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)

Reply
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!

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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