Advanced Mindfulness Exercises

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PhysioAdvisor’s Mindfulness Series

Advanced Mindfulness Exercises‘ is the seventh article in our mindful series.

We suggest you read our mindfulness articles systematically to improve your knowledge and practise of mindfulness. Here’s the first article in our progressive series – ‘What is Mindfulness‘.

Advanced Mindfulness Exercises - Mindfulness in Nature


Advanced Mindfulness Exercises

For advanced Mindfulness practitioners, aim to practise at least one mindfulness exercise, 1 – 2 times per day for around 5 – 60 minutes (daily total), on all or most days of the week.

Of course, the most important mindfulness exercise begins when you have finished any formal practise. Incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life by giving your complete attention (via heightened sensory awareness) to whatever you are doing or wherever you are in each moment.

Pay particular attention to mundane activities. What is seemingly insignificant may not be insignificant at all. Make the present moment your home and primary dwelling place. Instead of being lost in thought as your usual state of mind, use your mind to deal with the practical aspects of daily living, then come back to fully attending to the present moment.


Mindfulness of Thoughts

Begin this exercise by sitting or lying on your back in optimal posture.

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a moment to let go of whatever you were doing and settle into this moment.
  • Become aware of your body as a whole, then take 2 or 3 mindful breaths feeling the air come into your lungs, the short pause, the air leaving your lungs and the short rest before you feel the need to breathe again.

Awareness of Thoughts

  • Once you feel ready, let your body and breath recede into the background as you instead shift your attention to your mind.
  • Allow your thoughts to become centre stage in your field of awareness.
  • Become aware of your thoughts and what is currently on your mind.
  • Notice the space between thoughts.
  • Allow each individual thought that arises to be seen and recognised as a thought.
  • Treat each thought equally, simply holding it in attention until it subsides, regardless of whether the thought is pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, urgent or carrying a strong emotional charge.
  • Sometimes it can be helpful to mindfully think ‘I wonder what my next thought is going to be’ then become highly alert as you wait for the next thought to manifest (like a cat waiting to catch a mouse).
  • Continue to rest on the bank of your thought stream simply watching your thoughts come and go like clouds passing in the sky.
  • Avoid judging, labelling, preferring, rejecting or getting caught up in each thought.
  • Simply observe with curiosity and heightened awareness, moment by moment.
  • If your mind gets lost in thought, become aware of your thought (and how easily you can be carried away), then gently bring your attention back to watching your thoughts with alertness.

Noting

  • Sometimes it can be helpful to note each mental event as they arise by thinking ‘thought’ or ‘image’ then coming back to residing in the awareness itself.
  • Notice also that your thoughts appear in the foreground of your awareness, whilst in the background is a silent, still, observer – your field of attention itself.
  • As you watch your thoughts, become aware of your field of attention, the silent space that allows every thought, feeling or experience to unfold.

Practise for 3 – 20 minutes in each session and repeat 1 – 3 times per day. Once your practise period is complete, remember to bring the awareness you have cultivated into each moment of your daily life.

Listen to Jon Kabat Zinn talk about mindfulness and how it dissolves thoughts.


Mindfulness of Feelings and Emotions

This mindfulness exercise is designed to bring unconditional acceptance and awareness to your feelings and emotions in the present moment. This is an essential aspect of processing our emotions and allowing healing and transformation to take place (particularly when we’re stuck in a cycle of negative emotions).

Understanding Emotions

Our emotions are usually our body’s response to our thinking. For example if we’re lying in bed at night thinking and worrying about a talk we have to do tomorrow, we may feel the emotions of worry or anxiety (even though our environment is very peaceful).

Feeling is Healing & What You Resist Persists

When we’re feeling uncomfortable negative emotions in our body, a common response is to resist them and want them to go away (i.e. non-acceptance). This resistance creates further subconscious unhappiness about our existing emotion (which is already present and inevitable). This in turn perpetuates the initial negative emotion.

Resisting or suppressing one or more emotions is like holding helium balloons under the water and trying to stop them from surfacing. It’s certainly a lot easier to step back and allow the splash to occur as the balloons surface and fly away into the open sky.

Holding an emotion in awareness and feeling it without judgement is an important component of allowing it to pass. For particularly strong emotions from past trauma, pain, suffering or great loss, you should discuss the suitability of this exercise with an appropriate professional (e.g. psychologist) before performing this exercise.

Beginning the Exercise

To begin this exercise lie on your back or sit in optimal posture.

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a moment to let go of whatever you were doing and settle into this moment.
  • Let go of any expectations or preferences you may have for your experience and become completely neutral.
  • Become aware of your body as a whole, then take 2 or 3 mindful breaths, feeling the air coming into and leaving your lungs.
  • This may be felt at the nose or the belly and chest (expanding and contracting) or wherever the breath feels most vivid.
  • Scan your body, feeling any sensation that is present.
  • Notice anything strange or interesting about your experience.
  • If you feel any tension in your body (e.g. your shoulders or jaw), let it go.

