If you’re instructing university students on mindfulness, here’s the key: put your mindfulness activities in a context students will be interested in. That means making mindfulness exercises relevant to their lives—like meditating to make studying easier. Or, doing exercises that spark curiosity like mindful coloring and mindful music listening.
Mindfulness skills such as self-compassion, patience, awareness, emotional balance, and calming the nervous system can benefit university students who are navigating the challenges of young adulthood.
It can be a challenge to capture the attention of university students and help them engage with mindfulness practices. Recognizing and respecting the unique differences among individuals is crucial in facilitating their connection with mindfulness exercises that make the most sense to them.
For this reason, we have curated a list of mindfulness activities specifically tailored to university students. These activities range from introspective to tactile and surprising, providing something for everyone to engage with and benefit from.
1. During exam time, teach meditation
Research conducted in 2019 demonstrates that meditation is effective in reducing stress and anxiety experienced during exam time. Interestingly, the students in the study were only engaging in meditation or yoga once per week.
This suggests that even a small commitment to mindfulness practices such as meditation or yoga can lower stress levels leading up to exams. Moreover, studies suggest that meditation may increase IQ and has been shown to enhance short-term memory, decision-making skills, focus, and attention.
Integrating mindfulness into your daily routine is made simpler by automating the process. In today’s age of social media, a straightforward way to influence your thought process is by conducting a “social media audit,” assessing whether the accounts that appear on your social feeds align with the kind of thinking and examples you wish to integrate into your life.
By removing content that does not align and adding more that does, you can incorporate mindfulness concepts into your life effortlessly over time. You can begin by following Mindfulness Box’s social media channels here. While you’re at it, follow some of these other excellent mindfulness resources.
3. Mindful drawing
Mindful coloring or drawing is a calming and meditative activity that allows students to focus on the present moment and reduce stress and anxiety.
A mandala is a circular design made up of intricate patterns and shapes, often used in spiritual or meditative practices. Here’s how you can do mindful coloring with a mandala:
- Choose a mandala that you would like to color. You can find free mandala coloring pages online or in coloring books.
- Set aside a quiet, comfortable space where you can focus on the coloring. Make sure you have all the necessary coloring tools, such as colored pencils, markers or crayons.
- Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and focus on the present moment. Try to clear your mind of any distracting thoughts and focus on the mandala in front of you.
- Begin coloring the mandala. Start from the center and work your way outward, following the patterns and shapes of the mandala. You can use any colors you like, but try to choose colors that you find calming and relaxing.
- Focus on the coloring process and try to stay present in the moment. Pay attention to the patterns and shapes as you color, and notice how the colors blend and interact with each other.
- If your mind starts to wander or you feel distracted, take a deep breath and refocus on the mandala in front of you.
- Continue coloring the mandala until you have finished the entire design. Once you have completed the coloring, take a few moments to reflect on how you feel. Notice any changes in your mood or stress levels, and take note of any thoughts or emotions that may have come up during the process.
By focusing on the present moment and the intricacies of the mandala, you can achieve a state of mindfulness and feel more grounded and centered.
4. Cook mindfully
By practicing mindfulness while cooking, you can bring more awareness and joy to the experience. Mindful cooking can also help you develop a deeper connection to the food you eat and the people you share it with.
Here’s how to do it:
- Set the intention: Before you begin cooking, set the intention to be present in the moment and focus on the experience of cooking.
- Choose your ingredients mindfully: Take the time to select your ingredients carefully, paying attention to their colors, textures, and smells.
- Focus on the task at hand: When you begin cooking, focus on the present moment and the task at hand. Take note of the sounds, smells, and sensations involved in the cooking process.
- Use all your senses: Engage all of your senses while you cook. Listen to the sizzle of the pan, smell the aroma of the spices, and feel the texture of the ingredients.
- Avoid distractions: Try to minimize distractions while you cook. Turn off your phone and avoid other tasks that may divert your attention.
