February 21, 2022

Mindfulness & Self Compassion Meditations & Journal Exercises

Written by Rachel Eddins

mindfulness meditation exercises

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness describes the non-judgmental act of staying present. It guides us to embrace the present moment. Staying present can alter how we see our world. In turn, this shift in perspective can lead to shifts in how you think and behave.

Mindful means to observe, not to change or suppress thoughts, feelings and sensations.

Mindfulness is not an activity, so to speak. It’s a lifestyle choice that requires commitment. Like almost any lifestyle change, it will take a little time to see and feel the results of your mindfulness practice. This explains why so many people urge you to create a daily routine.

Mindfulness is a way of living and can be experienced in many different forms and applied in a variety of ways. Here we will provide a few examples of how you can incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine.

There are two categories of mindfulness practices: formal and informal. 

  • Formal practice involves setting aside a specific time each day or twice a day to be mindful, and it can be done either sitting or walking (see mindfulness meditations below). 
  • Informal practice refers to paying mindful, nonjudgmental attention while doing certain routine daily activities such as taking a shower, washing the dishes, making the bed, driving, making lunch, going for a walk, and so on. Start by choosing one daily activity at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed, but there is no such thing as too much mindfulness

Mindfulness Meditation

When some people hear the word meditation, they worry that they have to subscribe to a certain religious or spiritual belief, or fold themselves into a pretzel and chant. Not so.

You are training your brain to default to a more relaxed state. That happens only with regular practice.

Just as we wouldn’t expect a marathon runner to be able to run a race without training, don’t expect that you’ll immediately reap the benefits of meditation. Slow and steady. One step at a time. 

Mindfulness meditation is an active way of practicing mindfulness. It can be a challenging practice to start, so start small with shorter meditations. Remember, the goal is simply to notice that your mind has wandered off and bring it back to the meditation; not to be 100% fully meditating.

There are numerous benefits to mindfulness meditation: 

  • improved immune system
  • reduction in anxiety, stress, depression
  • improved emotional regulation & reduced emotional pain
  • reduced physical/chronic pain
  • improved sleep
  • greater focus
  • improved creativity
  • better memory
  • increased compassion
  • more gray matter in the brain – leading to less cognitive decline in aging

Start with Breathing

The first step to practicing mindfulness is to notice your breathing. Just pay attention to your breath, both your inhale and your exhale. Where is it located? If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, you can try a few deep breaths to see how it feels.

  • Breathe in through your nose (3-5 counts), hold (5-7 counts), and exhale through your mouth (7-9 counts). Exhale twice as long as your inhale.
  • Be sure you are “belly breathing” vs. chest breathing.
  • If you get dizzy, exhale for 2 counts longer and pause for 2 counts before you start to inhale again.

Here are some mindfulness meditation exercises to try, feel free to find your own:

Remember we each have our own preferences. Sometimes you might want a meditation with music, sometimes without. Sometimes a woman’s voice will be calming, sometimes a man’s. Explore, experiment, find what works best for you.

There are several smart phone apps offering accessible mindfulness meditation programs such as Headspace and Calm.

Mindful Exercises

  • Simple Practices for greater happiness – improve your mood, protect from stress and strengthen your immune system with these simple mindful practices or exercises
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – tensing and releasing your muscles brings your attention to your body in a mindful way and releases tension and stress
  • Stretching To Increase Flexibility – Getting started with moving your body? Stretching can be a great way to prevent aches and injury and just feels good! Give this nine minute routine a try.

Mindfulness of Thoughts

We often get attached to our thoughts. Thoughts are NOT facts – you can learn to accept thoughts without believing them. This practice helps to separate from thoughts so they have less influence over mood and behavior. Set an alarm to practice at different times of the day every day.

  • Observe thoughts as if they are outside of you; attached to balloons that float away, leaves on a stream, drifting clouds, scrolling by like news updates, wandering in the front door and out the back.
  • Describe them without judgment: that’s the past, that’s the future, that’s a judgment, that’s not true.
  • Imagine your thoughts dissolving with your breath. Shift your attention to your breathing.
  • If you get stuck in a thought, (“What if something goes wrong, I can’t believe I did that, I’m not likable”), notice whether it is an old thought. Recognize the trigger and practice focusing on the facts.

Mindfulness Exercises with Food: Mindful Eating

Practicing a mindfulness exercise with food not only helps you reap the benefits of mindfulness, it also helps you bring awareness to hunger, fullness and food choices. When we eat mindfully, we are in tune with our body’s response to food. Taste, texture and smell are important, but also how food makes us feel physically. And again, how we feel 30 minutes to 2 hours later.

Challenge yourself to begin with one bite of food each day to eat mindfully; then slowly increase it one meal (in which you aren’t typically distracted or rushing).

Mindfulness of Pleasant Events

Practice mindfulness of pleasant events and increase pleasure in your life.

  • Notice when something positive occurs; whether you feel comfortable in your body, experience a positive emotion, or a positive event.
  • Stop and focus on allowing the positive emotion to sink in. Notice any resistance you have as well. Notice any tendency to move past the emotion. Take in the good feeling. Soak it up!

What Is Self Compassion?

Chris Germer, co-founder of the Mindful Self-Compassion Center says,

“Self-compassion involves the capacity to comfort and soothe ourselves, and to motivate ourselves with encouragement, when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Self-compassion is learned in part by connecting with our innate compassion for others, and self-compassion also helps to grow and sustain our compassion for others.”

Mindful self compassion is about using mindfulness in a more targeted way, to support emotional development with overcoming feelings of personal suffering (Germer, 2009). It’s using the sense of awareness developed within mindfulness and applying it to support our emotional development.

Mindful Self-Compassion Meditations:

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) combines the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion to enhance our capacity for emotional wellbeing. Together, mindfulness and self-compassion comprise a state of warm, connected, presence during difficult moments in our lives. Following are mindfulness meditations focused on self compassion.

Mindfulness Meditations from Compassion Focused Therapy:

Meditations

 

Mindful Self Compassion Meditations & Journal Exercises:

Chris Germer co-developed the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program with Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher and pioneer.

Here are meditations and journal exercises from their program:

Meditations

Meditations from the Compassionate Mind

Self Compassion Journal Exercises

There are many ways to practice mindfulness in daily life. Try one of these activities or exercises provides inspiration for you on where to start. Find what works for you and let go of expectations of yourself practicing as a mindful yogi on a beach. Start small and go with what works for you.

Recommended Resources

Meditations to Change Your Brain

The structure of your brain changes constantly, in a dynamic, unfolding process that you yourself can direct to create the life you want. Drawing on a vast body of research spanning more than 30 years, Meditations to Change Your Brain collects the best meditative and contemplative practices to help anyone increase their capacity for joy, love, and spiritual bliss.

Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time

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