Anna Jetton, PsyD, CCTP, CIMHP
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Woodland Park, CO
Practicing mindfulness is not an elaborate process. It is something we can do in any given moment no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is the practice of slowing ourselves down and being fully present in the moment. It is developing awareness for what is happening in our lives at any particular time. This means you can practice mindfulness anywhere! At work, in your car or at a restaurant with friends are all opportunities to be mindful. And no one even has to know! Here are some practices you can try.
1. Deep Breathing
It's natural to take long, deep breaths, when relaxed. However, during an anxiety or stress response, breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Deep breathing reverses that by sending messages to the brain to begin calming the body. Practice will make your body respond more efficiently to deep breathing in the future.
Practice: Breathe in slowly. Count in your head and make sure the inward breath lasts at least 3 to 5 seconds. Pay attention to the feeling of the air filling your lungs. Hold your breath for 3 to 5 seconds (again, keep count). You don't want to feel uncomfortable, but it should last quite a bit longer than an ordinary breath. Breathe out very slowly for 3 to 5 seconds (count!). Pretend like you're breathing through a straw to slow yourself down. Repeat the breathing process until you feel calm.
2. Imagery and Visualization
Your thoughts have the power to change how you feel. If you think of something sad, it's likely you'll start to feel sad. The opposite is also true: When you think of something positive and calming, you feel relaxed. Using imagery and visualization harnesses this power to help reduce stress and increase relaxation.
Practice: Think of a place that you find comforting. It could be a secluded beach, your bedroom, a quiet mountaintop, or even a loud concert. For 5 to 10 minutes, use all your senses to imagine this setting in great detail. Don't just think fleetingly about this place--really imagine it.
Sight: What do you see around you? What do you notice in the distance? Look all around to take in all your surroundings. Look for small details you would usually miss.
Sound: What sounds can you hear? Are they soft or loud? Listen closely to everything around you. Keep listening to see if you notice any distant sounds.
Taste: Are you eating or drinking something enjoyable? What is the flavor like? How does it taste? Savor all the tastes of the food or drink.
Touch: What can you feel? What is the temperature like? Think of how the air feels on your skin, and how your clothes feel on your body. Soak in all these sensations.
Smell: What scents are present? Are they strong or faint? What does the air smell like? Take some time to appreciate the scents.
3. Body Scan
During the body scan exercise you will pay close attention to physical sensations throughout your body. The goal isn't to change or relax your body, but instead to notice and become more aware of it. Don't worry too much about how long you practice, but do move slowly.
Practice: Begin by paying attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice any sensations such as warmth, coolness, pressure, pain, or a breeze moving over your skin. Slowly move up your body--to your calves, thighs, pelvis, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, neck, and finally your head. Spend some time on each of these body parts, just noticing the sensations.
After you travel up your body, begin to move back down, through each body part, until you reach your feet again. Remember: move slowly, and just pay attention.
4. Mindful Eating
Choose a food you would like to practice with (preferably something you can hold in your hand without getting messy). Something as simple as a single raisin will work well. Move slowly through these steps, taking a moment to focus on each one.
Practice: Before you pick up your food, notice how it looks on the table in front of you. Notice its color, how the light reflects from its surface, and its size. Notice if it's smooth, rough, slick, soft, firm or if it has any other properties. Hold the food to your nose, and pay attention to its smell. Next, place the food in your mouth, on your tongue, but don't eat it. Notice how it feels in your mouth. What do you taste? Roll the food around in your mouth and pay attention to the feeling. Finally, begin to slowly chew your food. Notice how your teeth sink into it, and how the texture is different inside. Pay close attention to the flavor, and how it spreads across your tongue. Notice how your body changes--does your mouth fill with saliva? Does your tongue feel hot or cold? Continue to chew your food, paying close attention to the many sensations as you finish.
5. Observe and Describe
Use this exercise to quickly ground yourself in the present when you only have a moment. The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses while refraining from engaging in any judgments about it. Instead observe the qualities of what you are experiencing and describe them from your senses' point of view.
What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn't noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.
What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.
What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.
What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn't have to be a nice smell either: maybe there's an overflowing trash can or sewer.
What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. "Taste" the air to see how it feels on your tongue.
The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.
Now that you have the skills, it's time to put them work not just in your day to day routine, but also in the struggles that keep you up at night and get in the way of living the life you imagine. You deserve to be happy. I can help. Contact me today to learn more or schedule an appointment now.
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