- Embrace imperfection: Cooking can be a messy and imperfect process. Embrace imperfections and focus on the experience of cooking, rather than achieving perfection.
- Practice gratitude: Take a moment to appreciate the food you’re cooking, the people who will be sharing it, and the processes that brought it to your plate.
5. Take mindful showers
Practicing a mindful shower involves several steps, including setting the intention to be present, focusing on the sensations of the water, using all senses to engage in the moment, taking deep breaths, and practicing gratitude.
By staying present in the moment, one can focus on the physical sensations of the water, the scents of soaps and shampoos, and the sounds of the shower. If the mind begins to wander, bring it back to the present moment by focusing on the sensations of the water.
Taking a few moments for self-care can help to reduce stress, increase relaxation, and improve overall well-being. By practicing mindfulness during a shower, one can transform it into a meditative and rejuvenating experience.
6. Read mindfully
By practicing mindfulness while reading, you can develop a deeper connection with the text and enhance your overall reading experience. Mindful reading can also help to reduce stress, improve focus, and promote relaxation.
Here are some instructions for reading mindfully:
- Set the intention: Before you begin reading, set the intention to be present and fully engaged in the reading experience.
- Choose a quiet space: Find a quiet space where you won’t be distracted by noise or interruptions.
- Pay attention to your posture: Sit comfortably with your back straight, and keep your eyes at a comfortable distance from the text.
- Take a few deep breaths: Take a few deep breaths to relax your mind and body.
- Read slowly: Read the text slowly, taking time to absorb each word and sentence. Avoid rushing through the text or skim reading.
- Engage with the text: As you read, engage with the text by asking questions, making connections, and visualizing the scenes and characters.
- Take breaks: Take breaks as needed, to give yourself time to reflect on what you’ve read.
- Practice gratitude: Take a moment to appreciate the opportunity to read and learn, and the experience of engaging with the text.
7. Practice mindful photography
Mindful photography involves several steps, including setting the intention to be present and fully engaged, choosing a subject mindfully, engaging your senses, observing the environment, taking your time, breathing deeply, and practicing gratitude.
To practice mindful photography, it is important to take time to compose the shot and capture the moment, without rushing or becoming too focused on the end result. By focusing on the present moment, observing the environment, and engaging with your subject, you can develop a deeper appreciation for the beauty of the world around you, enhance your creativity and self-expression, and reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Mindful photography can help you to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life, while also allowing you to express your creativity and personal vision.
8. Wash your hands mindfully
Washing your hands might just be the perfect mindfulness activity:
- It’s something you do many times a day
- It often happens in the privacy of a bathroom
- There are sounds and sensations to focus on
- Bathrooms often have a mirror; seeing your reflection can serve as a trigger to remind you to be mindful for 30-60 seconds while you wash your hands
To wash your hands mindfully, follow the usual steps, but at a slower pace. Observe each phase of the process, and take note of the sensation of the soapy lather on your skin and the water’s temperature.
9. Get into a state of flow
Have you ever been doing something you love, and found that the hours absolutely flew by and you lost yourself in your work?
For me, this can happen when I’m immersing myself in the Internet, building websites, designing, or writing. For you, it might be something entirely different.
Spending time in a state of flow is one of the great joys of being alive. Noticing when you’re losing track of time and falling into a state of flow can also point you towards the activities you should be spending more time on.
Try and identify what activities in your life might be flow-inducing. Then, go do them.
10. Take a moment for mindful eating
I often fall into the trap of eating my meals quickly, sometimes without even noticing what I’m doing. Notice if your eating experience is similar. Is eating becoming an automatic process for you?
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, whatever it is you’re doing.
When it comes to eating, try and gently stop yourself if you notice you’re eating on autopilot. Then, shift your attention. Try slowing down, and paying attention to the texture and flavor of the food and drink. Take a piece of food and savor it. Noticing how it tastes and smells. Notice how the meal feels as you slow down and pay attention.
