5 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Do Anywhere, Anytime (With Your Eyes Open)

21 Feb ‘22
5 min
Editorial Board OpenUp
illustratie van man die mindfulness beoefent

It reduces stress, improves concentration and increases your compassion. The practice of mindfulness has a wide range of proven benefits and – here’s the good news! – it really doesn’t have to be complex or particularly time-consuming. Discover five mindfulness exercises that you do anywhere.

 

Being mindful is all about the little things

 

Mindfulness is a way of focusing your attention so that you become fully aware of the experience you’re having in the present moment. In a previous article, we explained how mindfulness can benefit you.

 

The way we live – always on, over-stimulated, rushed and stressed – isn’t good for us in the long run. It’s not great for us in the short run either, for that matter, but it’s sometimes difficult to break this cycle of busyness.

 

A lot of people assume that to reap the benefits of mindfulness, you need to spend a lot of time sitting still with your eyes closed. This can become a bit of a barrier for people looking to take up the practice (where am I going to find the time?!) – and that’s a shame.

 

Pia Linden, a psychologist at OpenUp, coaches clients in the practice of mindfulness and she is excited to share some tips with you. Because being mindful and fully present in the moment is often about the little things.

 

5 mindfulness exercises you can do anywhere

 

Pia: “I like to help dispel the myth that mindfulness is (just) about meditation. Mindfulness is based on three fundamentals: Intention, attention and attitude (Shapiro et al.) Theoretically, you can be ‘mindful’ without ever practicing meditation. And even though meditation is definitely beneficial and effective, you can still have a mindful experience simply by performing some mindfulness exercises.”

 

1. Mindful check-in

 

Pia: “This is a great exercise to check in with yourself, notice how you’re feeling, and figure out what you need right now. During this exercise, which is a few minutes long, you don’t have to do or change anything. For a moment, you let go of everything going on in the outside world and focus on yourself. If it helps you to relax more fully, you can set a timer for three to five minutes, for example.”

 

How you do it:

  1. Sit comfortably and close your eyes or soften your gaze.
  2. Focus your attention on your breath. Notice how the air flows in and out of your body. You don’t have to change your breathing, simply become aware of it.
  3. Next, shift your focus towards yourself. Ask yourself the question: ‘How am I doing today?’.
  4. Notice if any thoughts, feelings or physical sensations are present. Once again, it isn’t necessary to change anything, nor is that the aim. Simply observe what is present in the moment without judgement.
  5. Finally, you can ask yourself: ‘What do I need right now? What can I do for myself now or later (for example after work)?’ Maybe something will come to mind, but if it doesn’t, that’s also fine.
  6. Take three deep breaths to complete the mindfulness check-in.
  7. Then calmly, at your own pace, come back to the room.

 

2. Mindfulness anchor

 

Pia: “This is a great exercise for anybody, but especially for people who want to practice mindfulness but find it hard to do this in a ‘standard’ way (i.e., meditation). The ‘mindfulness anchor’ is based on a psychological mechanism in which you link a new thought or activity to an existing habit, so that it’s easier to keep it up.”

 

How you do it:

  1. Choose a daily activity, such as brushing your teeth, making a pot of coffee, sitting down at your desk, or tying your shoe laces. Use this as a reminder to practice mindfulness. You’re using this routine as an ‘anchor’.
  2. Each time you do this activity, take a short pause. You can close your eyes for a moment and take three conscious breaths. Then continue what you’re doing, but do it with your full attention. In other words, try to consciously focus on the task at hand. Whenever your thoughts start to drift, make a note of it and bring your attention back to what you’re doing. Try to be fully present.
  3. You can also challenge yourself by initially doing this exercise every day for a week or two.

 

3. Mindfully shift your weight

 

Pia: “This is a great exercise for when you want to feel connected to your body. You can do it anywhere: at the coffee machine, but also, for example, while standing on the bus, where it’s especially easy to focus on your balance. This exercise is perfect if you find it difficult to sit still or you’re in a situation where you simply can’t sit down. It’s one of my favorites because it helps you to get in touch with your body and your feelings.”

 

How you do it:

  1. Stand upright on both feet and focus your attention on your breath. Breathe in and out quietly a few times.
  2. Place your feet firmly on the ground and feel the connection between your feet and the earth.
  3. Now slowly shift your weight to the right. Keep both feet on the ground and try to maintain your balance. Notice how far you can lean towards the right before you lose your balance.
  4. Then shift your weight to the left and repeat the same process. Then do the same towards the front. And then towards the back. Repeat this as many times as you like.
  5. Then notice how throughout this exercise you have focused your full attention on shifting your weight and keeping your balance.

 

4. Five to ten deep breaths

 

Pia: “This one is extremely simple, but oh so effective. Our breath is our most powerful tool for activating our parasympathetic nervous system for rest. I’d also recommend this in situations where you’ve been ‘triggered’ and have a tendency to react on autopilot. This exercise helps you to quickly take a step back from the situation and calm yourself down.”

 

How you do it:

  1. Sit comfortably and close your eyes or soften your gaze. Let the outside world fade away.
  2. Now take a slow, deep breath. Breathe in a way that feels comfortable and natural to you.
  3. See if it feels good to breathe in through your nose and exhale slowly out through your mouth, as if you’re blowing out a candle. Then try to gently extend your exhalations.
  4. Slowly breathe in and out, and repeat five to ten times.
  5. Then calmly, at your own pace, come back to the room.

 

Need some more tips? See our 6 Tips for Living a More Mindful Life

 

5. The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise

 

Pia: “This exercise helps to bring you back to the present moment and refocus on the world around you. The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise is effective if you tend to overthink and easily get swept up in your thoughts, or if you’re in a situation where you want to stay connected to the world around you. I sometimes do this when I’m on my bike, just to appreciate my surroundings.”

 

How you do it:

  1. Wherever you are, calmly take a look around you.
  2. Then calmly name the following: five things that you can see, four things that you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  3. Notice how it feels to bring your attention back to the here and now.
  4. As a side note, this exercise also works well with colors. Look around you and focus on the colors in your surroundings. Can you see anything green? Anything blue? Anything red? Are you then able to detect different shades of these colors, for example something light green or dark green? It becomes about shifting your focus to the world around you, instead of staying with the thoughts in your head.

 

Try them out for yourself. And if you want to deepen your practice, book a one-on-one mindfulness session with our psychologist or join a group session.