Mindfulness simply means being awake and aware of the present moment. Because this is such a basic concept, it applies itself to many different exercises. Indeed, there are many activities we can do mindfully.
In my private editation lessons, I usually recommend simple mindfulness exercises for people who are just getting started with mindfulness.
You’ll be surprised by how versatile the activities are. As Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. [a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin] told The New York Times: “In the Buddhist tradition, the word ‘mindfulness is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activity, not a single thing.”. And that means that there are plenty of ways to practice mindfulness.
Let’s take a look.
Mindfulness Exercises For Adults
- Mindful eating: Eating slowly and consciously.
- Mindful breathing: Focusing on the movement of the breath around the body. One of the best teachers for this is Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
- Tai chi and QiGong: Eastern physical exercises that use slow and conscious movements.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: A series of exercises created by Jon Kabat Zinn. Includes Body San Meditation.
- Mindful thinking: Being conscious of our thoughts and correcting them, so they are more rational, more compassionate, and less harmful.
- Mindful writing: Focusing on the present moment while writing
7: Gratitude [10 minutes]
Focus on the moment, be aware of the blessings of the present moment, and express gratitude for now.
Research by Y. Joel Wong et. al [2015, Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University] shows significant mental health benefits of practising gratitude.
You can also use a gratitude journal to record all the things you are grateful for from the day.
This can also be great for families. Simply sit in a circle and take it in turns to state one thing you are grateful for about each person in the group.
8: Perceive beauty in everything
There is beauty in everything. Every person, every flower, every teardrop, every smile. Beauty permeates the very fabric of existence. But you have to be mindful to recognise that beauty.
The science of Positive Psychology, devised by Martin Seligman, has proven that people who can see and appreciate beauty are happier and healthier than others.
Be mindful of the following examples of natural beauty:
- blue skies
- the ocean/water
- the way sunlight dances through green leaves
- What natural beauty is there around you right now?
There are so many benefits of smiling. Scientific American tells us that smiling lifts mood. The Mayo Clinic says it reduces pain. The College of Family Physicians says it lowers blood pressure. WebMD says it strengthens the immune system. And the U.S. National Library of Medicine tells us that it improves relationships. 
You can turn smiling into a simple mindfulness exercise. Simply smile and focus on the positive energy you feel around your mouth and face. This will make you happier.
10: Mindful Reminders
It’s a good idea to create some mindful reminders. After all, the word “mindfulness” stems from the Pali word “sati” which according to Bryan Levman means “To remember” [from the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies].
Set an alarm to go off every hour. When the alarm goes off, take sixty seconds—just sixty seconds—to be mindful.
11: 5 senses
Try this five senses mindful awareness activity. Simply read the following script, filling in the blanks:
“I am feeling…” (And then replace “feeling” with “seeing”, “hearing” etc)
12: Mindful Breathing
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a stormy sky. Mindful breathing is my anchor.”
When we are in the chaos of life, we can return to our breath to restore mindfulness.
When you feel stressed or anxious, take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Meditate on the movement of your breath.
13: “Right Speech”
One of the best Buddhist mindfulness activities for groups is right speech—the idea that all speech should be kind, compassionate, and loving.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997) states that the enlightened person “speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world”
Find a group of friends and tell each person that they are going to speak mindfully. One person starts talking. The others listen mindfully. When someone says something mindless or “ignorant” the other people in the group ask them to rephrase it in a mindful way (a compassionate, enlightened, rational and non-judgmental way).
14: Practice the “Middle Way.”
Did you know: Buddhists are more satisfied in life than the average person according to a study from Paul Ekman (2003). One reason is because of the Buddhist habit of majjhima patipada, which is the “middle way”.
The middle way is about moderation. It is about not indulging and not starving yourself. It’s about avoiding extremes. In other words, living in moderation.
15: Mindful Eating
The next time you eat something, choose the food mindfully. Eat mindfully and slowly. Pay attention to what you’re eating. Be aware of what it is, where it comes from, what it tastes like… everything.
Psychologist Jean Kristeller at Indiana State University and colleagues at Duke University say that mindfulness helps us distinguish between emotional and physical hunger and satiety and introduces a “moment of choice” between the urge and eating. [source: Harvard Medical School]
16: Mindfulness at Work
One of the best ways to be mindful at work is to do a little bit of yoga in your office chair.
The majority of people live too sedentary lifestyles. Scientific research shows that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to premature death [European Society of Cardiology, 2019]. To counteract this, do some simple yoga poses and stretches in your office chair, while mindfully meditating on the movement of your body.
For more on this, read our article How To Practice Mindfulness At Work.
Pratyahara is a yoga practice for the mind that comes from the teaching of Patanjali and the Eight Limbs of Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras.
