When I relax, I trend toward doing something mindless. Some of these activities (like 2 hours of Gilmore Girls) are fine in moderation, but sometimes it’s just a method of escapism. Practicing mindfulness helps me engage in more intentional relaxation.  Unfortunately I can’t avoid every problem, uncomfortable thought, or stressful situation. The ability to calmly pass through these situations, thoughts, and feelings is something I aspire to.

I was talking to someone about mindfulness and mentioned one of my favorite apps, Breathe, Relax, Think. It’s free and has some really easy exercises to guide you. You can choose your current mood and goal (for example if you want to be energized, calmed from anxiety, or soothed away from frustration). You can also choose how much time you’d like to take (I think 5-15 minutes is the range). If you don’t want to bother with the app, here’s the gist:

5 second crash course to Mindfulness:

1. Find a space that isn’t overly stimulating. You can practice this exercise with your eyes opened or closed. For me sound is more important than sight. Background noise is fine as long as it isn’t too loud or distracting.

2. Take a deep breath and either close your eyes or focus on something nearby, for example the leaves on a tree outside your window. Your breathing should generally be calm and slow. It should also be comfortable, you don’t need to take giant deep breaths, but your goal is to breathe more deeply than your standard shallow breathing.

3. Focus on your breath as you take your time to notice how your body feels, slowly working from your head to your toes (or vice versa). For example, notice how your scalp feels, any tension in your face, moving down to your neck and shoulders, your gut, legs, feet, etc.  Feel free to stretch or tense your muscles as tightly as you can and then relax them. You will notice your mind start to wander and thoughts will pop into your head. Notice them, and let them pass. Some people visualize these thoughts as bubbles or clouds that float away. Other people visualize their cleansing breath coming in, swirling through their body, and exhaling negative thoughts or energy.

4. This exercise can take as long or short as you’d like. I usually take 4 minutes or so. I take longer if I’m feeling particularly anxious, stressed, preoccupied with thoughts, or if I am trying to relax before falling asleep.

I just did this today while facing the corner of my cubicle. At first you feel like it’s doing nothing, but once you practice it a few times, your mind starts to do it more easily and without having to concentrate as carefully. It has certainly helped me with back pain  by reminding me to check  on my posture and levels of tension. Sometimes tension creeps into your hunching shoulders without your noticing.

Feel free to share any mindfulness exercises you know or your favorite method of relaxation! I’m always looking for mindful ways to relax.