By guest author, Laura Baker
While the reasons aren’t completely understood, the research is clear: American stress is on the rise, and it’s taking a big toll on our mental health. More than 18 percent of American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and spending on anti-anxiety medications has more than doubled in the last 20 years. The next time you’re feeling anxious, unfocused, or upset, try these three mindfulness exercises that you can do in 10 minutes or less.
Meditation is probably the most well-known mindfulness practice, and there’s a reason why its popularity has skyrocketed. Meditation can help clear your mind, manage stress, and enhance your creativity. One study even showed changes in the parts of the brain that process stress, focus, and calmness after only three days of meditation.
To boost your mood all day long, perform this simple meditation exercise first thing in the morning.
- Find a comfortable, distraction-free spot to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes and breathe normally. Don’t worry about breathing in a particular pattern.
- Concentrate on your natural breathing. Focus on how your chest opens and your stomach rises and falls with each breath.
- When your mind wanders, refocus. It’s OK if you have trouble staying focused on your breathing; wandering thoughts are normal, and meditation takes practice. Take a moment to acknowledge the thoughts, and then gently return your attention to your breathing.
Start by meditating for as long as you can, and work your way up to a 10-minute session as you gain confidence.
Yogic breathing, or Pranayama, is an ancient rhythmic breathing practice designed to release stress and promote calmness. There’s a wide variety of yogic breathing techniques, but the one introduced here, Ujjayi Pranayama or Conqueror Breath, is great for beginners.
- Sit comfortably. You don’t need to sit in a full lotus pose; just make sure you’re comfortable so you can focus on your breathing. Keep your back straight and your chest open.
- Close your eyes.
- Inhale through your nose, then exhale slowly through a wide-open mouth. Gently constrict your throat and direct your exhale across it, creating a drawn out hissing sound, like if you were fogging a mirror with your breath. Repeat several times.
- Close your mouth and continue the same breathing pattern, but this time exhaling through your nose. Keep letting your exhale draw across the back of your throat. Repeat several times.
Aim for about five minutes of yogic breathing your first time, and try to increase it to 10 minutes as you become more comfortable with the practice. To amplify the relaxing effects, lie on your back with your arms and legs spread for a few minutes after you finish.
Connecting to the natural environment can do wonders for promoting calmness and clarity. When you let yourself become absorbed in the natural world, you’re forced to be in the present, not worried about all the things on your to-do list. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take 10 minutes to step outside and practice this simple mindfulness exercise.
- Choose something in the natural environment to look at. This may be a bird, the clouds, or even the grass rustling in the breeze.
- Focus on the object. Try to not let yourself get distracted by your thoughts or other activity in the environment.
- Observe the object’s features. Erase what you think it looks like, and discover its colors, textures, and movements as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Let yourself be captivated by its presence.
If you notice your thoughts roaming during this exercise, try describing the features of the object aloud to help keep your mind present and focused.
Whether you struggle with mental illness or just need a way to wind down from everyday stress, mindfulness exercises can be a powerful tool for improving your mental health without resorting to dangerous coping methods. And the best thing about practicing mindfulness? Anyone can do it.