In pratyahara yoga, we reduce negative influences (such as negative people) and increase positive influences.
To do so, be mindful of the effect of different people, objects, and sources of information (like TV, Facebook etc.). When you come across negative influences, find ways to reduce them—such as turning off the TV or ending an abusive relationship.
18: Focus on one thing
One of easy mindfulness exercises is just to do whatever you are doing, but slowly and more consciously. Take the time to slow down each day. One way to make this a habit is to choose specific times when you will slow down (such as at lunch break).
19: Connect with your body
Take moments to be consciously aware of your body language and your posture. Hold your body with intent, like you would when practising yoga poses.pl
Body language directly affects mood [Michalak, J., Rohde, K., & Troje, N. F. (2014)]. Correcting your body language can reduce anxiety.
There is a kind of alternative yoga called Laughter Yoga that is a fun mindfulness activity that groups can do together. Get into a group and deliberately start laughing. Now consciously observe the energy of laughing. It is a fun, playful energy. Also listen to other people in the group laughing. This will make you feel happy and playful.
21: Mindful Shower
Here is how to take a mindful shower.
- Get the shower to the right temperature
- Get in the shower.
- Close your eyes.
- Be conscious of the sounds, feelings, and scents in the shower.
- Mindfully wash your body.
- Express gratitude for the water.
Jason N Linder, PsyD says, “The shower has all the essential ingredients of a sanctuary: privacy, silence (besides the water), and no interruptions—plus, it can be nice to be naked. ”
I recommend setting an alarm that reminds you to meditate every day.
Start with just consciously breathing. Close your eyes and focus on the movement of your breath around your body. Take 108 breaths. Then express gratitude for your meditation. And of course, you might like to schedule a mindfulness lesson with me.
Water is one of the most divine things in the world. It’s pure, and it’s perhaps the number one representation of the power of nature. The next time you’re around water, just take a moment to meditate on it. Focus on the flow of the water. Feel the energy and notice how free water is. Ask that sense of freedom to enter your own life.
Rain too. Rain is the healing of the land, the purifying of the world and the connection between the sky and the earth. It’s symbolic of the perpetual cycle of life. Whenever there’s rain, be conscious of it. Stand out in the rain and feel the cold droplets cleansing your spirit. This is a wonderfully relaxing mindfulness exercise.
24: Zen Walking
- Take yourself somewhere relaxing where there is a clear path to walk
- Close your eyes and take ten conscious breaths
- Begin to walk slowly. Meditate on the sensation of movement in your body.
- Be mindful of the energy of movement.
- Every 27 breaths, take 10 breaths in which you meditate on the sights and sounds of the scenery around you
- Express gratitude for the meditation.
25: Read inspiring books / quotes
Books are beautiful. When you read a book, you experience many of the same states as you do when you meditate. Your mind slows down. You relax. The noise dissipates. Your heart rate lowers.
26: Mindful Intention
It can be easy to turn your day into a blur. You start with ideas of what you want or need to do, and you set about doing them. But the plan doesn’t quite work out, so you end up doing two things at once, then three things… and you’re not really focusing on any of them.Tell yourself the one thing you’re going to do. Do that one thing. Complete it. Then move on.
This is a habit of mindful intent. We are choosing to do one thing, and then focusing on that one thing absolutely.
The sense of smell is immensely powerful. When we smell things, we bring memories to mind according to Live Science. Therefore, we can use the sense of smell to get in touch with our memories.
- Take yourself somewhere you will be surrounded by pleasant fragrances
- Mindfully observe one specific scent.
- Focus on the smell. Meditate on it.
- Scents bring up thoughts and emotions. Be mindful of these.
- If a specific memory arises, meditate on it. Ask what it means in the here and now.
Intuition is very powerful. Science suggests that people are at their wisest when they listen to that little voice inside. Let your inner voice speak to you and listen.
29: One Minute Breathing
Mindful breathing is great for anxiety because when we breathe properly, we relax.
Every now and then, take a one-minute break to focus on your breathing.
This exercise gives you a quick boost of concentration. Plus, it helps with stress by promoting the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, reducing amygdala activity, and balancing cortisol [Harvard Medical School, 2011].
Simply spending 20 minutes mindfully observing nature will make you happier and healthier [Mathew White, European Centre for Environment & Human Health, University of Exeter, 2019].
- To do this exercise, start by picking an object of natural beauty; a waterfall, for instance, or a flower.
- Once you’ve chosen a subject to meditate on, begin to observe the object through your senses. You can do this in just a couple of minutes, that’s all you need.
- I personally love rainbows. Whenever there’s a rainbow out, I’ll spend five minutes just consciously observing it.
