Mindfulness exercises

We are so distracted by our constant access to technology, information and sources of instant entertainment and communication that many people rarely have any time to be truly aware of themselves or the world around them. How aware are you of what is going on around you? How aware are you of yourself at this moment? How aware are you of the things you have done today?

Let me give you a little challenge. Try and remember exactly what your favourite food tastes like. What about the smell or the texture? Chances are, you can’t.

Expand your awareness and try this lovely little exercise you can do by yourself or in groups. Get various foods and eat them slowly, savouring everything about them. It is best to choose a range of foods to include foods you like, feel ambivalent about and also don’t really like. This can really change your perception of these foods. Some people we have done this with, who had eaten chocolate all their life decided they didn’t like chocolate anymore. Other people learnt to appreciate foods they have always avoided.

The term mindfulness has been borrowed from Buddhism. It refers in general to the “attentive awareness of reality, both external and internal.” When we are being mindful we have a “Clear comprehension of what is taking place.”

Since the 1970s the term has been adopted within psychology to describe techniques and methodologies that encourage awareness and self-regulation as means to deal with stress, depression and other psychological issues. Numerous studies have shown these techniques to be successful with adults and recently attention has been paid to applying these techniques to children and adolescents where they have also been found to reduce anxiety and increase academic performance.

There is a strong relationship between mindfulness and self-regulation. When you relax and focus not only does this reduce anxiety and stress but allows better responses to your own feelings and self management of behaviour. Researchers believe it is this self-regulation that leads to improved academic performance.

If you are thinking that mindfulness involves sitting around meditating and so it is not for kids, especially the young ones, here are some techniques and exercises that work with all ages:

Mind in a Jar

Have a jar filled with water and glitter, shake the bottle and it becomes cloudy. If you shake the bottle the water looks like it is completely filled with the glitter floating around. The glitter represents our thoughts when we are agitated, anxious or angry. However if you we put the bottle down, wait and watch, then the glitter will settle down to the bottom of the bottle leaving the water clear, just like our mind clears when we relax. Put it down and the glitter will settle.

The core technique taught with Mind in a Jar are four relaxation steps.

  1. Stopping
  2. Watching the glitter
  3. Breathing
  4. Shifting attention

Watch the glitter while relaxing and gathering your thoughts. It is also a fun craft project for kids to do as well.  

Concentration beads

If you ask younger kids to lie down and relax they will quickly start to wriggle, fidget or worse. However, if you give them something to concentrate on it is much easier for them to sit or lie still. Let them chose a glass bead, the bigger the better. Have them hold it in their hand or even put it on their forehead. Simply ask them to concentrate and focus their attention on their bead.

Observe objects

Observe an object, either something you bring in or an item that is already there. Focus on different aspects of the object. What is the object's shape, what is the object’s colour, is it heavy or light, what is special about this item, how does it feel when you touch it, how do you feel about it and so on? If we slow down and focus our attention, do we notice anything we haven't noticed before?

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Observe yourself

How do you feel when you listen to a poem, song or sound? What does your body feel like? When you focus on your breathing, what do you notice? When we slow down, not only do we learn to become more aware of our feelings, but we also learn to express them and talk about them, which helps us process them better. Enjoy some of your favourite music or poems to relax, let them bring you into the moment and notice how it helps you switch off. 

Left hand (non-dominant hand)

We do so many things without really thinking about how we do them. If we ask people to do something they often do but with their non-dominant hand you will firstly provoke lots of giggles. We can concentrate and be aware of all the little steps it takes to do something like write the word cat or draw a dog. We will slow down and become more mindful of what we are doing.