33 Mindfulness Exercises for Present-Moment Living

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: May 5, 2022
  • Time to read: 15 min.

Mindfulness exercises are a form of mental training, helping you live more in the present each day. By choosing mindfulness exercises that fit neatly into your life, building awareness can become an easier process. From “urge surfing” to mindful hugs to mantra meditation, this list of mindfulness exercises has something for everyone.

Building mindfulness into your everyday life can be a challenge. 

But mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting on a meditation cushion for an hour a day. In fact, the end goal of your mindfulness practice is to bring a present-moment awareness to each moment of your life. Any activity that brings you closer to that goal is worthwhile.

That’s why we’ve created this list of 33 mindfulness activities. Not all of them will be perfect for you – just pick a few and take action.

Mindfulness Exercises for Daily Life

1. Urge surfing

Urge Surfing
Urge surfing is about riding the “wave” of cravings and watching them dissipate

Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique to separate yourself from your cravings and desires. It helps to create a space between the feeling of wanting something, and the action of doing something about it. 

To practice urge surfing, notice when you’re facing an urge and do your best to avoid taking action on it right away. Instead, try the following:

  1. Notice the urge. How does it feel in your body? How would you describe the sensation? Where is it?
  2. Monitor your level of craving with curiosity: Notice how your craving ebbs and flows.
  3. Picture yourself surfing the wave: If urges are truly like waves, you can visualize yourself riding one successfully. Picture yourself watching the wave pass you by. 
  4. Watch your breathing: Focus on your breathing, especially if resisting the urge becomes difficult. Breathe slowly.
  5. Watch the urge subside: Eventually, the urge will subside. Notice as it lessens and eventually disappears.

2. Turn boring moments into mindfulness exercises

Every day has a myriad of boring moments. You know the ones:

  • Waiting at a stop light
  • Standing in an elevator
  • Sitting in the doctor’s office
  • Waiting for water to boil
  • Killing time in the grocery store checkout line

And on, and on, and on. Challenge yourself to turn some of these moments into opportunities for mindfulness. When you’re standing in the grocery store checkout line, wishing it would move faster, invite yourself to instead accept this moment as it is. Treat it with curiosity and openness. Pay attention to what’s happening around you with nonjudgment.

3. Yawn

Yawning is an excellent way to move from your mind back into your body. 

Yawns, as an automatic activity like sneezing, interrupt your normal thought processes and feelings for a moment as your body’s processes take over completely. 

First, fake your yawn. It may feel funny, but a fake yawn will lead to real ones. Notice how that brief pause during your yawn feels. Stretch while you yawn—slowly, for 20 seconds, holding the stretch longer than you think you need to. Notice any areas of your tightness in your body, and ease them into relaxation. 

Then, take a few moments to come back to reality, setting the intention to be present.

4. Mindful hand washing

Mindful hand washing 2
Every time you wash your hands is an opportunity to pay attention to the present moment

Washing your hands mindfully is an easy activity to incorporate into your day:

  • 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 while you wash your hands

To wash your hands mindfully, just do the same thing you normally do – but slower. Pay attention to each step of the process, and notice the feeling of the lathered soap on your hands, and the temperature of the water. 

5. Ground yourself with the STOP method

Often, when we’re stressed, we get stuck in our minds and disconnected from our bodies. Grounding exercises help with this. The STOP method is a grounding exercise that helps you reconnect with yourself. 

Here’s how it works:

  • (S) Stand up and breathe.
  • (T) Tune into your body. Notice how it feels, and any physical sensations.
  • (O) Observe. What is your body telling you?
  • (P) Ask what’s possible. What new possibilities might emerge if you’re able to get back in tune with yourself right now? How might this be a turning point for the rest of the day?

6. Hug a friend (or your dog)

Mindful hug 2
Hugging helps to balance your nervous system and releases oxytocin

If you’ve got someone to hug, do it as often as possible. Hugging is a great way to remind yourself of the strength of the mind-body connection. 

When you have a difficult feeling that’s hard to shake, you’re more likely to move past it by moving your body or connecting with others rather than submitting yourself to more ruminating.

Invite your partner, friend, or family member to take three deep breaths while hugging you, in order to balance your nervous system and release oxytocin.

7. Take a break from reading the news

Reading the news can feel like something you need to do to be a responsible citizen.

But the reality is that the daily news cycle is often a drip-feed of stress and anxiety that moves your focus onto things outside of your control.

Consider taking a break from reading the news – even if just for a few days. Notice how you feel. If you find yourself calmer and more peaceful, ask yourself if you’d like to continue this experiment.

8. Treat each room as if it were full of new possibilities

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.

In many ways, practical mindfulness is the art of recognizing trigger points throughout the day that bring you back to yourself and remind you to be aware.

That’s why it’s helpful to remind yourself that each room is full of new possibilities. Each door you walk through is an opportunity to gently nudge yourself back to awareness, show up in a new way, and dwell in the present moment.

Breathing Mindfulness Exercises

9. Simple mindful breathing

Mindful breathing
Mindful breathing can be as simple as noticing the feeling of your breath going in and out

Mindful breathing can take many forms, but at its core, it’s simply about using the breath as an object of awareness.

