Do you find yourself fixating on negative experiences, often considering its possible causes and other factors related to the event? This tendency is called rumination.
As you can imagine – or as you’ve experienced yourself – rumination can consume you for days and have negative effects on your mind and body. It can increase your stress level, put you in a negative frame of mind, even causes hypertension or leads you to negative coping behaviors, such as binge eating.
I’m very much guilty of rumination. I used to spend days replaying a bad scenario in my head over and over again, then pre-empting what other wrong things could happen in relation to that event. I still do it today, but I believe my ruminating periods are down to a few hours in a week.
I managed to get to this point by trying mindfulness exercises.
What are mindfulness exercises?
The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as an “awareness of one’s experience without judgement.” It originated as a Buddhist concept and is adapted to Eastern meditation practices. With empirical evidence of the health and mental benefits of mindfulness, these exercises are now used by therapists for treating several conditions, such as depression or anxiety.
How mindfulness works is that it makes us fully aware of the present moment and accept it without judgement. The idea is to focus on our senses and accept the thoughts and feelings that run through our mind to achieve a relaxed state.
Going back to mindfulness exercises, these are techniques one can use to reach the state of mindfulness.
There are numerous exercises that are very easy to do and do not require any tools at all. You can do them anytime and enjoy the lasting effects.
#1 Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing is a great start for those new to the concept of mindfulness. It can be done at any time and any place. All you have to do is focus on your breathing for at least seven minutes. For beginners, you can try doing this for at least a minute.
Slowly breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. After a few breaths, consciously extend your exhalation and let the air fill your stomach instead of your chest. As you focus on your breathing, you will find that dissipating all thoughts of work and other concerns is achieved naturally.
#2 Mindful Listening
The practice of mindful listening trains us to listen actively and more intently as opposed to hearing and letting thoughts arise and affect how we perceive messages.
There are many ways to practice mindful listening. For five minutes, you can stop and listen to environmental sounds or listen to meditation music. Try to focus on the different sounds you hear and the sensations your body experiences as you listen. If thoughts pop up or creep their way in, acknowledge them and bring your attention back to the sounds or music.
#3 Mindful Cleaning
This exercise is doubly satisfying as it helps you achieve two things: you clean your house, and you let go of emotional baggage or thoughts that are unhealthy for you. When you reach the desired relaxed state, you will also be happier as your home is now more pleasant.
To combine mindfulness and cleaning, first, let go of your negative associations with cleaning. Try to view it neutrally rather than as a chore. As you start to clean, focus on everything that you do. If you are sweeping, watch the bristles of the broom sweep away the dirt. Notice how the broom’s handle feels in your hand. Continually do this, and you will enter a meditative state. Again, if thoughts of problems surface, acknowledge the thought and refocus on the task at hand.
#4 Mindful Walking
If you walk a lot going to work, you can try this walking meditation exercise. You can also choose to take a 10 to 15-minute break from work to do this exercise. Like with the previous exercises, you have to focus on the sensations your body is feeling. Concentrate on how your feet feel every time they touch the ground. Focus on your breathing or move your attention to other body parts. When you catch your mind wandering away, bring your attention back to what your body senses.
#5 Mindful Eating
Mindful eating helps you appreciate your food more while putting you in a more aware and relaxed state. You can do this for breakfast to help you face the commute to work, for lunch to restart your day or for dinner to put you in a calm state before going to bed.
Start with paying attention to how your food looks and smells. When you start eating, try to chew your food slowly and focus on how it tastes. Next, focus on the different textures in your mouth and notice how your body responds to the food. From your eyes and nose, to your teeth, tongue and throat, notice how your body reacts to the food.
These are just some introductory exercises you can try. If you think you are ready for deeper mindfulness exercises, you can try free apps like Insight Timer, Aura and Omvana. These apps feature guided meditations on topics like self-compassion, stress, anxiety, forgiveness and gratitude.
Should you have busy days ahead and you can’t find time to do deeper mindfulness exercises, you can easily go back to the basics mentioned above.
So, my dear fellow ruminators, when you’re pressed for time, and you find yourself spiralling down that dark alley, congratulate yourself for catching the behavior, forgive yourself, and try mindful breathing.