You can calm the storm in your mind and increase your mental health with these simple exercises and techniques.
Human mind can suffer from stress, anxiety, irritation, distress or anger. You just want to get rid of these unpleasant feelings, and it’s normal. It’s really exhausting and difficult to keep bearing with these feelings, and it seems like they’ll never leave us. Different people have different ways to make themselves feel better; be it watching movies, scrolling on social media, having snacks, working, exercising, using positive-energy techniques or talking to someone.
Some of the mentioned activities can temporarily make us feel better by denying the feelings or distracting us from unpleasant vibes. But keep in mind that not paying attention to those feelings might come back as an intensified blow of stress or irritation, leaving negative impacts on your body and mind. There’s a solution to this issue, however, and it’s the practicing of mindfulness; which means becoming self-aware in the present moment.
“Mindfulness grants us a healthy cognition of life, helping us to experience and identify the elements of thought, speech and behavior, and tell apart those leading to bliss from those causing difficulties,” explains Kirat Randhawa, an expert meditation instructor based in NYC. “We can learn to increase our freedom and avoid whatever causes distress. If we identify the necessary conditions to feel happy, mindfulness will make it easy to reach the pleasant stages with an embodied presence. This in turn, will allow us to truly enjoy and cherish every single moment of life.”
According to Magdalene Martinez, therapist a yoga instructor, LMSW, practicing mindfulness doesn’t necessarily result in immediate happiness, but in the long run you’ll find yourself taking life problems easier and overthinking less. Furthermore, you’ll develop a better sense of self-compassion.
“Mindfulness is basically learning to accept what is,” says Martinez. “The more you practice, the easier it gets to be more accepting of whatever feelings are present.”
The best thing about mindfulness practicing, is that anyone can practice anywhere and anytime. There are numerous techniques you can find helpful; from learning to establish connection with your emotions, to teaching mindfulness to children. We have presented a list of expert recommends to practice mindfulness on your own and add them into your daily routine. Feel free to share with family and friends, and use them whenever you’re feeling down. Choose whichever sounds interesting to you, practice them for a week and see what you’ve learned about the presence of your mind.
1. The Name Game
This option is an easy game, yet a mighty tool to collect your coiled thoughts.
To do this game, look around you and name three things you hear, two things you see and one sensation you feel.
“This practice helps you increase environmental awareness and reset your emotions and thoughts,” says Martinez.
2. Intention Setting Exercises
Every morning, before getting started with work and taking usual responsibilities, spend a few moments centering yourself.
“Set your intentions every morning to clear your mind,” says Shirin Eskandani, mindset couch and founder of Wholehearted Couching. “This can be done by taking some minutes to write in a journal, do some exercise or meditate. Get flexible and do what feels best.”
For instance, you can take a few minutes and do some yoga to notice your body’s movement needs. Or read a few pages from a spirit-lifting book to let positive aura draw over you.
If you’re a nocturnal person finding yourself more productive at night, getting your mood lift by morning can be difficult. Instead, take 10 minutes around late afternoon or evening to settle your mind.
3. Deep Breathing Exercise
Your headspace has a determining role on your breathing quality. When you’re feeling anxious, your breathing goes shallow and short, or feels inhibited. An easy stress-relieving hack, is to practice deep breathing through your diaphragm.
“When you’re distracted, anxious or just feeling down, take long, deep breaths to let your nervous system relax and draw your own attention to the current moment,” says Randhawa. “It will light up a feeling of intimacy on your body and you’ll feel united with the nature to renew your bond with Mother Earth, leaving you calm and light.”
Eskandani suggests newbies to get started with Four Count method. Based on this method you should breathe in for four seconds, then breathe out for four more seconds. Repeat five times.
4. The Wiggle and Freeze Game
“This is a great way to involve your kids in practices,” says Sarah Rudell Beach, Mindful Schools Certified Instructor and Coordinator of Course Development at Mindful Schools. Have no kids? No problem! Have some fun with your friends!
In this game you and your kid (or friend), wiggle, bounce around, or dance until you say “Freeze!”
Then everyone in the room must freeze and let themselves notice whatever’s going on in their body and surroundings. “Feel every movement, tingling, heat, shaking or anything else,” says Beach. “You can do this as much as you want. It’s fun to move around, since it increases the level of body sensation awareness and helps you with mindfulness practices.”
5. Candle Study Exercise
Just like your grandparents probably did in their youth. Light a candle, make yourself comfortable, and read or simply watch the flickering flame. “This is considered a form of meditation,” says Martinez. “Stare at the candle light for five to ten minutes and let your mind sway, but don’t dwell on them. Let your thoughts flow.”
6. Tea Drinking Exercise
If you’re a huge tea drinker, you’re already at win! Learn to drink it slower, and pay attention to every sensation, the taste, smell, sounds and sights around you. Start this ritual from the very moment you set the kettle to boil.
