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In the last few years, my health has changed dramatically, and I have finally found some significant relief from the chronic pain and fatigue that has been plaguing me for almost a decade. I credit this to many lifestyle changes I have been committed to making, including exercising regularly and making intentional dietary choices.
One of the ways that I have changed the way I feel completely, both physically and mentally, is through trying to practice more mindfulness in my day-to-day life.
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Mindfulness has been shown to help people reduce stress and to benefit a variety of health conditions. If you want to begin to cultivate mindfulness to improve your health and well being, don’t be intimidated. There are many simple, fun mindful exercises to help get you started.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to being in a state of conscious awareness of the present moment. Being mindful means that you are observing what is going on around you, and within you, without judgment. You are actively aware of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, but you aren’t reacting to them as good or bad.
This helps you to be more aware and focused on the present moment.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has a long list of benefits, which can help your mental and physical health.
Some of the specific ways in which mindfulness can improve health include:
- Fighting depression[2-5]
- Helping you to lose weight[6,7]
- Treating inflammatory bowel disease[8,9]
- Preventing cardiovascular disease
- Managing chronic pain[8,11]
- Reducing asthma symptoms
- Improve symptoms and benefit quality of life with multiple sclerosis
- Treating fibromyalgia[8,13,14]
- Managing PTSD
Fun Mindful Exercises to Cultivate Mindfulness for Yourself
You don’t have to be a regular meditator to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness for yourself. In fact, there are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life informally. If you are new to the idea of mindfulness and want a basic, enjoyable introduction to it, give these fun mindful exercises a try:
- Go on a mindful walk. Take 30 minutes out your day and go on a walk around the neighborhood (or better yet, somewhere in a natural setting). As you walk, set your intention on focusing on your surroundings. Pay close attention to what you are seeing, hearing, and feeling. What does the air feel like on your skin? What color is the sky? What sounds do you hear? How does it feel to move your body? Get in tune with the muscles you are using to walk, how your arms are swinging, and what your feet feel like hitting the ground with each step. Your goal is to fully experience your walk, noticing those things in and around you that you have never noticed before. (See also our post “The Benefits of Walking.”)
- Use a mindfulness coloring book. These days, coloring books aren’t just for kids. You can now find an abundance of adult coloring books, aimed at cultivating mindfulness and reducing stress. I personally like Color Me Calm, which has a large collection of fun, beautiful patterns to color in with categories like water scenes, geometric patterns, and natural patterns. Break out a box of colored pencils, put on some peaceful music, and set your attention on the page in front of you. You’ll find that focusing all your thoughts and attention on a single simple and enjoyable task is an easy way to bring about a relaxed, more mindful state.
- Eat mindfully. Eating is one of the best ways to fully understand the idea of mindfulness. Choose a small snack, like a bowl of fruit or nuts, and slowly and intentionally observe and then eat your snack. By paying attention to what the food feels like, how it smells, and how it tastes in your mouth, you can cultivate a strong awareness of your immediate experiences and sensations. For detailed instructions on how to do a mindful eating exercise, go here.
- Sit outside and listen. Take a seat in a peaceful place in the outdoors. It doesn’t matter if this is your balcony, on a park bench, or in the grass. Close your eyes, and begin to focus on what you can hear around you. Is there wind? Can you hear anything moving around you, like insects flying or a squirrel climbing a tree? What can you hear in the distance? You’ll find that the longer you sit, the more you will begin to notice. You may sounds that you didn’t hear at first, such as cars driving on a road in the distance, or the wind rustling the leaves in the tree above you.
- Join a meditation class or group. There are many people out there, just like you, who want to learn techniques for practicing mindfulness. Guided classes and groups can be a fun way for people to come together and learn more about mindfulness. Often these include a guided meditation, followed by a group discussion and social time. These types of classes will teach you how to do longer seated meditations, which you can make a part of your routine at home.
If you want to take your mindfulness practice to the next level, consider taking a mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course. These are generally eight weeks, designed to teach you how to engrain mindfulness into your day-to-day life to create lasting change. Search for an MBSR program in your area with a trained instructor.
Mindfulness Can Make Lasting Change for Your Health and Well-Being
For me, making mindfulness a more intentional part of my life has made a big difference. Once I fully understood that dwelling on the past and worrying about the future brought me only stress, I realized how much good could come out of appreciating the present moment. I have found that I have become significantly more calm, content, and joyful after having incorporating mindfulness into my own life. And my health has improved immensely.
Mindfulness can come in any moment. For example, while sitting in traffic, I try not to worry about how slow I’m going or how frustrating it is to not be moving; instead, I’ll try to take in the scenery around me and notice how beautiful the sky is. What tips do you have for making mindfulness a regular part of your life? Do you have any fun mindful exercises that work well for you? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
Originally published in December 2015 and updated.