Five Exercises To Help You Become More Mindful
Mindfulness can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and stress and could help with other health conditions as well.
During this time of extreme uncertainty, a lot of anxiety may stem from worrying thoughts about the future. This constant cycle of rumination can feel unavoidable, and it is to some degree. But, over time, the anxiety that this causes keeps getting further exacerbated, leading to the development of chronic conditions, excess agitation, emotional distress, and physical symptoms too. At times, the cause of what one is worrying about may not seem clear either, but the general anxiety can stem up even with no such concrete cause, and you may be experiencing a feeling of always being ready for something to happen, always trying to remain alert to some impending problem.
The ability to focus your mind on the present and accept one’s reality for what it is has long been touted as a way to improve well-being and mental health, and can be a formidable tool in one’s fight against anxiety. Mindfulness is defined as the ‘process by which one attends to present-moment sensations, thoughts, emotions and experiences in a non-judgmental manner.’ This practice allows one to be aware of the present only, instead of constantly focusing on past or future events. It must be said that practising mindfulness or mindful meditation may not work in isolation to mitigate symptoms of anxiety, and is often integrated as part of a holistic treatment—but there are various promising reports that tout the benefits, making it something that one can practice from the comfort of home, and could help people of all age groups. A study by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that mindful meditation could help in the better allocation of cognitive resources, thereby enabling improved self-regulation of attention. Another study by Frontiers in Psychology reported that mindfulness is ‘related to lower levels of depression and anxiety both directly and indirectly.’ Several studies have also linked mindfulness with beneficial results for the immune system and cardiovascular system.
Here are a few practices to help you remain grounded, and though it may be tough initially to focus on the present (don’t fret if you aren’t able to completely ward off thoughts about the future), it does get easier with practice.
The aim of mindful meditation is to enter a zone where you don’t react as strongly to your thoughts—one way of reaching this is by focusing on your breath. Sit in a comfortable position, and focus on each inhalation from your nose and exhalation from your mouth, and the corresponding sensations they bring—the physical feeling of the air entering, or the way it leaves. Once you feel you are adequately focused on that moment, broaden the scope: start paying attention to the sounds in the room, the feeling of yourself on the chair, or any other sensation. The moment you feel your mind is wandering, come back to focusing on your breathing and the present. Try this exercise for short durations in the day, and slowly start to extend it as you become more comfortable.
If you prefer your meditation to be more physical, try walking and paying attention to each step you take; the rise and fall of your feet, the way the ground feels underneath. Notice how your foot strikes the ground, heel first, and how that movement propels the body forward. You can slowly expand this to noticing the sights around you, or the way other body parts get into a rhythm as you walk, matching each inhalation and exhalation.
3.The body scan
A popular mindfulness exercise, this involves you giving yourself what can best be described as a mental X-ray. Lie down, or sit in a chair, and start the exercise by focusing on your breathing. Then, begin with any body part you want, most people start with their feet and legs, but choose what seems right for you. Pay attention to that part and allow yourself to feel every sensation during that moment—if there’s any discomfort or tension, or any tightness. With each breath, try and soften those parts, though it’s alright if you’re unable to do so. Keep doing this for every part, moving up your body until you reach your head. Then, visualise your entire body, and again, imagine releasing any tension with the help of your breathing.
A more simple task, and one that requires less time, is one that makes use of your sense of sight, sound and touch. It involves you taking note of three things that you can see, three things you can hear, and three things you can feel. Since you have to be as present as possible, it’s a good way to recentre yourself when stressed.
Mostly done with the help of a raisin, this exercise allows you to be in the present with the help of exploring a food item. While it may seem strange at first to analyse something ordinary in such detail, you may find yourself appreciating both the present and tackling things with more intention than before. Start by keeping the raisin in your palm and just observe it—the creases, the colour. Then, explore the texture and the way it feels. Keep going sense by sense, and when you eventually chew it, remember to take note of the flavour and the way the raisin changes as you keep chewing.
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