“Take note of how it feels to brew tea, how tea leaves color the pure water, the sound of water boiling, shape of your mug, the scent and steam arising, and the overall pleasant feeling while you drink the tea,” says Randhawa. “Take some time to get deeply involved with the whole process and pay attention to every detail and every sensation as you drink, and let your mind wander. After you’ve finished your cup, gently bring your mind back to normal awareness, return the attention to your own body and live the present moment.”
If you prefer coffee, go for it and practice the same process with coffee! Actually you can apply this level of consciousness to any activity of your own preference.
7. The Berry Challenge
Most people just eat their meals and snacks to feel full, worse if they watch TV, scroll on their phone or eat while still sitting at their work desk. All the distraction keeps us from enjoying the food itself, while increasing the risk of indigestion, overeating and bloating. All you need to do, is to slow down.
Martinez has a challenge for you. Take a strawberry, and try to eat it as slowly as possible. Aim for 30 seconds to begin with, and pay attention to every bite. Take note of the taste, texture, scent and sensation while you nibble. Practice this with every meal or food you’re having through the day.
8. Gratitude List
Bedtime or a few minutes after waking up in morning is the best time to sit and write down 10 things you’re grateful for.
“Probably the quickest and easiest way to uplift yourself in stressful times, is to sit down and make a gratitude list,” says Eskandani. “However, you need to get specific for the trick to kick in. This means, instead of writing ‘I am grateful for having a family’, write ‘I’m grateful for the fun conversation I had last night with my family’”.
9. Follow Your Breath Exercise
Another practice to involve your child, is the breathing practice. Feel free to couple this method with any deep-breathing technique.
To do this practice along with your child, ask them to breathe with you. Remind them to feel the air run through their nose, feel if the breath goes in their chest or belly, and ask if they can hear themselves breathe.
“Let your child place their hand on their chest to feel the rise and fall as they breathe,” suggests Beach. “It can also be helpful to count their breaths. For instance, count ‘inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two.’ And so on. After a few moments, draw their attention from breathing to their feelings, and ask if they’re calm, sleepy, relaxed, bored or anything. Let them know whatever feeling they have is totally okay. Mindfulness is never about sticking to some particular feeling or state, but the point is to let yourself pay free attention to the current feelings you’re having.”
10. Stillness Exercise
Many people assume they need expert skills and complicated practices to meditate. In fact, you don’t need to become a meditating master, all you should do is to practice stillness.
The simple way of approaching this matter, is to focus on your breathing. You may also gather your attention on a mantra (if you have one) or an image. Stay focused for five minutes or more; it’s up to your own preference.
“This method requires you to focus on a single point,” says Randhawa. “You’ll gradually calm down, meanwhile noticing whatever’s going on inside of you.”
It’s okay if you fail to stay concentrated. “Pay attention to whenever your mind wanders around, and try to gently bring it back into concentration on a particular subject.”
11. The Chime Game
If you have a chime or a bell, ring it once and listen thoroughly until you can’t hear the ring anymore.
“Try doing this practice with family or friends,” says Martinez. “Each person should raise their hand when they cannot hear the ring anymore. It’s also a way of finding out differences between hearing abilities.”
If you don’t have chime, use another musical instrument or simply find a similar sound on the internet.
12. Introspection Exercise
Sit still and silent for a few minutes, and pay attention to your current mental state and every single emotion flowing through you. See what concerns you more.
“This practice can help you know yourself better if you develop the skill and get appropriate guidance from a qualified teacher,” says Randhawa. “Questioning the emotion itself is more helpful than seeking the reason behind it. This will increase curiosity about your thoughts and make you conscious of current mental experiences, without starting to overthink it.”
13. Morning Pages
When you wake up in the morning, take some time and write about whatever comes to mind. This doesn’t mean you have to come up with a rich poem or creative chunk of text, write down whatever you want to unravel your mind. This exercise will help you clear the thoughts and get ready for the day ahead.
“Just let it flow,” says Martinez. “Doing this exercise regularly can help you release and process what is happening mentally.”
14. The Sound Game
Another fun practice to do with kids or friends. Just like the Name Game it is, instead you’re supposed to put on imaginary headphones and listen to the surrounding sounds. After some seconds, ask everyone to name 10 sounds they heard.
Ask questions like, “What kind of sounds do you hear? Sounds from your own body? Inside or outside the house? From others? Can you hear more sounds than others do?” According to Beach, this is a good practice to help children calm down when they’re under stress. “Sounds are a perfect distracting agent to shift kids’ attention from whatever frustrating to a neutral subject,” she says.
15. Foot Grounding
Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, place your bare feet on the floor. “Put down your feet whether standing or sitting, breathe in four seconds, breathe out and count to four,” says Martinez. “Repeat this three to five times a day.”
You can also improvise and pay attention to the sensation of your feet while walking. As you land each step, notice how your weight shifts from the center to your sole. Remember to breathe deeply.
It would be perfect if you find some clean grass to walk on. This method is called ‘earthing’ and it’s a perfect way to bond with the nature. Researches are trying to find the scientific benefits of this practice, and experts state that walking barefoot on grass can help alleviate your stress while regulating blood circulation and improving sleep quality.
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