Many mindful breathing exercises have protocols. This one doesn’t. It’s the simplest form of breathing exercise, with nothing to remember.

  1. Set the intention to focus on your breath. Take a moment, wherever you are, to simply breathe consciously and mindfully.
  2. Notice where your breath is. Perhaps it’s in your nostrils, or maybe you feel it more in your stomach, or your chest. 
  3. Breathe a little deeper and longer than you usually do. Notice how it feels. 
  4. When you get distracted, come back to your breath. When your mind wanders away from focusing on breathing (as it tends to do), gently come back to your breath.

10. 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 you do the box breathing exercise:

  1. Imagine a square in your mind’s eye. Start focusing on the left side of this two-dimensional square. 
  2. Inhale to the count of 4. As you inhale, move along the left side of the square towards the top of the square, in your mind’s eye.
  3. Then, hold your breath for 4 seconds. As you do, head towards the right side of the square. 
  4. Exhale for 4 seconds. Heading down the right side of the box. 
  5. Hold for another 4 seconds. Do this at the bottom of the box, before starting the process again.

11. Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing provides a solid 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.

Mindful Meditations

12. Mountain meditation

The mountain meditation is an exercise that helps you access reserves of strength and stability. Here’s how to practice the mountain meditation:

  1. Sit down comfortably
  2. Imagine a mountain: Picture a mountain in your mind, in vivid detail.
  3. Become the mountain: Imagine yourself transforming into the mountain. Notice as your spine gets straighter, your chest fills with air, and your breathing becomes deeper. 
  4. As the mountain, watch the world around you: Notice as storms circle the base of the mountain, as earthquakes happen, and as winters and summers pass.
  5. Feel your resilience: Just as external events swirl around a mountain, notice that you, too, can remain calm and resilient in the face of challenges.

13. Loving kindness meditation

Loving kindness meditation is a practice to send warmth, kindness and peace to others.

Typically, this is done by picking a mantra and repeating it. It can be anything you feel comfortable with, along the lines of “I’m wishing you happiness and kindness and peace.” 

It can be easier to start with someone you have unreservedly warm feelings toward: your child, for example, or a pet. 

Then, move your loving kindness meditation to focus on someone you feel neutrally about. Finally, you can send it out to everyone in the world.

14. Mantra meditation

How to Do Mantra Meditation 2
Mantra meditation helps to center the mind by repeating a phrase or word

Mantra meditation is a great way to mix up your meditation routine, especially if you’ve struggled with distraction during your meditation session. 

Rather than focusing on your breathing or on a physical object of concentration, mantra meditation invites you to focus on the act of repeating a word silently inside your head. Usually, it’s something simple like “ah-hum.” 

This is pretty beginner-friendly. Try it, and see if it comes any easier to you than other forms of meditation.

15. Meditate outside

Meditating in a silent room on a comfortable meditation cushion is great and all – but have you ever tried meditating in a noisy place?

It’s great for rewiring your expectations about meditation. Meditation doesn’t require silence. It’s not easy, but instead of focusing on your breath, try keeping an open awareness and letting your attention linger on whatever sounds come up in your environment. 

Of course, if the jackhammers start, you might have to put headphones on. But if you’re in a place with the sounds of nature, or normal city noises, you might find that meditating on the sounds of your environment adds a new angle to your mindfulness practice. 

16. Open eye meditation

If you normally meditate with your eyes closed, give meditating with your eyes open a try.

There are pros and cons to each method. The advantage to meditating with your eyes open is that you’re likely to stay more awake and alert during your meditation.

You’re also less likely to find yourself entirely lost in your imagination as much as with eyes-closed meditation.

How to Meditate with Eyes Open 5 Steps
Open eye meditation can help you stay awake and alert

17. Meditate first thing in the morning

As the day goes on, it often becomes busier and busier. That’s why many people choose to meditate in the mornings.

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 short body scan meditation. 

  1. Yawn and stretch. As you wake up, take a moment to yawn and stretch.
  2. Scan your body, starting at the top of your head. While breathing deeply, scan from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Simply linger your attention on each body part, noticing how it feels. 
  3. Bring yourself back to the body scan as you get distracted. As you get distracted, bring yourself back to the act of scanning your body and noticing how it feels.

18. Practice movement meditation

7 movement meditation practices including tai chi and yoga

Did you know you don’t have to sit still on a cushion in order to meditate? 

If you find yourself getting restless, try experimenting with tai chi, qi gong, dancing, walking meditation, or other forms of movement meditation.

Contemplative Mindfulness Exercises

19. Set an intention

Set an intention
Checking in with yourself and setting intentions throughout the day can change how you show up in the world

Take a pause to reflect on how you want to move through the day. 

What energy do you want to have? How do you want to be present with those around you?

Moving through your day with small “intention check-ins” can have a dramatic impact on how you show up in the world.

For example, you may say “I am going to radiate joy and be contagiously positive to those around me today. I am going to make their lives better by being around me.”

20. Mindfully observe something in the world around you

Pick something in your environment, and choose to pay attention to it.

