20 Mindfulness Practices and Activities
Do you ever wish that you could press pause on life? That time would stand still and the people around you would stop to give you space to breathe? With everything around you frozen, you could relax into your mind, focusing less on what’s happening around you and more on what’s happening inside of you.
Life doesn’t come with a pause button, but our minds and bodies innately come with the ability to slow down. We can do this through mindfulness, which is a state of being through which you shift your attention to what is going on in your immediate external and internal environment. The key to mindfulness is to do this without judgment and to simply allow yourself to flow with heightened awareness.
Mindfulness takes on many different forms — you don’t need a yoga mat or the flexibility to sit cross-legged to engage with mindfulness practices. We’ve brought together twenty mindfulness techniques, resources, activities and exercises for you so you can further your mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness activities for the everyday
To begin, let’s explore mindfulness for the everyday — that is, mindfulness exercises that you can add to your daily routine for a comprehensive and regular mindfulness practice. Many people find it beneficial to set aside 15-30 minutes each day for meditation, however you only need as little as 60 seconds to effectively complete a mindfulness exercise.
When looking for mindfulness activities for the everyday, start with these:
- Square breathing: This breathing exercise is the perfect quick exercise that you can do anywhere, anytime. You always have to breathe, so why not make it an opportunity to add a mindful moment while you’re doing it?
- Body scanning: Body scanning is a very commonly-practiced mindfulness exercise where you shift your attention from body part to body part, focusing on the sensations to hone in on your present physical experience.
- Best self visualization: In this exercise, you visualize who you are and what you would be doing if you were the absolute best version of yourself possible, whether that’s your personal life, professional life, relationship status, or any other aspect of your life.
- Yoga: Yoga is one of the most popular mindfulness exercises, and it’s so much more than stretching. When practicing yoga, you’re focusing on deep breathing while listening to your body’s sensations of strain, stretch, and relaxation.
- Meditation: A structured meditation gives you enough direction so you know what to focus on without interrupting your flow.
- Mindfulness journal: Taking a few minutes each day to reflect inwardly on our thoughts and feelings can help reduce stress and make ourselves feel more present. Not sure where to start? Here are a few mindfulness journal prompts:
- What brought peace or clarity to me today?
- Who did I speak with today and how was it meaningful?
- Did someone do something nice for me or someone else today?
- How does my body feel today?
- What did I get lost-in-thought about today?
- When did I smile or laugh today? Why?
- What did I accomplish today?
Mindfulness activities for moments of overwhelm
One of the most effective uses of mindfulness exercises is in moments of overwhelm. Because mindfulness inherently shifts your attention, it can help you to calm down when you’re experiencing distress.
Here are a few mindfulness exercises you can use when you’re feeling overwhelmed:
- Holding an ice cube: The sensation of holding an ice cube can be enough to interrupt what’s happening for a person internally. If you focus on how it feels to hold such a cold object, it can give you something else to experience outside of your intense emotions.
- Diaphragm breathing: Diaphragm breathing is a deep breathing technique that emphasizes your diaphragm’s role in opening your lungs and facilitating the exchanging of oxygen in your lungs. You can also try Alternate Nostril Breathing as another deep breathing exercise that can help activate your body’s natural system for returning to a calm state.
- Eating something flavorful: Mindful eating places your attention on what’s happening with your tastebuds, which can shift your thoughts away from overwhelming feelings. When overwhelmed, try to eat something salty, sweety, or spicy to give you something else to focus on. Some people find that really sour candies can even help in moments of panic.
- Household chores: Watering flowers or cleaning the bathroom can give your mind — not to mention your hands — something else to focus on instead of your overwhelm.
- Doodling: Similar to household chores, scribbling or doodling on a sheet of paper when you’re feeling distressed can help you do something with your hands. When you focus your attention on something external to yourself, it can be helpful to reach a sense of calm.
Mindfulness activities for when you’re not at home
Mindfulness isn’t simply for quiet moments at home. You can complete mindfulness exercises when you’re at work, on your way to a friend’s house, while grocery shopping — anytime is a good time to pay attention to your current experience.
When you’re out-and-about, try some of these mindfulness exercises:
- Mindful movement: You can practice moving mindfully around a space in just about any setting, whether that’s the stairs coming up from the train or around the clothing racks in a department store. Focusing your whole attention on the objects and people around you can be a good way of simply experiencing the world.
- Naming objects: Giving names to objects — “tree, stop sign, crosswalk” — gives your brain something to grasp onto, leaving little room for your own thoughts. This can provide you with a much-needed break, particularly if you’re struggling with anxiety while in public.
- Art or nature: Letting your eyes rest on works of art (including street art!) or on the nature around you can also be a good way to reset. If you’re able to simply look without any thoughts occurring, you’re practicing mindfulness — and likely benefitting from connecting with green spaces.
- Listen to music: If you find that listening to music is helpful for you in moments of anxiety or intense emotion, it can be a useful mindfulness activity. You can pay close attention to the changes in volume, tone, and rhythm.
Mindfulness activities for kids
Mindfulness isn’t just for adults — many studies show that children and young people can benefit from mindfulness practices, even at very young ages. Setting up a mindfulness practice at an early age can lead to a lifelong enjoyment of a focused, calm mind and body.
To support a child or young person practice mindfulness, here are a few simple mindfulness activities for kids:
- Five deep breaths: Giving a child or young person a very tangible goal like taking five deep breaths provides them with easy instructions for a task that can have extensive benefits. These breaths are most helpful when done in a quiet, peaceful space where the child can focus solely on their breathing.
- Counting: While it sounds simple, counting is a basic yet effective way to practice mindfulness. Counting, especially aloud, can give their brains something else to do and to focus on, which can give them space away from overwhelming thoughts.
- Noticing colors: Another simple mindfulness exercise is to notice the colors of the objects around you. A child or young person might try to assign colors to each thing they see, listing out the colors around them.
Mindfulness activities for relationships
Lastly, mindfulness practices can greatly help people in relationships to remain present in each other’s company and refocus around common goals.
- Writing notes: Mindfully writing notes can be helpful when conversations — and conflicts — need to slow down. Writing each other notes by hand forces you to slow down and pay more attention to what you want to say. This is especially powerful when you focus on the sensation and sound of pencil on paper.
- Physical touch: Perhaps one of the most impactful of the senses, touch is very tangible stimuli that can be a point of powerful focus. Engaging physical touch as a mindfulness exercise can look like holding hands, hugging, or even getting a couples massage together.
- Mantras: Just like many couples have “their song,” other couples might have a mantra or a phrase that they repeat in times that they need a reset. Having a mantra can be either a reminder to practice mindfulness or the concept upon which you meditate during a mindfulness activity. If you need help finding a mantra, check out our list of possible mantras.
There are many excellent mindfulness resources to lean on if you would like to learn more about mindfulness or want help starting or continuing a mindfulness practice. Depending on your preferred medium, here are a few resources to check out:
Yoga for mindfulness
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Unf*ck Your Brain by Faith G. Harper
Hopefully a handful of these mindfulness exercises give you a few options to pick from as you further your mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can be an incredibly powerful mental tool to use in any situation, and its adaptability and versatility makes it a worthwhile well-being endeavor.
If you’re looking for additional support in furthering your mindfulness practice, there are many therapists who specialize in mindfulness-based therapy approaches. Many of the therapists listed in Zencare’s therapist directory offer therapy and mindfulness counseling to strengthen the mind-body connection and can help you deepen your ability to shift your attention inwards with self-compassion, without judgment.