5 Fun Mindfulness Exercises for Dull Days & Stress Reduction

 mindfulness exercises

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
~ Pema Chödrön

As a student, I had several dull days where I could have used a few mindfulness exercises.

Specifically, I had a string of part-time jobs.

One of the most mind-numbing jobs was working at the Primark store on London’s Oxford Street.

I would often spend my whole seven-hour shift folding shirt after shirt into a neat pile only to have a customer come along and tear one from the bottom, sending it toppling over.

But it did hold a lesson for me: involvement, not distraction, is the key.

Rather than seeing these little mindfulness exercises as an escape, look at them as a means of becoming more absorbed, for however fleeting a moment in your work, your environment, or yourself.

Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety

These exercises were designed to be quick, easy and fun to do!

1. Breathe Slowly for 60 Seconds

Try breathing deeply and slowly for sixty seconds. Use this timer if you need to.

Lengthen each inhalation and exhalation by a count of five, so that you’re averaging about five breaths per minute. This is called the “Resonant breathing rate,” a pace which engages the parasympathetic nervous optimally for most people.

Breathing in, two, three, four, five.
Breathing out, two, three, four, five.

If you find yourself getting a little breathless, start by counting up from three or four. Slow, deep breathing has been shown to have a variety of positive health benefits. Learn more about breathing exercises designed to help you de-stress in 5 minutes or less.

2. Try the “Stop!” Exercise

G.I. Gurdjieff would use this exercise on his students. As they went about their daily activities he would sometimes walk by them and shout, “Stop!”.

The student then had to freeze instantly for as long as Gurdjieff wished. Sometimes it lasted for hours.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing now, just stop and hold that position. If you’re typing, freeze with your hands on the keyboard.

If you’re drinking a cup of tea, freeze with your hand halfway towards your mouth. Be fully aware of yourself.

3. Notice Something New in Your Environment

Consciously look for something that you have never noticed before. Keep looking until you find one thing, however long it takes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be visual, it could be a sound or even a smell.

4. Do a Quick Bodyscan

This is a great one, especially for releasing any tensions or aches.

Bring your attention to your feet
Let them relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your shins and calves
Let them relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your thighs
Let them relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your buttocks
Let them relax and loosen buttocks

Bring your attention to your abdomen
Let it relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your chest
Let it relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your arms
Let them relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your hands
Let them relax and loosen

Bring your attention to your head
Let your mouth, cheeks, nose, eyelids relax and loosen

Rest for a few moments in full-body awareness.

You’ll feel revitalized.

5. Go For A Walk

“Walk as if your feet are kissing the ground.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

If you can be somewhere you won’t be disturbed for a few moments, try a standing or standing or walking meditation.

Simply focus on the sensation of your foot as it lifts from the ground, as your leg moves forward, as your heel touches the ground, as your weight shifts, as your second foot rises and so on. Let us know in the comments if these mindfulness exercises were helpful.

Buddha & IncenseStories about spiritual figures and themes of self-discipline often go hand-in-hand.

Take the example of Sadhu Haridas. On the 22nd August, 1880, the Daily Telegraph ran a piece about an Indian fakir who was buried for forty days with no food or water and a limited oxygen supply. On the fortieth day he was disinterred, in full health. The British ambassador at the time, along with the full court of the Maharaja, verified the feat.

Then of course there’s the legend of Buddhist teacher Bodhidharma, who is meant to have spent nine years facing a cave wall in meditation (Chinese Bodhi dolls have no legs due to the fact that they would have atrophied).

In this article I want to look at the role self-discipline might play in our own lives. It’s very common for people to start meditating then fall out of the habit. I often hear comments along the lines of, “I used to meditate every day but stopped,” or, “I was really into it, I keep meaning to start again.”

You might have noticed the same thing, maybe it’s even be true of yourself. It’s certainly happened to me a few times. The question I find so curious is this: why is a habit that’s so beneficial, so seemingly easy to do, also so easy to fall out of?

When we talk about “foundations” we usually mean things like posture or an adequate understanding of the techniques involved. Rarely does the discipline needed to actually practice on a regular basis receive much attention. This is despite the fact that I cannot recall going to a retreat or course where the instructor didn’t emphasize and over-emphasize the importance of consistency.