This may be easier outside, but can be done inside too, looking out a window. 

You might watch a cloud float by in the sky, or the journey of an ant, or the way a flower sways in the breeze. If your attention moves on from the object, gently bring it back.

This simple exercise can help you experience your environment in a more meaningful way. Done enough, it can start to become automatic.

21. Mindfulness journaling

Journaling is an excellent tool for introspection, but it’s also the perfect mindfulness activity. Journaling 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.

mindfulness journal template 2
Download a mindfulness journal template here

22. Create a gratitude list

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.)

23. Practice negative visualization

Although it seems counterintuitive, negative visualization is a way to appreciate what you have

Here’s a simplified version of negative visualization:

  1. Imagine yourself in a future in which many things have gone wrong. Perhaps you’ve lost everything you hold dear. Maybe you don’t have a job, or you’ve ended up alone, or you’ve encountered any number of challenging scenarios. 
  2. Bring yourself back to the present: Zoom back out and return to your present self. Notice all the good that’s around you. Use the contrast of the negative visualization with your present experience as a way to build gratitude and appreciation. 
Worksheet describing two negative visualization exercises
Negative visualization is a way to appreciate what you have by imagining you’d lost it

24. Dream bigger

Invite yourself to release any self-imposed limitations, dream bigger, and visualize yourself having already achieved your wildest dreams.

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.

25. Ask yourself what’s within your circle of control

Venn diagram of circle of concern vs circle of influence

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 on areas you can’t control. 

At the same time, there’s plenty in your life that you can have a positive effect on: 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?

26. Be compassionate to yourself

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?”

Fun Mindfulness Exercises

27. Mindful cooking

If you find yourself getting stressed or overwhelmed while cooking, you might be getting lost in thought instead of losing yourself in the present moment. 

Mindful cooking is a way to bring yourself deeply into the act of chopping ingredients and cooking your meal. Simply put, it involves paying close attention to each act in the cooking process. 

As a bonus, it helps you build patience and makes the whole cooking process more enjoyable. 

Here’s a list of mindful cooking strategies for your next meal.

9 tips for mindful cooking and cooking meditation

28. Listen to music mindfully

Mindful music listening is the process of bringing your full awareness to whatever you’re listening to. 

When you’re listening to a song and your attention drifts away to something other than the music, gently bring it back to the present moment and the experience of listening to each layer of sound.

A few ways to facilitate mindful music listening are:

  1. Wear headphones
  2. Listen to a song that’s entirely new to you
  3. Observe each instrument and layer of sound within a song
7 Steps to Listen to Music Mindfully

29. Create a mindful social media environment

In the age of social media, one of the great ways to influence your thinking is to do a “social media audit.”

That means making sure the accounts that populate your social feeds contain the kind of thinking and examples that you want to bring into your life. Remove those that don’t, and add more accounts that do. 

Over time, you’ll automatically be exposed to and reminded of the mindfulness concepts that you want to incorporate into your life.

You can follow Mindfulness Box’s social media channels here. While you’re at it, follow some of these other excellent mindfulness resources

30. Play with a dog

As we grow into adulthood and responsibilities feature more prominently in our lives, some of the playfulness of childhood naturally seeps out.

If you’re lucky enough to have an animal in your life, notice the playfulness and joy that they approach each moment with. Notice the lack of focus on the past and future. Animals easily achieve that present-moment awareness we’re after, and they do so effortlessly. 

Dogs make us happier, reduce stress, remind us to practice mindfulness, and demonstrate that it’s indeed possible to focus on the present. So, when in doubt – play with your dog.

31. Eat mindfully

Is eating becoming an automatic process for you? Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, whatever it is you’re doing. 

Here are a few ways to approach mindful eating:

  1. Try and gently stop yourself if you notice you’re eating on autopilot. 
  2. Then, shift your attention. Try slowing down, and paying attention to the texture and flavor of the food and drink.
  3. Take a piece of food and savor it. Notice how it tastes and smells.
  4. Notice how the meal feels as you slow down and pay attention.

32. 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. 

  1. Hold the raisin: Take a raisin, or any other food, and hold it in your hand. 
  2. Look at the raisin: Observe the raisin like you’ve never seen a raisin before. 
  3. Touch the raisin: Feel the raisin, running it between your fingers and noticing its texture. 
  4. Smell the raisin: Hold the raisin to your nose, and with purpose and intention, take a deep breath. 
  5. Put the raisin in your mouth: Moving slowly, put the raisin in your mouth. Notice how it feels to place it on your tongue.
  6. Chew the raisin: Once you’re ready, start chewing the raisin (slowly). Take small bites. 
  7. Swallow the raisin: Slowly swallow, noticing as the raisin travels down your throat and into your stomach. 
  8. Pay attention afterwards: How does your mouth feel after swallowing? Is there an aftertaste? Do you crave more?
The eight step process of the raisin mindfulness exercise for kids

33. Walk 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.

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, take your socks and shoes off and walk around on the carpet or floor (or even better, walk around outside on the grass). 

What feelings do you notice? Wiggle your toes, move your feet, and really feel the surface of the ground as you pay attention to the experience of walking in a deeper way than before. 

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