Mindfulness and mindful practices have become somewhat buzzworthy over the last several years. While some people may assume these practices are only for the yoga-loving or meditation-practicing, mindfulness can be a beneficial practice for everyone!
When I use the term “mindfulness” I am referring to the practice of directing your attention to your current experience, to what is happening right in this moment; being mindful or aware of your environment and inner experience. I use mindfulness in session with clients as a type of emotional regulation, because being mindful gives you the opportunity to observe your thoughts and feelings.
Clients often question whether they are being mindful in the “right way”- and the good news is, there isn’t a right way! Mindfulness practices help ground you in the present moment; when you find yourself pulled away from the present, you just guide yourself back!
Here are a couple basic mindfulness practices that you can start implementing today! With all of these practices, I like to start off by taking several deep, full breaths.
1. Five Senses
Sit in a comfortable position and take several deep breaths. Turn your attention to your sense of sight. Looking around your current environment, notice what you currently see. As you notice each object, describe it- work on describing it objectively, rather than judging aspects of it or the object as a whole as “good” or “bad”.
Move your focus to your sense of hearing. What sounds do you notice? There may be sounds in your environment that you hear; you may notice more internal sounds, like the sound of your heart beat in your ears.
Now shift your concentration to smell; it may be helpful to close your eyes, if you feel comfortable doing so. What smells do you notice in your environment?
Taste can sometimes be challenging, but it is possible! If you are eating, you can tune in to all of the flavors of your food or drink. Even if you are not currently eating, there are often lingering flavors to observe.
Lastly, use your sense of touch. You might touch several objects around you and focus on the way each feels to the touch- a pillow may feel warm, soft, and squishy, while a desk feels hard, sharp, and cold.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This exercise can be a great option if you are a person who experiences physical symptoms in response to emotions. Maybe you find yourself with headaches, tense shoulders, or knots in your stomach when faced with overwhelming emotions.
Again, sit in a comfortable position and take several deep breaths. Beginning at your feet, focus all of your attention on one area of your body. Practice flexing or tensing the muscles in the body area you are focusing on, holding it for several seconds, and then relaxing these muscles. Keep your attention on the physical sensation of flexing and relaxing muscle groups, and of any existing tension that you notice. Complete this for several rounds, and then move to the next body part. When I use this exercise, I often find that I did not even realize I was holding tension in an area of my body.
3. Describe your physical environment
This practice can be very helpful if you are in an environment that is not your own or an environment in which other people are present- an office, a classroom, waiting room, etc.
This practice is also very flexible, in that whatever you choose to focus on is up to you. Here are some examples of prompts that I might use:
What color are the walls? How many doors are there? Are there windows? How many? Is there any art on the wall? If so, pick one of the pieces and describe it in detail. Are there any words that you can see? Notice each one of the letters that make up the words; you can also recite the letters you notice backwards. Are there ceiling tiles? Count them. What colors do you see in the room? What pieces of furniture are in the room?
Remember, the purpose of each of these exercises is to bring you back to the present moment. My favorite times to use these exercises is when I am feeling consumed by an emotion that I am having difficulty regulating. Oftentimes, once you are settled back into the present moment, it is easier to observe and explore your emotions rather than feeling out of control. These practices can also be a great way to wind your mind down at the end of the day to prepare for sleep, enjoy specific moments during a season of life that is difficult, and manage being in a challenging situation or environment.
To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.
Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Valencia, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.