Here are 5 steps for practicing mindful eating:
- Slow down: Take the time to appreciate your food. Eat slowly and savor each bite. Chew thoroughly and put down your utensils between bites.
- Engage your senses: Pay attention to the flavors, textures, smells, and colors of your food. Take in the details of your food and appreciate the sensory experience.
- Focus on your food: Try to avoid distractions while eating. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and sit at a table to eat. This helps you stay present and focus on the experience of eating.
- Tune into your body: Check in with your hunger and fullness levels. Pause occasionally during the meal to assess how full you feel. This can help you avoid overeating.
- Practice gratitude: Take a moment to appreciate your food and the people and processes that brought it to your plate. This can help you develop a deeper appreciation for your food and enhance the overall eating experience.
11. Meditate as soon as you wake up
As the day goes on, it often becomes busier and busier. That’s why many people choose to meditate in the mornings.
If you’re just starting your practice, you can even choose to do this as soon as you wake up, before even getting out of bed. Your meditation can be as simple as a one-minute body scan meditation.
As you wake up, take a moment to yawn and stretch. Then, pay attention to each individual part of your body from your head to your toes. Notice how each part feels. Do this over the course of a couple of minutes. While breathing deeply, scan from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head.
12. Try 4-7-8 breathing
A simple breathing technique to center yourself and calm your nervous system, the 4-7-8 breathing technique helps to provide a mindful moment through the experience of intentional breathing.
To start, first get comfortable. Sit or lie down, then breathe through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then, breath forcefully out for 8 seconds.
Try doing multiple cycles of 4-7-8 breathing over the course of a few minutes.
13. Listen to music mindfully
What does it mean to mindfully listen to music? By bringing your full awareness to whatever you’re listening to. When your attention drifts, bring it back to the present moment and the experience of listening to each layer of sound.
Wearing headphones and listening to a song that’s entirely new to you are a couple of ways to facilitate listening to music mindfully.
14. Learn a new language
When I was 16 years old, I spent nearly a month in Guatemala learning Spanish.
It was one of the best things I ever did. It put me on a course of openness and exploration, and influenced some of the biggest decisions later in my life.
That’s why I’m a strong believer that learning a language can be a great mindfulness hack.
Why? Because there’s no way to avoid the practices you need to engage in to develop your powers of mindfulness. When you’re speaking another language, particularly in another country, you have no choice but to see everyday situations with new eyes.
Plus, you have to put yourself out there and be willing to make mistakes. The only way to do that in the long run is to practice nonjudgment and self-compassion towards yourself – key mindfulness skills.
15. Practice box breathing
Box breathing is part breathing technique, part visualization exercise. It’s simply another approach towards holding your attention onto an object of concentration, as a way to practice staying in the present moment while calming your nervous system.
Here’s how to practice box breathing:
- Find a comfortable seated position and take a few deep breaths to relax.
- Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Exhale through your mouth slowly and fully for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Repeat steps 2 to 5 for several cycles or until you feel calm and relaxed.
It’s important to focus on your breath and keep a steady pace throughout the exercise. You can practice box breathing anytime and anywhere, such as before a presentation, during a stressful moment, or as part of a daily mindfulness practice.
16. Try the STOP method
Ever need a quick mindful break? The STOP method is a simple grounding exercise that helps you reconnect with yourself.
Here’s how it works:
- Stop: Pause what you’re doing or thinking. Just stop and be present in the moment.
- Take a breath: Take a deep breath and focus on the physical sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body. This helps to ground you in the present moment.
- Observe: Observe your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Notice what’s going on without judgment or reaction. Just observe and be curious.
- Proceed: Decide what you need to do next. Proceed with your day with greater mindfulness and awareness, making choices that align with your values and goals.
The STOP method can be used anytime and anywhere, whether you’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or just need a moment to regroup. It can help you pause, shift your focus, and respond with greater intention and clarity. With regular practice, the STOP method can become a valuable tool for managing stress and enhancing your overall well-being.