- Allow yourself to really appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the thing you’re meditating on. Let your spirit connect with the object. You will find this immensely relaxing
31: All day long
Use this exercise to be mindful all day. This technique uses what I call “Anchors”, which are basically reminders.
It’s easier than it sounds. If you’d like to do this exercise, simply pick a few things that you do every day—for instance, turning the door handle, having a shower, opening the curtains…
When you open the curtains (for example) allow yourself to be completely conscious. Take that moment, those few seconds, to be completely mindful—the same with turning the door handle or having a shower.
Every day you perform these simple tasks, so use them as mindful reminders. Through a process of repetition, you will train your brain to be conscious at those moments. The process will soon become automatic. Then, you’ll have mindful moments without even trying.
33: Mindful Listening
- When you’re listening to someone speaking, just focus on the sound.
- Don’t judge, just listen.
- Tune in to the sound of their voice and observe it consciously.
- If what they say causes you to think or feel things, consciously observe those thoughts and feelings, and remind yourself that they are only thoughts and feelings.
- You can also do this listening exercise with music. If you play an instrument, you likely do this already. I’ve played the piano for thirty years. When I play, I sink into the music. I let it take me. I flow with the sound of the piano.
- And if you’re not a musician, hey, no sweat, just put a piece of relaxing music on and listen to it mindfully. You’ll find this supremely tranquil.
If you’d like to learn more about mindful speaking and listening, I highly recommend The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh.
34: Describe things
Try mindfully describing the beauty you see. The beautiful sky, for instance. What do you see when you mindfully observe a beautiful sky?
The trick here is to observe the things you’re experiencing through your senses. If you’re out for a walk, describe the sky—the colours, the shapes, the feelings it creates in you—describe the scenery, describe the motion of walking, and so on.
This simple technique trains your mind to be aware of your senses. It improves the communication between your conscious mind and your unconscious mind. And all you need to do is describe a few things around you.
35: With pets
Grab a cat/dog/horse/octopus (hey, whatever works) and snuggle it. Close your eyes. Feel that sense of love and warmth. Be consciously aware of that. This will put some love in your soul.
Mindfulness Exercises For Kids
In this section, I am going to share my best mindfulness exercises for kids of all ages, from toddlers to middle schoolers to teens.
By practising these, kids can focus their minds, improve their health, and feel good about themselves.
The following are based on my own ideas and inspiration from the likes of Hannah Sherman LCSW, Kira Willey, Anni Betts, Kristina Sargent, and Sally Arnold.
36: 10-minute mindfulness
This is an easy mindfulness exercise for children that helps them to relax, focus and unwind.
- Ask your child to close their eyes and focus on their breathing.
- Keep an eye on the time. When two minutes have passed, proceed to the next step.
- Ask them to focus on what they are hearing. It may help if you ask them to describe, in detail, the sounds they are hearing. This makes them tune in to the sounds around them, which will cause them to focus on the present moment, which decreases rumination and help with any negative thoughts.
- Ask them to pay attention to the sensation of touch. Have them describe what they can feel (for instance, wind on the face, soft grass at their feet etc.).
- Ask them to focus on scents. How does the air smell? Are there any other scents they are aware of? Etc.
- Now move to taste and repeat.
- Finally, ask them to open their eyes and simply look around. You may ask them to focus on light, on shades and on other visuals to make them more aware of sight.
In this age of constant stimulation, many children (and adults) struggle to focus according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This technique boosts focus and concentration by asking your kids to just zone in on one thing at a time.
37: Mindful Breathing
- Ask your child to sit comfortably with good posture and to close their eyes.
- Bring their attention to the sensation of their breath coming and going through the space between their mouth and nose.
- Ask them to place both their hands on their stomach and to feel their breath rising and falling from there.
- You may also ask them to repeat a simple word as they breathe in and out, saying “In” on in-breaths and “Out” when exhaling.
- Work in cycles of five breaths. Have them count five breaths and then ask them to be aware of any thoughts or feelings in their mind.
- If they are experiencing thoughts or feelings, ask them to let go and to return their attention to their breath.
Many kids struggle with listening skills. If your kids struggle to listen, try the following script.
- Ask students to focus on their breathing for a few minutes.
- Explain to your students that they are going to hear a sound and that they should focus on the sound as it gets quieter and quieter.
- Ask them to nod their head when they can no longer hear that sound.
- Start playing some relaxing sounds. For instance, you might like to use a Tibetan singing bowl or an alternative source of what I call “Zen Sounds”–sounds that produce an inner calm
- Gradually quieten the sound. When they nod their head (saying they can no longer hear it) have them count five breaths again.
- Repeat this exercise once for each year of their age.
