Mindfulness is a powerful approach to living fully in the present moment. Through practical meditative exercises, students of mindfulness learn to experience total consciousness in the here and now.
One of the great mindfulness teachers is Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, known to his students as “Thay,” for his down-to-earth approach to concepts like enlightenment and freedom of the mind. In an interview with Buddhist magazine Shambhala Sun, Thay shared his 5 exercises for mindfulness in everyday life.
- Mindful Breathing. Thich Nhat Hanh advises students to begin with the most essential life process – our breathing. He asks that each person pay attention to the in-breath and the out-breath – using each to cultivate a feeling of joy in being alive and able to breathe. Thay: “You are breathing in, and while breathing in, you know that you are alive.”
- Concentration. He next suggests going deeply within the process of breathing, following in-breath and out-breath fully until no other thoughts are present. Thay: “From the beginning of my out-breath to the end of my out-breath, my mind is always with it. Therefore, mindfulness becomes uninterrupted, and the quality of your concentration is improved.”
- Awareness of the Body. The third exercise involves shifting awareness from the breath to the entire body making that breath: “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I am aware of my body… Mind and body become one reality. When your mind is with your body, you are well established in the here and the now. You are fully alive. You can be in touch with the wonders of life that are available in yourself and around you.”
- Releasing Tension. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the fourth exercise to address feelings of anxious tension that we might not have noticed before mindfulness practice: “When you are truly aware of your body, you notice there is some tension and pain in your body, some stress. The tension and pain have been accumulating for a long time and our bodies suffer, but our mind is not there to help release it.”
- Walking Meditation. Finally, Thich Nhat Hanh descends upon a favorite exercise and personal pastime – walking meditation. “You don’t have to make any effort during walking meditation, because it is enjoyable. You are there, body and mind together. You are fully alive, fully present in the here and the now. With every step, you touch the wonders of life that are in you and around you. When you walk like that, every step brings healing.”