepping back’ from your thoughts and watching them, rather than letting them gain traction or turn into negative feelings. One way to make this happen is to imagine your thoughts as thought clouds. Imagine that you are watching your thoughts as you might watch clouds – with a sense of indifference, or distance between you and them, and without analysis or judgement. The problem with thoughts is that they can dig in and become feelings. Instead, give them the space to be there. Let them come, and then let them go. If your mind is tempted to wander away with a thought, come back to your breathing and ground yourself in your senses. What do you see, feel, hear, taste, smell?

  13. Do what you love – and be all there.

    Whether it’s eating, reading, walking, cooking, taking a warm bath, being with someone – whatever you do, be all there.

And finally … 

It’s so easy to fall into habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Mindfulness slows the process down, and brings a sense of meaningfulness to even the most mundane, everyday tasks. It allows us to engage the whole of our senses and experience moments of our day with a full aliveness and presence, without the distractions that might tend to dilute our experiences. 

The opportunities for mindfulness are in our hands every day – many times a day. Engaging with the things we do regularly – showering, washing the dishes, being, noticing – but being with them fully, with every sense switched on, and without drifting into the future or the past, might be easier said than done, but it’s a powerful way to strengthen our mind, body and spirit.

If you are new to mindfulness, it’s important to be patient and kind with yourself. If your mind is full and a seasoned wanderer, it might push hard at first against any attempt to slow it down or bring it to the present. Start where you are, and with consistency and regular practice, you’ll finish where you want to be. 

20 Comments

Charles

Taking a mindful shower is one of my favorites! It’s one of the most relaxing places for me, but so often I find myself spacing out haha.

At the end of the day, I often feel over stimulated so I like to use candle light and use the shower slowdown before bed. Then, I tred to journal about my day to just clear my head. I find it easier to write down what’s on my mind than try to watch the thoughts 🙂
do this as well but via text message journaling like DailyPrompt, my computer, or my favorite Midori notebook 🙂

Great ideas, Karen 🙂

Reply
Graham

Ive been meditating for about 3/4 weeks now but been following guided meditation, some of which have been good, some not so much. At what point should I make the leap into unguided meditation and can I still have meditation music on?
(thankyou for this resource, hope your keeping well through these mad times)

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Trish H

I’m reading that you should practice mindfulness for 30 minutes daily. Is that all from one option like breathing exercises or can it be from a variety of ways like concentrating on your 5 senses for a period of time and then noticing and being in tune with your surroundings, etc. for amother period of time? Thank you!

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Karen Young

It can be any number of ways, and it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes all at once. The important thing is consistency. You’re better to do smaller amounts every day, then bigger amounts say, twice a week.

Reply
Mohinder

But what about creativity? Doesnt Mindfulness kill creativity? If you are bringing the Attention to the present moment all the time, you are not letting some mind wondering which is essentally a way For creative flow

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Karen Young

Absolutely not! When your mind is free from worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, the potential for creative thinking expands. Mindfulness isn’t about living every minute mindfully. It’s important to plan for the future and learn from the past. The point is to find ways to make a regular space in the day to let your mind be still and present.

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Blueyedboy68

Intense exercise really helps. Pushing yourself to exhaustion, greatly reduces the fear factor, related to anxiety. When you feel worried for your health, during exercise, you push harder. When you’ve finished, and you notice you are ok. It tells the subconscious, fear response, to turn off.

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Karen B

This is great, an easy read, easy to follow and utilise, I have various books on the subject, but this really encompasses the art of Mindfulness, I will be carrying it around with me and I have down loaded the app, I also like Head Space however there is a charge for that app.

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Pauline

This really is so helpful that I have printed it off for easy reference. Advice on how to practise mindfulness is often made very confusing but this is very easy to read and take in. Thank you so much!

Reply
PG

Your recommendations for handling stress are empowering, just knowing there are alternatives to passively stressing out.

Reply

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We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting
When children are struggling to physically control their bodies, we support them in ways that strengthen. If they’re struggling to write, for example, we don’t punish or shame them. We guide them and show them by doing ‘with’. We also lift them up, ‘I know you can do this. Keep going. You’re getting better and better.’ We also don’t wait for perfection. ‘You wrote a number 4! Nice work you!’ We sit with and do with, over and over. We also give them a break when they get frustrated or upset.

It’s the same for behaviour. Big behaviour comes from big feelings or attempts to meet valid needs. (And all needs are valid.) It is this way for all of us. When we’re upset or angry, the last thing we need is for someone to tell us we can’t be, or to lecture or shame us. Kids are the same.

With kids and teens though, there can be a sense that we need to ‘do’ something in response to big behaviour, so we lay down punishments or consequences with a view to teaching a lesson.

But - unless the consequences make sense (punishments never do), they risk teaching lessons we don’t want them to learn:
- that the environment is fragile and won’t tolerate mistakes. 
- that secrecy and lies are a safer option than coming to us. 
- shut down. They put a lid on expressing big feelings. The feelings will still be there, but they aren’t getting the vital guidance from us on how to calm them (through co-regulation). The risk is that they will eventually call on unhealthy ways to calm the fierce stress neurobiology that comes with big feelings.

Consequences have to make sense. Maybe it’s to repair or reconnect. Discipline has to teach. It’s not about what we do to them but about what we nurture within them. Is that trust and the capacity to learn and grow? Or is it fear or shame.

Often the only response that’s needed is a loving conversation with us. ‘What happened?’ ‘What were you hoping would happen?’ ‘What did you need that you didn’t get?’ What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right?’ Because if discipline is about learning, the most powerful consequence is the strong, loving conversation with us that lights their way and speaks softly to the safety of us.♥️

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