First of all, let’s clarify what we actually mean by the term. Self-discipline is generally defined as the ability to undertake a particular course of action irrelevant of one’s emotional state. If we have two conflicting goals, our propensity to make a choice of one over the other that isn’t based on immediate gratification marks our self-control in a given situation. Some interesting and unusual research has been done in the field and people who have high levels of self-control tend to be happier.

So how do we go about fostering the ability to sit down in the first place?

Being Aware that we Don’t Actually Want to Sit and be Still

In his book The Law of Attention, Edward Salim Michael outlines one possible reason why meditating regularly can be such an effort.

“The aspirant will notice…that, in the beginning of his spiritual practice, when he is still struggling with the initial efforts to remain as “present” and as concentrated as he can during his meditation, he has a hidden desire to stop most of the time – and is almost even relieved when he finishes meditating.” (1)

If we notice the tremendous importance we’ve placed on our day-to-day preoccupations, we can begin to see why this might be the case. Our mind is constantly willing us to return to these activities: “…his restless mind [was] refusing to give up its preoccupations and making him even secretly long to finish meditating in order to return to outer activities that kept surreptitiously calling him to them….” (2)

This is a crucial point. If we want to overcome the subtle drive to return to our daily concerns we first need to be aware of what’s happening. As our meditative practice grows deeper and we start enjoying it more, this yearning to re- engage with our preoccupations will diminish. Michael points out that we begin to look forward to the period set aside for meditation each day. Exercising self-discipline helps us to overcome the initial inertia we’re bound to face.

Practical Suggestions

Establishing and keeping a regular practice is not difficult. We just need to be honest with ourselves and pragmatic in our approach. The following are a handful of strategies that I’ve found helpful.

Figure out Your Current Position and Build From There

This point is the crux of the article. The comparison between muscle training and fostering self-discipline is a common one. The idea is that, in the same way we have our current capacity to lift a certain weight, we also have a capacity to perform any other activity (including meditation). We are able to increase this capacity by sustained and incremental training.

How do we go about figuring out how strong we are now? The easiest way is simply to experiment. Once you’ve found a level that is achievable but still requires effort, you have your foundation on which to build.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting with two minutes a day. Keep this in mind: we do not want to push ourselves too hard or too gently. We should always search for the middle-ground, the place where we feel the internal pressure without becoming overwhelmed.

Personally, I work by increasing my sitting time by one minute every two weeks. The Sanskrit term “ghatika” refers to a meditation period of 24 minutes, which is supposed to be ideal for beginners. That could be a level to work towards. (3)

Diversity is a Good Thing

The diverse set of spiritual practices that we loosely term “meditation,” comprise techniques from countless different schools and traditions. This is a good thing for us. By varying things occasionally we can avoid getting bored. Consider trying Metta Bhavana (cultivation of loving-kindness) or a body scan to spice things up.

Awareness is Your Ally in the Harder Periods

Sometimes things will flow easily. Other times you will feel tense and frustrated. Remember that both your mind and body have their own rhythms and cycles and can’t be forced. Yesterday, your chest was soft, today it’s full of tension. Our bodies are ever-changing.

Ajaan Lee writes: “your body is the same as every other body, human or animal, throughout the world: It’s inconstant, stressful, and can’t be forced. So stay with whatever part does go as you’d like it to, and keep it comfortable. This is called dhamma-vicaya: being selective in what’s good.” (4)

If we can cultivate an attitude of non-judgemental awareness in these harder periods we’re much less likely to become upset and demotivated. Anthony De Mello (SJ) is one of my favourite writers and he has this to say on the topic: “I’m talking about self-observation. What’s that? It means to watch everything in you and around you as far as possible and watch it as if it were happening to someone else. What does that sentence mean? It means that you do not personalize what is happening to you. It means you look at things as if you have no connection with them whatsoever.” (5) He goes on: “No judgement, no commentary, no attitude: one simply observes, one studies, one watches, without the desire to change what is.” (6)

Maintain Mindfulness Throughout the Day

You’ll notice that you tend to feel a heightened sense of relaxation immediately after your formal session. Try and maintain awareness whenever possible. Simple breathing exercises (like the “Ha” or ujjayi breath) are superb for weaving into your working day.

No Responses

Write a response