Your mind is busy.
Sometimes you don’t hear your own thoughts or notice how you feel.
Then again, other times, your thoughts are so clear that you notice every single thought coming and going.
This second state is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness means maintaining a gentle moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts, bodily sensations, and surroundings, without judging anything.
Being mindful makes me calmer, happier, more accepting, more focused, and improves my creative thinking. So all in all a much more fulfilling private and work life.
Luckily, you can train yourself to have this state of mind more often. The key to this are mindfulness exercises that bring your mind back to the present moment.
Here are 7 practical mindfulness exercises for software engineers.
Smile and Breathe
The breath is the basis for a lot of mindfulness techniques.
It is always there. When you learn to use it as an anchor you’ll always have something to place your focus on. It gets you back into the most powerful time: now.
Exercise: sit (or stand) upright. Make a relaxed focus with your eyes, or close them entirely. Then breathe in and smile. Calmly and steadily breathe out. Keep your smile. Keep at it for one or two minutes.
This is just one of many breathing techniques. I’ll write an article on mindful breathing in the future.
“The wisest one-word sentence? Breathe.” – Terri Guillemets
Do you always notice what’s going on in your body?
Sometimes I notice a tension in my neck or shoulders and wonder how long it’s been there. But it’s a great feeling to notice a tension and then let it go.
Exercise: you can do this in any comfortable position. Start at the top of your head and gently scan down to your toes. You can do this fast multiple times, or one time slowly. Don’t try to change anything while scanning. Only notice.
If you’re doing any kind of sports, it’s a great idea to do some stretching after each session.
Stretching itself is great for your body, and with a focus on mindfulness you can increase its relaxing effect on the mind.
Exercise: the next time you stretch after physical activity, focus on two things: breathing deep and slowly, and letting go of all tensions. Afterwards notice how you feel. Try to take this feeling with you throughout the day
Body Symmetry Exercise
Do you have neck tensions sometimes?
For me, there is always one side worse than the other.
Here’s a mindful exercise that connects you with your body, brings you into the present moment, and maybe helps you relax a little bit.
Exercise: you can do this when standing or sitting. Get in an upright position and, without a mirror, try to get your body symmetrical (not leaning to one side, and tension is the same in any area on both sides). I always start with my head, go down through the body, and iterate a few times. When you’ve found a position that feels good stay there for 10 breaths.
If you’re getting used to this exercise, you’ll notice more often when you’re sitting lopsided at your desk and can fix this.
Pro tip: do this exercise in front of a mirror with your eyes closed. When you’re content that you’re 100% symmetrical open your eyes. The result may surprise you.
I’m sure you’re drinking coffee from time to time. Or tea.
A drink with flavor offers yet another possibility to come back to the present moment. You can do this little exercise multiple times a day, in less than a minute.
Exercise: When drinking a cup of your favorite beverage, before drinking take a few moments to smell it. How does this smell make you feel? Then take a sip. How does it taste, can you discover something new? When drinking, does it change how you feel generally? Maybe you have a warm feeling in your belly, or you feel more energetic.
This is a fun little exercise to notice your surroundings. Even in my own appartment I’m not always aware of everything that’s around me.
Exercise: notice 10 things with a specific color that you can see. Look around. Can you spot 10 green things? Repeat this for a handful of colors. Bonus points if you’re breathing calmly and deeply.
When you’re happy, you smile. But did you know that this also works the other way around? Smiling can make you happy.
Exercise: start breathing in and smile brighter and brighter. Keep your smile when breathing out. Then stretch your arms upward and repeat.
Do Small Steps Every Day
Mindfulness is a journey.
For me, it is one path to a more happier, healthier life. It helps me to think clearer. According to research (and my personal experience) it reduces stress and anxiety.
And like all journeys, it’s not one giant leap.
It’s many, many small steps.
Enjoy the scenery.
The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. — Jon Kabat-Zinn