17. When things are boring, be curious
In your daily life, you probably encounter many moments that may seem mundane and uninteresting:
- Waiting at a traffic light
- Standing in an elevator
- Sitting in a doctor’s office
However, these moments can also be transformed into opportunities for mindfulness, and personal growth.
When you find yourself waiting for water to boil or in a grocery store checkout line, you can choose to be present and mindful. Rather than becoming frustrated or letting your mind wander, you can observe your surroundings with curiosity and openness. Pay attention to the sounds, smells, and sensations of your environment, without judgment or distraction.
When standing in an elevator, you can focus on your breath and the physical sensations of your body, while also noticing the movement of the elevator. In the doctor’s office, you can take a moment to check in with your body and observe any physical sensations or emotions that may be present.
With mindfulness, you can appreciate even the most ordinary moments and bring more presence, calm, and joy into your daily life.
18. Do a mental reset each time you enter a new room
One of the challenges of mindfulness is that, despite our best intentions, our brains are wired to pull us away from the present, and back to a mode of distracted past-focused or future-focused thinking.
That’s why one of the most helpful things you can do for your mindfulness practice is to fill your day with reminders to come back to the present moment. With a technique called habit stacking, you can attach mindfulness triggers to something you already do.
For example, you can tell yourself “When I walk through a door and into a new room, I’ll take a breath, notice my surroundings, and come back to the present moment.”
This technique is adapted from the book How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays.
19. Take a break from multitasking
With so much to do all the time, from school to home to extracurricular activities, there’s a huge temptation to jump between tasks to try and get as much done as possible.
But multitasking is usually a counterproductive way to work. When we multitask, our attention is divided and we are less effective overall. If you’re a chronic multitasker, try giving yourself a window of time – maybe 30 minutes, or an hour – to focus exclusively on one task.
If it’s a task you love, pay attention to any feelings of flow, or losing track of time, that might come up.
20. Yawn and stretch
Who doesn’t appreciate an opportunity to yawn and stretch?
Especially if you’re designing a mindfulness activity that takes place in the morning, there’s no better icebreaker than to give everyone a chance to do what they really want to do:
Acknowledge that they’re tired!
But yawning and stretching slowly is also a mindfulness exercise in its own right. It can bring you back to your body, and help you notice and release areas of tension.
21. Alternate nostril breathing
Here’s an easy one. When you’re looking for a quick mindfulness activity, alternate nostril breathing provides a great structure to help you manage your breath, while regulating the nervous system and promoting relaxation.
To get started, just place your thumb on your right nostril. Then, breathe slowly through the left nostril. Switch to the other nostril, and repeat the process 3-4 more times.
22. Go barefoot
A great way to shake yourself out of your normal routine, and into a new way of looking at the world, is to go barefoot.
First of all, going barefoot is just plain fun. When everyone takes their shoes off and starts moving around, it brings a new kind of energy into the room.
But more importantly, intentionally observing the world while barefoot can be a great mindfulness activity, especially for those who have trouble with meditation. Walking barefoot is a way to focus on sensations you normally wouldn’t notice.
To get started, have participants take their socks and shoes off and walk around on the carpet or floor. What feelings do they notice? Is there any other surface they can step on? How does it compare? Have them wiggle their toes, move their feet, and really feel the surface of the ground as they slowly pay attention to the experience of walking in a deeper way than before.
This activity pairs well with walking meditation, too.
23. Read a mindfulness book
It’s incredible what you can learn by diving into the minds of the great spiritual teachers.
From the Dalai Lama to Jon Kabat-Zinn to Thich Nhat Hanh, the accumulated life knowledge of some of the wisest people to have ever lived is at your fingertips.
Want some recommendations? Check out my list of the best mindfulness books.
24. Practice movement meditation
Did you know you don’t have to sit still on a cushion in order to meditate?
