Strengthening focus and attention – Mindfulness exercises for every day

Mindfulness is a practice where we’re consciously present yet relaxed, a stark contrast to the tension and stress we typically experience in our daily lives. It’s not about exerting effort, but instead, effortlessly discovering our current experience. That’s why mindfulness is often likened to “falling into awareness.” It’s essential to embrace mindfulness by focusing on the present moment and guiding our attention. Keep this in mind while trying the exercises below, and remember, mindfulness is all about the balance of focus and intentional attention.

Exercise: Exploring focus

1. Close your eyes or, if you prefer, keep them open with your gaze fixed on one place.

2. Notice what comes to your consciousness from the outside world. You may have noticed sounds or the feeling of temperature in the room.

3. Now turn your attention to your inner world. Notice what catches your attention. For example, you may notice the contact between your body and your chair, or the sensations on your face, or your breath. You may also notice feelings or thoughts.

4. Shift your attention from the top of your head to your jaw and check if you are clenching your teeth. If you notice tension in your jaw, relax the area and notice the change in sensation. Notice how easy or difficult it is for you to focus on the outer and inner world.

Usually, in response to the sensations of our senses, we often automatically start thinking, comparing, reacting or remembering. For example, if we see or hear a siren, we may start to think of an ambulance, or we may react anxiously to its loudness. The next exercise instead invites us to stay with the direct experience of the senses, such as noticing a sound without judgment or evaluation or comparison. This exercise is the practice of becoming more fully present, not just falling into habitual reactions. Additionally, focusing on the five senses can help us feel more relaxed. It is actually a way for our mind to rest.

Exercise: Tune into the five senses

Imagine tuning into different stations on the radio. The first station receives a visual signal, the second is tuned to sounds, the third to smells, the fourth transmits taste, the fifth a touch. Let’s go through the stations in order. Practice “just experiencing” each one and keep an open mind.

Sight. Explore your surroundings with your eyes. Notice what’s around you as if you were a photographer interested in capturing interesting lines, colors, textures and angles in your view. You may notice different judgments or thoughts about what you see, but don’t get caught up in them. Simply practice “just looking”.

Listen. Tune into the sounds around you. Focus on the sounds as they come and go, and note all the moments of silence in between. Practice awareness of sounds without getting caught up in mental associations with each sound. If you begin to analyze the sound, gently bring your attention back to just listening. Be open even to unpleasant sounds. If you happen to read this in a quiet space (although few are completely silent when you open your awareness to sound), you may scratch your head and notice the sound.

The smell. Pay attention to the smells around you, paying attention to any smell. If there is no smell, pay attention to the absence of smell. Look for opportunities in your environment to open your awareness to smells. For example, you can bring your hand to your nose and notice if you smell anything on the back of your hand, palm, or fingertips; maybe a trace of soap, or the smell of food you ate or simply sweat. As before, refrain from thinking about the smell. Instead, practice “just smelling.” You can also take some fruit, open a marker or smell a flower or plant. Be creative!

Taste. Then switch to the sense of taste. Choose a small bite of food, such as a raisin, a chocolate bar, or a drink. As you bite into food or take a sip, pay attention to the basic quality of taste (salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and so on). Practice “just tasting” as if you were eating this type of food for the first time. To enhance this experience, try foods you haven’t eaten before.

Touch. Finally, notice your sense of touch. As babies, we used our hands and whole bodies to learn about the world. See if you can explore this sense by finding different things and surfaces to touch and feel. For example, you can bring the back of your hand to your lips and gently touch it, noticing any sensations there. Rub your hands together and see how your palms feel afterwards. For a stronger sensation, try holding an ice cube.

Exercise Author: Debra E Burdick

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