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6 mins

How to Practice Mindfulness

In an uncertain world, practicing mindfulness can calm the mind and body. We’ve gathered some mindfulness techniques to help beginners and seasoned pros alike.
by Joshua H. Phelps | Sep 17 2020

Try this. Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath, hold it for a moment, then gently breathe out. Congratulations: you’ve just been mindful. That might seem too easy, but building upon that simple act of taking a breath is the foundation of mindfulness.

Practicing mindfulness is usually a good idea, but if you need to reduce stress in a time when we are overwhelmed by scary news cycles, it becomes even more important.

The aim of practicing mindfulness is to develop the strength to see our feelings for what they are. From there we can either let go of them or work through them to achieve greater self-awareness and mental resilience. Like any skill (and mindfulness is very much a skill), it should be practiced regularly as part of your everyday life. However, it’s important to know that mindfulness practice isn’t a cure-all that works for everyone and as with any practice, you should find what works for you as an individual.

However, if you want to give mindfulness a try, this article takes a look at some of the techniques, exercises, and activities you can engage in to improve your own ability to be mindful.

Mindfulness Techniques

Breathe Easy

Mindfulness books recommend breathing as the place to start your mindfulness practice. Most of the time, we never think about breathing but if we start to pay attention and learn to control how we breathe, we gain access to a calming toolkit we can use whenever we need.

To start, lay or sit down, but don’t relax so much that you fall asleep. At least not yet.

Once you feel ready, take a deep breath slowly. Pay attention to what you feel. The coolness of the air inside your nose, the expansion of your stomach as your lungs fill with air, the slight uptick in your heartbeat. Work to keep your chest still while you do this. What else do you notice?

Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale, keeping control of it the same way you did while inhaling. What sensations do you feel? Notice whatever thoughts and feelings arise.

Mind Your Mind

Meditation and mindfulness tend to go hand-in-hand. Mindful breathing allows us to take greater control over what feels like an automatic physical process, and meditation helps us to manage how we react to our often overwhelming thoughts.

To begin to meditate, take a comfortable position and open your mind up to whatever thought or emotion crosses your path. What does it feel like? Can you feel where it is in your body?

You will lose track of your train of thought during meditation which is completely natural. As ABC News anchor Dan Harris said on an episode of Simplify, these breaks are in fact small victories. If you have never meditated before, it’s a good idea to listen to guided meditations like body scans—there are plenty available for free on YouTube—which call your attention back when it wanders off.

It is also important that you are able to call your feelings out for what they are. Meditation requires a great deal of honesty with yourself, which can make it scary at times. Anger, jealousy, and envy are a few of the emotions you will likely encounter. Feeling them at all may seem like a failure, but in recognizing them, you also embrace a greater portion of your own humanity.

Remember that there is no such thing as a bad emotion, but we can all learn better ways to react to what we feel. If we can summon the courage to accept our feelings, we can also find the strength to let them go.

Savor the Experience

Mindfulness doesn’t always mean sitting still in a quiet room. In fact, it’s at its most useful when you can cultivate mindful practices into your daily life. Since mindfulness means paying closer attention to the world around you, you can also use it to enjoy your senses and experience them more fully.

For example, think of a song you really love. Next time you listen to it, try to focus on just one aspect of the music. Maybe you focus only on the melody, or the bass line, or the drum beat. Each new listen will help you build your appreciation for the whole tune.

Why not try this out next time you have dinner? In his book, Savor, Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests we eat slowly and take the time to taste the food. By focusing on the various different flavors, smells, and textures, we can take greater pleasure from our meals. This also helps us develop a better relationship with what we eat, according to the book. Better Sex Through Mindfulness by Lori A. Brotto, PhD, which can in turn help us to better enjoy every sensation we experience.

Dr. Brotto takes the common mindfulness exercise of slowly eating a raisin, taking time to appreciate how it looks, smells, tastes, and feels to show how mindfulness can make sex more pleasurable.

