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Practicing Mindfulness

The internet is full of information about mindfulness. Below are three common approaches that can help you become more mindful.


One practice that mindfulness often emphasizes is focused breathing. Simple instructions by Thich Nhat Hanh are provided below. Focused breathing helps one to become centered and to work more effectively with their emotional lives. It is used to reduce stress and promote calmness.

To practice mindful breathing, just observe the natural rhythm of the breath. Please do so without forcing it to be longer, deeper, or slower. With attention and a little time, your breath with deepen naturally on its own. Occasionally, your mind will wander off. Our practice is simply to take note of this distraction and to bring our attention gently back to our breath. If you like, you may use the sentences listed here to help you in focusing your attention. During the duration of several in and out breaths, follow your breath from beginning to end.

    • Breathing in: I am aware only of my in breath.
    • Breathing out: I am aware only of my out breath.
    • Or simply say...In, Out

You can practice mindful breathing in any situation: while sitting, lying down, standing, driving, or working. Breathing consciously will bring more awareness and concentration to whatever you are doing.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Observing your thoughts and feelings

Observing your thoughts and feelings can help keep them from overtaking you. It involves stepping back from them and noticing that you are having them as "things" in themselves. Being curious about thoughts and feelings can help you to have them as an "experience" rather than simply becoming lost in them. "I'm having a lot of fear thoughts right now." Notice how big they are, whether they are familiar or seem old. Notice the qualities...the aliveness or dullness of the fear thoughts and feelings. By observing you move yourself away from reacting.


Separating yourself from your thoughts and feelings is not something you need to do all the time, but it can become important when feelings are overwhelming. Here are two common strategies made popular by Marsha Linehan.


Leaves on a stream


  • One exercise that can help you detach from overwhelming or negative feelings is the "leaves on a stream" exercise. It's easy to do, and you can do it anytime. I find it very helpful. Instructions are here.

Conveyor belt


  • Another exercise that I also find easy to do is the "conveyor belt" exercise. It can be very calming when things get tough. Here are instructions:

    Imagine that your mind is a conveyor belt, and that thoughts and/or feelings are coming down the belt. Name the thoughts and feelings to yourself--"I am having a feeling of sadness. I am now having a feeling of fear that I will be alone. It's very large. Now I'm having a feeling of curiousity about what my brother said last night." Put each thought and/or feeling in a box near the belt. Allow the thoughts and feelings to flow as you observe them. You will find this calming. Do it as long as you need, and repeat whenever you feel you are getting upset.

Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance is accepting things as they are without judging them. It requires what Marsha Linehan calls "turning the mind" from willfulness (fighting the realities of life) to willingness (accepting them). This can be hard to do. Essentially it means dropping the extensive judging and "stewing" many of us do over things that "are". It has to do with detachment from emotional over-involvement, which is what mindfulness is all about. Alcholics Anonymous has long talked about the importance of acceptance in their literature. Perhaps they got there first (at least in the US).


Radical acceptance does not mean that you approve, like, or embrace whatever is happening, or find it easy to do so. Radical acceptance means accepting life on life’s own terms regardless of your sentiment about it, and finding effective strategies to cope and eventually appreciate whatever is happening. Radical acceptance also doesn't mean passivity, but rather accepting "what is" while simultaneously doing what is effective in the moment.


Ultimately radical acceptance means dropping paralzying thoughts and judgments like: "This is awful. It can't be happening to me" or "I must be a bad person if this happened." It is radical because it is detaching from the emotional judgments and accepting the realities that must be dealt with.

Rejection or any other defined negative experience only has the power that we continue to give it. Radical Acceptance, in essence, frees us up emotionally in reassuring ways that allow us to take back our personal power, or to not give it away to circumstance and whim anymore. Most of us don’t realize how much of our thinking is narrow, black and white, at times, and also very repetitive. Not to mention, often, negative and protective, often without cause. These kinds of thought patterns are always destined to give us similar feelings. Feelings that create anxiety and worry and leave us fearful and even angry. Feelings that, if acted upon, often produce very unwanted impulsive self-defeating and regrettable behaviour.

A.J. Mahari, a woman who has recovered

from Borderline Personality Disorder


Mindfulness is also about the mind-body connection. Click here for more info.