Focus on Feelings

  • Once you feel ready, let your breath recede into the background as you shift your attention to your feelings.
  • Allow your emotions and mood state to become centre stage in your field of awareness.
  • You may be feeling emotions or mood states that are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
  • Simply observing your feelings and emotions directly without trying to change them is the essence of this practise.

Holding out the Welcome Mat

  • Hold out the welcome mat for any feeling or emotion, even if it feels intense or unpleasant.
  • Let go of any internal resistance you may have to what you are feeling (resist nothing).
  • Keep an open, friendly attitude to whatever you are feeling, even if you would normally label the emotion as negative.
  • Try to treat each emotional sensation equally, simply holding it in attention, regardless of whether the feeling is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
  • Focus on the area of your body where the feeling is most prominent.
  • Observe and feel this area directly without judging, labelling, preferring, rejecting or trying to change each sensation.
  • Simply observe with curiosity and heightened awareness, moment by moment.
  • If your mind gets lost in thought, become aware of your thinking, then gently bring your attention back to watching your feelings and mood state with alertness.

Practise advanced mindfulness exercises for around 3 – 20 minutes in each session or for as long as is comfortable. Repeat 1 – 3 times per day. Once your practise period is complete, remember to bring the awareness you have cultivated into each moment of your daily life.


Awareness of Awareness

Most mindfulness exercises entail maintaining awareness of a sensation or form that exists in the present moment. This may include awareness of:

  • the breath
  • the body
  • various sensations such as:
    • sounds
    • sights
    • tastes
    • smells
    • touch (i.e. what you can feel)
  • thoughts
  • emotions / mood states.

All of these objects of our attention can be grossly classified as forms. These forms come and go in our field of awareness, whilst in the background there is formlessness – a stillness or space (i.e. the canvas) which allows these forms or objects of our perception to come and go. This formlessness is inseparable from our attention or awareness.

This mindfulness exercise is designed to cultivate awareness of this awareness. By doing so, we may gain insight (via direct experience) into the true nature of our consciousness, prior to thinking and conditioning.

Beginning the Exercise

This exercise is best added to the other mindfulness exercises usually midway through or towards the end of your practise. It’s usually most effective once you have cultivated a relatively mindful state during your period of practise. It can be performed with your eyes open or closed in any position.

  • When you feel ready, shift your attention from the form or object of your attention (and mindfulness practise) to the one who is watching, (your attention itself).
  • Become aware of the silent watcher, the one who is observing.
  • Be this awareness and sense what it feels like to be this still, alert, peaceful observer.
  • If you’re practising mindful seeing – be the seer
  • When practising mindful hearing – be the hearer
  • If you’re practising mindful feeling – be the feeler
  • When practising mindful breathing or walking – be the observer.
  • Your mind may try to intellectually understand what you are doing, comment on what you’re doing or rationalise it. Be aware that none of this thinking is your awareness itself. The awareness behind the thinking that allows your thoughts to come and go is ‘it’.
  • Notice also that these words or any other description are not the awareness. They are merely pointers to the reality, which can only be realised in your own interior experience. Much like a description of the flavour of honey (e.g. the sweetness, taste and texture) can not reveal the experience and true nature of tasting honey itself.

Practising with Emptiness

  • Another portal into awareness of awareness is to direct your attention to emptiness. In doing so, awareness of something (a thought, sensation, image or feeling) becomes awareness of nothing, which is awareness itself.
  • You can practise by becoming aware of the space within the room you are in or the immensity of space outside.
  • Alternatively, you can become aware of silence (particularly in a silent environment) or notice the silence in between and behind sounds.
  • Keep relaxed but focal attention on this emptiness.
  • As you do this, notice that you are highly alert (without any other form or object of your perception). You have become aware of nothing, or awareness itself.
  • Then notice that you are aware and maintain your attention on your awareness or consciousness itself (the silent, still, formless observer).

Practise this additional mindfulness exercise initially for as little as 1 minute. Gradually increase it to longer periods lasting as long as you feel comfortable (for example 10 – 30 minutes). Repeat 1 – 3 times per day. Once your practise period is complete, remember to bring the awareness you have cultivated into each moment of your daily life as you leave the formal realm of practise and re-enter the realm of doing.


Learn More About Mindfulness

PhysioAdvisor’s mindfulness articles have been created as a progressive series with the intention of strengthening your mindfulness knowledge and practise. Remember, mindfulness knowledge alone will not give you any of the wonderful benefits of mindfulness – we have to practise!! Advanced mindfulness exercises is the seventh article in our series.

View the next article in our series:

  • Mindfulness Summary (Coming Soon)

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