Movement meditation is a practice that combines the physical movement of the body with the focus and awareness of the mind. Here are some examples of movement meditation:
- Qi Gong: Qi Gong is a Chinese practice that involves a series of slow and graceful movements, deep breathing, and mental concentration. It aims to balance the flow of energy in the body, promote relaxation, and improve overall health.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is another Chinese practice that involves a series of flowing movements and deep breathing. It is often described as “meditation in motion” and is known for its gentle and calming effects.
- Yoga: Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in India. It involves various postures, movements, and breathing exercises that aim to promote relaxation, flexibility, strength, and inner peace.
- Mindful Walking: Mindful walking is a simple but effective form of movement meditation. It involves walking slowly and intentionally, paying attention to the sensations in the body and the surrounding environment. It can be done in a natural setting, such as a park or forest, or in an urban area, such as a busy street.
- Dance Meditation: Dance meditation is a practice that combines free-form dance movements with mindfulness and deep breathing.
25. Start a mindfulness journal
Journaling is an excellent tool for introspection, but it’s also the perfect mindfulness activity because it allows you to clear your mind and turn jumbled thoughts into something concrete.
You can also use journaling as a mindfulness tool with mindfulness journal prompts that invite you to reflect on different aspects of mindfulness in your life.
Here’s a mindfulness journal template that’ll help you get started fast.
26. Make a list of things to be grateful for
Life is short, and one of the great risks of life is that we move through it without appreciating the moment that we’re in.
The good news is, there are so many reasons to be grateful that once you make a habit of looking for them, they start showing up everywhere.
(If you’re looking for inspiration, here are 101 reasons to be grateful.)
27. Dream big
Invite yourself to release any self-imposed limitations, dream bigger, and visualize yourself having already achieved your wildest dreams.
Manifestation might seem a little woo-woo, but as I argue in my manifestation guide, it’s essentially a supercharged version of traditional goal setting.
Rather than just giving yourself a goal, manifestation invites you to dream big, then create a detailed, emotional, and immersive visualization that makes it feel like you’ve already achieved what you set out to do. In a way, you’re hacking your mind’s expectations to pave the road that allows you to reach your goals.
For teenagers who feel stuck, don’t have dreams they’re excited about, or lack inspiration, this can be a revelatory exercise.
28. Identify your emotions
Mindfulness is all about walking through life with awareness, rather than stumbling around on autopilot.
But being aware of how you feel, and identifying the specific emotions that are coming up for you, are two distinct skills.
Consider learning about the eight primary emotions – like anger, fear, joy, and sadness – so you can practice identifying them as they come up, rather than letting your feelings go unknown.
Learn more about how to identify your emotions.
29. Be self-compassionate
Self-compassion is an essential skill for operating in the world, because so many of us are too hard on ourselves.
Instead, we need to treat ourselves as we would a dear friend or a child: with patience, understanding, forgiveness, and compassion.
If you catch yourself falling into a pattern of negative self-talk, challenge yourself to try a different approach. Ask yourself, “How would I treat a friend who was talking to herself or himself this way?”
Check out this list of self love mantras.
30. Try the raisin mindfulness meditation
The raisin exercise is a practice that teaches you to linger on food, noticing the texture, taste, and smell on a deeper level than you normally would.
It doesn’t have to be done with a raisin, either. Pick your favorite food, or even a cup of tea, and approach it with intention, slowly.
31. Notice what’s within your circle of control
There’s so much in life that we have no control over: the stock market, the weather, politics, government, how other people choose to behave.
These things you have no way to control or affect fall within your Circle of Concern. Ask yourself how much of your mental energy is being spent here.
At the same time, there’s plenty in your life that you can control: where you live, your job, your attitude, your philosophy, what you read, who you marry, how much you exercise.
This is your Circle of Control. How would it feel if you focused more of your energy in this area?
My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 with a ten-day silent retreat. Since then, I’ve read dozens of books about mindfulness and completed hundreds of hours of meditation. Thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.