The Ultimate Mindfulness Activities checklist
The Ultimate Mindfulness Activities checklist
Looking for ways to bring mindfulness into your life? Are you hoping to create more peace in your life? These days, we seem to be more stressed than ever. While we live in an age where technology and convenience are supposed to make our lives easier (hello ShopRite from home), our lives seem to be more stressful. Part of the problem is that while we streamline one area of our lives, we are adding more responsibilities to it. We tell ourselves that we’ll have more time for self-care. If you can have your groceries delivered, that frees up time to volunteer at your child’s school. When you hire a cleaning service to clean your home, you now have free time to take on more responsibilities at work. And don’t even get me started on the amount of time we spend just aimlessly scrolling on social media. This habit is understandable.
We are focusing on the wrong things
After a long day of running around, and doing stuff, you just want to sit down and give your mind a rest by mindlessly scrolling cat videos. The problem with this cycle is that we offer little room to stop and slow down and think about the quality of our lives. How many times have you said, “I’m exhausted”, “this is not sustainable, I can’t keep doing this”? Or even worse, “I’m not happy”. We make these statements in truth, but rarely do we take the time to sit long enough with our thoughts to identify what is it that we’re not happy about. Sometimes we decide that the answer is, “I need more money”, or “I need a new job”.
As a therapist, I recognize that this answer is rarely the right answer. There may be more happiness if we had more money or a new job, but that’s not all. Our lives are made up of so much more than a few simple things, but we rarely lean into those areas. Study after study has shown us that connection with others plays a critical role in our well-being. Time in nature generates tremendous well-being and resilience. Finding purpose offers us fulfillment in ways that no dollar amount can compete with.
In reality, we need to stop more often to pause and notice what is happening around us. We need to pause and truly think about the parts of our lives that are amazing and beautiful. It is in these mindful moments that we reconnect with ourselves and others, that we discover a fulfilling purpose or we discover what it is we truly need.
What does mindfulness mean?
The concept of mindfulness was popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness is the skill of focusing your attention on the present moment. Often, we are caught up in memories of the past or planning for the future. We often live in suffering and discontent because we live with regrets from the past, or we are in a rush to get to the future that in our minds is often “better”. Mindfulness asks you to pay attention to what’s happening around you, in your thoughts, in your environment, and in your interactions. It is only when you can do that that will you be able to accept your current circumstances, let go of the past, and intentionally plan for the future.
According to Jon Kabbat-Zinn’s ultimate handbook on mindfulness, Full Catastrophe Living, the benefits of mindfulness include:
- Helps relax the mind & body
- Helps improve memory
- Helps boost self-awareness
- Improves focus
- Helps manage stress
- Connects you with your emotions
- Increases emotional regulation
- Connects you with those around you
By slowing down, you can begin to identify things that actually matter. You can begin to attune to your inner voice. You discover ways that you can change the quality of your thoughts from negative to positive. By slowing down, you change your response to something, instead of reacting out of fear and anger. Below are mindfulness activities that you can incorporate into your daily life for greater fulfillment and peace. Get the full checklist by signing up here
1. The Empty Chair Technique
Close your eyes and imagine that you are sitting in one chair. Facing you in the opposite chair is your ideal self. What do they look like? Notice their features. Pay attention their clothes and their mood. Notice their posture. Now imagine that your ideal self is looking back at you. What do they see? Imagine that they do not know who you are. What questions do you have for one another? Notice the answers.
2. Meditate on an object
Find something in the room to focus on. Look at the object for 30 seconds. Close your eyes and try to remember all of the details of that object that you can remember. If it was a painting, what were the colors? If it was a photo, what were the people wearing? Where were they? Open your eyes and look at the object again. This is a great activity to do with someone else. You can compare what you both noticed and what you missed.
3. Mandalas and coloring books
Meditate on the process of coloring, losing yourself in the activity. Notice any feelings or thoughts that show up.
4. Create a safe place
Close your eyes and imagine that there is a door in front of you. As you open the door and walk through, you have entered a world that is safe and comfortable. It may be a real place, such as a room or the beach. Maybe it’s a place you have been to, such as a cabin in the woods. It can be an imaginary land where you feel safe and supported.