Dr. Brotto’s research on female sexuality found in many instances that the lack of satisfaction her patients felt was the result of a mind-body disconnect. Through practicing mindfulness, Dr. Brotto’s patients were able to increase the pleasure they derived from sex.

In fact, practicing mindfulness regularly not only changes how you experience life and pleasure, but changes the structure of your brain and has been proven to increase the density of gray matter which is important for healthy cognitive function. With these techniques in mind, let’s look at a few exercises you can try to further develop your mindfulness.

Mindfulness Exercises


Awareness is the foundation for the practice of mindfulness. This can mean awareness of the space around you, the thoughts flowing through your mind, the sensations of your body, all of the above, or perhaps more. Try to notice when your mind is troubled by stress and anxiety but also when you feel calm and content. What is most important is that you concentrate on these things as they are in the present moment, not as they were, or as they might be. And, if you start to sense your vigilance slipping, take note of that and start again.


On top of taking stock of your surroundings and sensations, a deeper level of mindfulness practice focuses on a specific object or thought. You can contemplate on an object’s color, its shape, or how it relates to everything around it. Similarly, practicing mindfulness in relation to one’s thoughts asks that we consider their tone and how we react to them. Something to keep in mind while using this technique is that you should keep a healthy mental distance. The goal is to observe the flow of thoughts and emotions as though viewing traffic from a tall building or from a bench on the side of the road.


In contrast to the previous technique, this method of mindfulness challenges us to broaden our perspective. Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh takes the example of a wooden table in his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness. The table relates to the tree that provided the wood, the carpenter who made it, the carpenter’s parents, as well as many other people and aspects of life. This technique can also apply to your own mind. What emotions do certain thoughts trigger? How do they relate to other ideas and feelings you have?

As you build out the web of connections, you can better trace positive and negative sensations to their source. While these suggestions may feel a little abstract, there are ways you can incorporate them into your life. Let’s take a look at some of the activities that will allow you to do that.

Mindfulness Activities

Walking Meditation

We often picture meditation as sitting in a quiet space. If you find that it doesn’t work for you, or if you enjoy moving meditations and want to find ways to practice more, walking offers an excellent way to make meditation a part of your daily life.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends in his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, while you walk, focus on the sensations of your bodily movement. Which muscles do you activate to lift your foot and extend it forward? How much effort does it require? What is the sensation of your heel striking the ground? The great thing about walking meditations, too, is that you can do them inside or outside, depending on your preference.

Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction clinic in 1979 and has been largely responsible for introducing stress reduction programs into clinics and hospitals worldwide.

Writing It Down

Writing comes at the end of Mark Willams’s and Danny Penman’s 8-week mindfulness program, which they describe in their book Mindfulness. In particular, they suggest listing out activities from your life that leave you feeling good and strong and those that leave you tired or sad.

They might put this at the end of their book, but writing can be a helpful meditation wherever you are in your mindfulness journey. By writing down your inner world, you gain a better sense of how you can best navigate your thinking. If you are encountering difficulties in your mindfulness practices, writing can help you explore where some of the roadblocks might be standing.

Ten-Breath Meditation

Many of the books on mindfulness and meditation suggest spending 30-45 minutes per session. And perhaps this is why many people feel like they can’t practice mindfulness. Sustaining focus for such a long time challenges us and many feel disappointed soon after starting. Luckily, there are mindfulness practices that are quick and easy. This activity, for example, only requires a minute.

Also called the one-minute meditation, to complete this mindfulness exercise, focus on taking ten deep, slow breaths. Count them out in your head as you go through them. Because the time it takes is so short, you can easily add it to your life, and it provides the opportunity for you to expand your mindfulness practices. You can build your way into that 30- or 45-minute range—but only if you want to.

Where you take your mindfulness practice from here is yours to decide. If you are interested in further tips or suggestions, the Blinkist library holds a whole section on mindfulness and meditation you can look to for inspiration.

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