The purpose of this activity is to increase students’ auditory awareness while also quieting their minds. Because they are focusing on listening to a quiet sound, they will naturally stop a lot of the mental noise that they may have (because they need to be inwardly silent in order to listen). This produces mental peace and inner silence. And it is also a good way to improve students’ listening skills.
39: Eating exercise
- Gather some food into a plate or bowl.
- Remove any wrappers.
- Have your child count to five breaths.
- Now ask your child to be mindful of the food on the plate, being aware of the feeling, the image and the scent of the food. If they are holding cutlery, you may ask them to be mindful of that too.
- Ask your child to take a small portion of the food and to eat it slowly while focusing on the taste. Ideally, they will chew slowly and will focus on the activity of eating.
- Once they have finished eating, ask them to describe the taste and feel of the food.
- Finally, ask them to take five conscious breaths.
This exercise helps kids to be more mindful. And it makes them more aware and more appreciative of food, which can help with any eating problems.
If you would like to learn more about this, I highly recommend Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung.
40: Mindful Walking
Walking is one of the traditional meditation exercises in Zen Buddhism and is a great exercise.
- Take a short walk with your kid(s) somewhere relaxing and safe.
- Ask them to focus on the sensation of movement in their feet and legs.
- Continue walking slowly, while focusing on the movement.
- If your child shows a lack of concentration at any time, stop walking and have them count five breaths.
- After the five breaths, continue to walk mindfully.
- After 20 minutes of walking, stop.
- Ask them to describe how they feel.
41: Play Activities
- Start by asking them to take ten conscious breaths to relax and focus.
- Now tell your child that they can play in whatever way they like but with one condition: they must be mindful of everything they do. Whatever they choose to do during play, they must focus on it absolutely, as we do when meditating.
- Ask your child to be aware of all five senses, being mindful of taste, touch, sight, sound, and hearing.
- If they lose focus, use five mindful breaths to regain their attention.
This exercise boosts children’s concentration and is also lots of fun.
42: Art-based mindfulness
Many children love painting and drawing, both of which can easily be turned into a meditation practice. Try this simple mindful art exercise.
- Find an object that your child wants to draw or paint.
- Now ask them to observe every aspect of the object for 5 minutes.
- Ask them to describe the shape of the object, the feeling, and so on. This encourages them to practice mindfulness.
- They can then draw or paint the object, but they must focus absolutely on the object while they create their art.
- Get hold of a fun and simple recipe that your child might like to cook (some healthy cookies, for instance).
- Gather the ingredients, along with any utensils you need.
- Go through the recipe. Each time you get to a new item, ask your kids to consciously observe that item.
- Ask them to watch the effect that each new ingredient has one the colour, taste, touch, and smell of the food.
- Once the food is ready, have them eat it mindfully (see number 4 in this list)
This mindful cooking exercise boosts present-moment mindfulness and encourages kids to be more mindful of what they are eating.
A very enjoyable way to teach kids to meditate is with music. This is how I personally learnt mindfulness myself, all those many, many years ago. I played the piano and would meditate on the music I was creating. All kids can do this technique, whether they play an instrument or not.
- Find a tune that your child can hum or sing (something simple like “Twinkle Twinkle”)
- Play the tune to them for a few minutes and ask them to listen closely. They should learn the tune as they listen.
- Ask them to recite it to you (either by humming, singing, or playing an instrument)
- Ask them to focus on the music 100% while they recite it.
- Afterwards, ask them to describe the way the music makes them feel.
This activity makes your kids more aware of sound, and it enhances the mind-body connection. By focusing on the movements of their body while they perform the music, your child connects with their body in the present moment, boosting present moment mindfulness. It also makes them more aware of the way they are feeling, which can help with emotional control.
45: Group mindfulness script
This final activity is simple but powerful.
Meditation is much more effective when practised in a group. I highly recommend informing your friends about meditation for children and arranging group sessions. You can use most of the methods we have looked at above, and simply do the as a group activity.
I’ve personally been helping parents to teach meditation to children for years. Not only does it help both parents, teachers and kids to relax and focus, but it creates a strong, supportive group that is immensely beneficial.
46: Mindfulness Toys
As well as the exercises we have looked at above, there are also specific mindfulness toys for toddlers and young kids. They include things like the Breathe With Me Barbie and card games.
If you’d like to learn more, I recommend Mindfulness For Beginners by Jon Kabat Zinn.
You can download this mindfulness exercises workbook as a PDF by clicking here.
If you require a more complex kind of mindfulness, for more serious reasons, try looking into the following:
- The group mindfulness-based treatment program by Fleming & Kocovski (2007) which is used for social anxiety.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (or DBT), which is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy used for those with Borderline Personality Disorder
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison