5 Mindfulness Techniques to Try
Studies have shown that mindfulness can help decrease stress, depression, high blood pressure, anxiety and more! Mindfulness techniques range widely and different techniques can help different symptoms you may have. Here are 5 mindfulness activities or techniques that I love and my clients enjoy. I suggest you take a few deep breaths in and out before and after you do each of these.
Using the 5 senses technique allows you to notice your surroundings, without judgement. This technique helps with grounding yourself, or bringing yourself back into the present moment. This is useful for when you’re feeling anxious or experiencing some feelings of derealization or depersonalization. Here’s what to do. Identify the following:
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel or touch around you
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
If it’s difficult to do this in your head, try saying it out loud or writing it down!
A body scan simply consists of scanning your body. The trick is to do this without judgement. Start at the top of your head. Just notice any tension or soft feeling. Notice if you feel nothing at all or if you’re holding a lot there. Maybe you have a little headache. Maybe you feel your hair sitting on your head. Maybe you feel nothing. Take note of it, and move on, progressively moving down your body. After the top of your head, go to your forehead. Ask yourself the same question. What am I noticing? Don’t judge it. If you notice tension in your forehead, simply acknowledge it, and move on. Don’t label it as good or bad, and don’t try to fix it. Continue down to your eyes, nose, cheeks, jaw, neck, chest, stomach, etc. Go all the way until you get to your toes. I suggest deep breathing as you do this too. If you find it difficult to walk yourself through this, you can find many body scans on YouTube or meditation apps where someone
will walk you through it!
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is very similar to the body scan. The difference is the muscle
relaxation. Again, start at the top of your head. Notice any tension you may feel. If you do feel tension, maybe notice what it would feel like to relax the tension, or have it soften. When I walk clients through this, I like to suggest they breathe into the tension, and as they breathe out, imagine the tension softening in that spot or melting away. Continue down the body to your forehead, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, jaw, chest, etc. Notice if there is tension and relax that tension with your breath as you breathe.
Another option for progressive muscle relaxation is to tense each part of your body one by one and holding that tension for a few seconds, then releasing the tension and breathing out at the same time. For example, if you started on the opposite end with your toes, you would tense your toes as tight as you can for 3 or 5 seconds, then release as you breathe out. You continue to do this all the way up your body with each muscle. Again, you can have another person walk you all the way through this on YouTube or mindfulness apps.
The effects of yoga are so vast and important that I plan to do a separate post about it. For
now, I want to point out just a few of my favorite benefits of yoga!
1. Yoga conditions your body and mind to be aware and that you can reach a peak and
then fall or level out. If you’ve ever done yoga with someone instructing you, you may
be familiar with this. A yoga teacher may suggest a more difficult pose, and state
something like, “Lets hold this pose for 10 seconds, and just notice”. You may notice
your breath, or where you feel the most stretch or tightness. After 10 seconds, your
instructor will have you release slowly to a more relaxed or comfortable pose for a few
seconds. This process helps to train your mind and body that you can feel
uncomfortable or stressed, but you will always hit a peak and come back down.
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk writes about a study he did in his book The Body Keeps the
Score, where he and his colleagues studied the effects of yoga on clients with PTSD
symptoms. He states, “The emphasis is not on getting the poses ‘right’ but on helping
the participants notice which muscles are active at different times. The sequences are
designed to create a rhythm between tension and relaxation- something we hope
clients will begin to perceive in their day-to-day lives”.
2. Yoga also naturally conditions your brain to be mindful of your body. As stated above,
yoga involves you noticing your breath or where your body feel a positive sensation
from or a negative sensation during a particular stretch. Over time, you begin to
understand more about what your body is telling you and what it needs.
Continuing from the yoga study in The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
states, “We do not teach meditation as such, but we do foster mindfulness by
encouraging students to observe what is happening in different parts of the body from
pose to pose”. He continues, “In yoga, you focus your attention on your breathing and
on your sensations moment to moment. You begin to notice the connection between
your emotions and your body-perhaps how anxiety about doing a certain pose actually
throws you off balance. You begin to experiment with changing the way you feel. Will
taking a deep breath relieve that tension in your shoulder? Will focusing on your
exhalations produce a sense of calm? Simply noticing what feel fosters emotional
regulation, and it helps you to stop trying to ignore what is going on inside of you”. Pg.
Deep breathing is a large part of yoga but is important to do on its own too. Deep breathing has been proven to decrease our fight or flight senses. The two most important things to remember when deep breathing are:
1. Long, slow inhales, AND long, slow exhales
2. Breathe through your stomach, not your chest!
You can deep breathe freely, as long as you do it slowly, or you can count to help you keep it
slow. This could look like counting to 4 while you inhale, counting to 4 while you hold your
breath, and counting to 4 while you exhale.
All mindfulness exercise take practice. As I’ve said before, practice these before you need them. Practice while you’re already calm and in a safe space. Most importantly, give yourself grace. Don’t give up if you don’t see positive effects right away. Remember, the fact that you even trying is a great step!