This blog post will introduce in detail simple mindfulness exercises for beginners. My previous post was an introduction to mindfulness practice for DBT clients. As mindfulness is an essential part of DBT, helping beginning clients develop their skills in performing daily simple mindfulness exercises is a priority one. In this blog, I will lead the reader through four exercises for different contexts.
Almost all simple mindfulness exercises start the same way. Begin in a quiet space, with as few distractions as possible. Orient yourself to the natural rhythm of your breath, without changing anything, inhale and exhale. Observe how your shoulders, stomach, and chest moves with your breath. Adjust yourself into an open posture, with hands in your lap, palms up, and shoulders back with elbows drawn to the back of the chair. Breath now from the diaphragm, leading the breath with the belly rather than the chest. Follow your breath, observing the feeling of the flow in and out of your lungs, and continue for about a minute.
Simple Mindfulness Exercise for busy days. We all have those days when we feel we launched out of bed and ran full tilt from then. Managing life, family, work can be difficult for anyone. It is easy to find the things we intend to make time to become neglected, collecting dust in the proverbial corner. Fitting mindfulness into our busy lives takes commitment and creativity. As a therapist and practitioner of DBT, I often fit DBT into my day by leading a client through a mindfulness exercise. Call it vicarious mindfulness, it is as equally beneficial to the clinician as it is to the client.
Simple mindfulness exercises during the day can take as little time as five minutes. Take
Simple Mindfulness Exercise for Calming the Mind. Most of us have had that moment when we’ve realized we have forgotten something important. Usually, this happens when we are in no position to do anything about it. Never the less, our body immediately responds by switching on panic mode. Stress hormones get dumped into the bloodstream and we have a sudden urge to act. Without the skills to take hold of their thoughts and manage the behaviors until we reign in the feelings, people often find themselves in more difficulty. This simple mindfulness exercise is one that can be done with unobserving witnesses if need be.
The first step is to make the observation of the thought: i.e. “I did not mail the mortgage payment,” or “I did not my medicine.” These are statements of fact. They are not statements that hold judgment. Both examples are common experiences. Both are important enough to take high priority in our awareness, once realized. If we are driving, or in an important meeting, however, we cannot be effective if we try to do two things at once. Urges need to be tempered. Pulling a U-turn on impulse is unwise. Also unwise is running out of a meeting. The second step is to identify the feeling. “I’m feeling anxious/scared/angry” is simple and descriptive.
Simple Mindfulness Exercise for Insomnia. We have all experienced it: that moment in the middle of the night when you realize that you are wide awake and your brain has turned on and shows no sign of quitting now that it has gotten started. Maybe it is working on a worry that you have. Suddenly panic starts to grow and your heartbeat is audible in your ears. Getting ahold of that panic and calming back down to a relaxed state is essential to making sure that tomorrow isn’t hijacked.
Making sure you’re as comfortable as possible is the first step. Finding a comfortable position in bed may not be easy. Body pillows can be a source of the relief of pressure on the hip joints and back. Adjusting temperature to make sure you are neither too hot nor chilled. Take a moment to take care of body needs in the bathroom or by taking a drink of water. Then settle into a position to do this mindfulness exercise.
Begin with simply finding the natural rhythm of your breath and follow it in and out. Note how your body feels with each inhales and exhales. Follow your breath for about a minute, or ten reps. Now as you inhale, think “I am.” It won’t fill the whole time of the intake. Trying to match it may lead to hyperventilation, the opposite of your goal to sleep. Simply continue on the inhale until the top of the breath when the lungs are full. Pause for a beat at the top of the breath. Now exhale slowly and evenly. While you exhale think “relaxed.” Draw it out and exaggerate it as long as you can, then exhale to the bottom of the breath and hold for another beat before beginning another rep.
As you follow your breath in and out refocus yourself continuously on your breath. Your mind will naturally try to wander. After all, this is a quiet moment and all of our worries catch up to us in those times, vying for attention! Do not judge yourself for this, as it is natural. The attempt of trying to force your attention will only make it more difficult to practice mindfulness. For example, have you ever experienced the moment when you are trying to recall a word or a fact? Something that you know you know, but can’t pull out of your memory. The more you chase it, the faster it runs. Until, of course, those moments in the middle of the night, when you are staring at the ceiling.