Use your senses to fully enter the safe place. Notice how it looks, paying attention to even the smallest details. Notice the sounds or the silence. How does it feel? Stay in this place for a while, and go there whenever you need to soothe and calm yourself
5. Folding laundry
As you approach your laundry basket full of clothes, close your eyes and take a deep breath. After exhaling, allow yourself to notice your thoughts and emotions. Are you dreading the experience? Are you looking forward to the experience of folding clothes? Can you focus on the sensations surrounding the act of folding clothes (i.e. the sound of the clothes in the basket, the feeling of each different garment, the smell of the clothes, the sound that each garment makes?
6. Look up at the clouds
What shape do you see? Does your mind drift off into a memory? Bring your awareness back into the present moment and focus on the shape.
7. Connect with a sound
Find naturally occurring sounds around you (the sounds of your computer, a dishwasher, or a coffee machine, etc.). Close your eyes and tune in to your chosen sound. Is there a pattern that you notice? Is there a beginning, middle, or end? Notice if other memories begin to show up (i.e. “I have so much work to do” or “I can’t wait to have this cup of coffee”). Return to simply listening to the sounds.
8. Go outside barefoot
Allow your feet to notice the sensation of the grass under your feet. What does it feel like? Is the grass warm, dry, or green? What does the grass smell like? What do you notice? Does your mind wander to a past memory? Bring your attention back to the sensation of the grass under your feet.
9. Mindful listening
Pick a song, close your eyes, and listen closely to the music. Follow the lyrics, notice the different instruments, or take in the song as a whole experience. If you have heard the song before, did you notice anything new? Alternatively, pick a song that has a repetitive lyric, phrase, or melody line. Count how many times you hear the chorus or the recurring detail.
10. Play with sand
Whether you have access to the beach or can buy sand at the craft store, allow yourself to bury your hands in the sand. Notice how it feels. Notice the texture and the temperature. Grab a handful and slowly allow the sand to slip through your fingers. Grab one grain of sand and notice how it feels. Bring the sand to your nose and smell it.
What do you notice? Now, can you build something? What do you need to help you in building a structure? Do you need water? What does the texture of sand feel like when it is wet? Allow yourself to immerse your hands and toes in the experience.
11. Belly breathing
Lie down on your back on the floor or sit upright in a chair. Place a hand on your belly, and as you breathe in watch how your belly expands. Breathing in this way promotes deep breathing, which helps to get oxygen into your system. More oxygen helps us relax our bodies and think more clearly. Set an alarm and breathe deeply for a minimum of 1 minute.
12. Pictures and Judgments
Look at photos in a magazine and describe what comes to mind. What assumptions or judgments do you notice showing up? Can you simply look at the image and describe what you see matter-of-factly?
13. Progressive muscle relaxation
Lie down on a flat surface such as the floor or your bed. Beginning with your toes and working all the way up to your face, use the “squeeze and release” method. Squeeze each part of your body, holding the tension for a couple of seconds, and then release.
Notice both the state of tension for each body part as well as the state of release. You can squeeze and release, using your whole body, but you can also just focus on a few body parts, such as your hands (making fists and then shaking them out), or your face (scrunching up your eyebrows, nose, and mouth) before relaxing it.
14. Explore a piece of fruit
Grab a piece of fruit in its’ full state (for example a pineapple). Notice the texture, the smell, the ridges, etc. Now, slowly begin to cut open the fruit. What does it sound like? If you used your hands, what does it feel like?
If you used a knife or other instrument, what did the sensation feel like? Now slowly cut the fruit and continue to tune in to each sense. Notice any emotions, thoughts, or other experiences that you have during this process. You may now choose to mindfully eat the piece of fruit.
15. Mindful eating
As you sit down to eat, close your eyes and take a deep breath. After exhaling, allow yourself to notice your food. See the shapes, colors, and textures. Allow yourself to take in the smell. Also, notice your thoughts and emotions. Are you hungry? Are you in a rush? Is the food related to a memory or previous experience (i.e. “I get this meal all the time”, or “This food reminds me of my Grandma”, etc.)? Take it all in before experiencing your first small bite. Eat these bites slowly, focusing on the first bite or two.
We experience the tastes, smells, temperature, and textures of food in the first few bites. Chew slowly, noticing the release of flavors and the sensations associated with eating. Allow yourself to slow down and truly notice what you are eating and whether you enjoy it, or whether it is simply fueling your physical or emotional needs.
Each activity only needs five minutes. Try a new technique daily and notice the difference in your life. If you’d like the full checklist of mindfulness activity, click below to download the entire 25 mindfulness activities.
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