The 8 Most Popular MBSR Exercises and Techniques
The website www.themindfulword.org provides an excellent outline of some of the most popular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction exercises.
As expected, mindfulness is heavily featured in MBSR techniques. While it’s easy to think of mindfulness as one certain state of mind, there are actually several different ways to practice or engage in mindfulness, with varying areas of emphasis.
Practicing mindfulness with an emphasis on focus involves looking inward to observe what is happening in your mind. It can be described as “eyes on the road” in that there is a singular focus on one experience. To keep your focus, it can be helpful to use a particular stimuli (like breath) to keep yourself grounded in the moment (The Mindful Word, 2012).
Unlike focusing, practicing awareness emphasizes the external instead of the internal. Awareness focuses on the mind as well, but from an outside perspective. When trying mindfulness from an awareness angle, try to view your mental activity as if it belonged to someone else.
In general, awareness mindfulness can be described as looking at your thoughts and feelings from outside of your usual self-centered experience, and observing your mind as a stream of consciousness without attaching judgment.
For an example of a simple awareness exercise, use the following guide:
“Start by taking your mind inwards for a moment by focusing on the breath. Take a few gentle deep breaths, from the belly. In and out. Re—lax… Let go…Continue to breathe for as long as you wish.
Now take your mind outwards. See your thoughts, feelings, moods, and sensations as objects floating down a stream, coming into view and vanishing from sight. Simply watch without judgment or analysis. Just watch them pass.
Now pluck an object from the stream and focus on it. Let the other sensations and thoughts go by in the background. Note any new thoughts or feelings that arise from observing this object. Sit with these thoughts and feelings for a moment.
Whenever you’re ready to leave this object behind, simply deposit it on a leaf and let it float downstream” (The Mindful Word, 2012).
Shifting from Focus to Awareness
For switching from focus mindfulness to awareness mindfulness, try these tips:
Watch the stream of consciousness, dispassionately
Pluck something from the stream and deliberately focus on it (e.g. a dream imagine, a memory, a pain)
The Mindful Word outlines several popular mindfulness exercises, including:
The exercise described above is one such exercise that facilitates mindfulness by focusing on the breath.
Lie with your back to the floor or bed and your eyes closed. Move your awareness through your body, focusing on one area at a time. Stop whenever you find an area that is unusually tight or sore and focus your breath on this area until it relaxes. You can use a calm and healing visualization at this point as well (e.g., a ball of white light melting into the sore spot).
For an extended guide to practicing the body scan, click here.
Hold an object that is special or interesting to you. Focus all of your senses on it and note the information your senses feed back to you, including its shape, size, color, texture, smell, taste, or sounds it makes when manipulated.
Like the previous exercise, this exercise can be completed with all of your senses while you focus on a food. Eat slowly, noticing the smell, taste, and feel of the food.
Take a leisurely walk at a gentle, but familiar pace. Observe how you walk, and pay attention to the sensations in your body as you walk. Notice how your shoulders feel (Tight? Loose? Strong?), the sensations in your feet as they meet the ground, the swing of your hips with each stride. Match your breathing to your footsteps.
You can practice mindful stretching with any set of stretches that you like, but if you want a guided practice you can give yoga a try (more on that in the next section).
The Mindful Word also describes two awareness exercises in addition to the six mindfulness exercises above.
If you’d like to try an exercise improving your awareness, try one of the following exercises:
This exercise involves only you and your thoughts. Instead of focusing on your thoughts as they rise to the surface, let them pass by like clouds in the sky. Refrain from attaching value judgments to your thoughts (e.g., “I’m terrible for thinking that” or “What a kind thought! I am a good person.”). If it helps, you can identify or even vocalize each thought, feeling, or sensation as they come up (i.e., “sore neck, pizza, best friend, anger, tingling, empty stomach, pizza again, grandma, I miss her”; The Mindful Word, 2012).
Worry or Urge “Surfing”
View your thoughts and feelings as “surfing” on a wave. Turn your awareness to the warning signs of a negative feeling like worry, anxiety, or anger approaching. Imagine the negative emotion coming at you like a wave that gets bigger and bigger as it approaches, then crests as it reaches you, and finally falls as it moves away. Imagine “riding” that wave as it passes, and let the negative emotion go with it. Make sure to celebrate your ability to let the emotion go, but acknowledge that more will come eventually and remember to “ride the wave” again when they do (The Mindful Word, 2012).