Conducting Mindfulness Exercises

by Tara Deliberto, Ph.D.

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If you have never conducted a mindfulness exercise before, it can be difficult to know where to start. This post is intended to walk you through the various steps involved in conducting a mindfulness exercise in session.

First, prior to conducting an exercise, it is helpful to try some out on your own. Perhaps try downloading a mindfulness app for assistance. I recommend doing one 3-5 minute exercise per day for a couple of weeks. Be sure to check in with yourself after the exercise and note your internal experiences. What are you thinking? How does your body feel? What emotions are you experiencing?

Next, you’re going to need a Tibetan singing bowl. A small one is fine. They can easily be purchased online or in spiritual shops. Once you have your bowl in hand, practice ringing it. If the mallet has a felt tip, hold the mallet by the wooden portion. Practice lightly hitting the felt side of the mallet on the side of the bowl.

Once you’ve practiced mindfulness and using the singing bowl, it is time to start rehearsing conducting an exercise. Select a mindfulness exercise (e.g. leaves on a stream) that is about 3-5 minutes in length for clinical settings. Then follow these steps:

  1. Ring the Tibetan singing bowl three times to start.

  2. Wait for the third bell to stop ringing then begin.

  3. No matter what type of mindfulness exercise you're doing, it can be helpful to start with something grounding such as saying "Notice your back against the chair and your feet firmly planted on the ground.  Take a moment to anchor yourself here."

  4. Then it can be helpful to focus on the breath for a few moments before getting into a non-breath focused exercise. You might say something like “Bring your attention to your breath. Notice your inhales and exhales. Do not force your breath, but instead allow your breath to breathe you.”

  5. Explain the exercise (e.g. leaves on a stream). For instance, “You are sitting at the bank of a river under a leafy tree. Notice what it feels like to sit on the ground. Is it soft or hard? Now notice the river. Which direction is it flowing? How fast is the water moving? Bring your attention to the sun over head. How brightly is it shining? Continue to imagine yourself at the bank of this river. Whenever your mind gets distracted, put your thought on a leaf from the nearby tree and let it float down the river. Each time your mind wanders, simply reimagine yourself on the bank of a river, put your thought on a leaf, and watch it float away.”

  6. Every 10-30 seconds prompt a refocus. For example, "If your mind has wandered, that's ok because that's what minds do. Simply acknowledge that it has done so and willingly bring your attention back to the exercise (e.g. sitting on the bank of a river).

  7. Signal the end of the exercise by saying something like "Now, before we end, bring your attention back to your breath."

  8. Signal that attention should be brought back into the room "Start to notice yourself sitting in your chair."

  9. Prior to ending, tell everyone "Now I'm going to ring the bell twice, and after the second bell stops ringing, you can go ahead an open your eyes."

  10. Give everyone a moment to settle in.

  11. Ask for observations.

  12. Be sure to verbally and non-verbally (smile) reinforce efforts to refocus attention, willingness to participate, and improvements since starting mindfulness practice. For instance, in response to someone saying “my mind wandered, but I was able to refocus back on the exercise,” you might say “really nice job catching your thoughts and willingly refocusing on the exercise.”

And that’s all there is to it!

Conducting mindfulness exercises can be challenging, but with practice it can be rewarding.

I very much hope this was helpful! Please feel free to leave comments.