When many people hear the world “mindfulness,” they instantly think of meditation and yoga. These are indeed two prominent and beneficial practices to support mindfulness. There are, however, a multitude of ways to live intentionally, become centered, and develop mindful patterns. Through breathing and centering exercises, you can integrate an awareness of the body, heart, mind, and soul to promote holistic health. Subsequently, these practices support communication skills, emotional regulation, and relationships as well!
In this post, we aim to walk you through useful skills and resources to mindfully center yourself.
The 5-4-3-2-1 is a sensory orientation practice intended to help you take your spotlight of awareness and purposefully shift it between the five senses. It is an excellent exercise for when you are feeling scattered or ungrounded.
Consider your five senses—sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste—and determine which sensation is most pronounced to you in the moment. Name five things you experience for that sense. Then move to the next sense and name four things. Move to the next sense and name three things, and so on. A student in the field might go through this exercise as follows:
Now it’s your turn! Try this out wherever you are right now.
As you completed the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, you shifted focus between your senses on purpose. This is a key aspect of being mindful! The more you practice intentionally shifting your awareness between senses, the better you’ll become at purposefully shifting your awareness between things beyond senses, such as conversations, objects, tasks, and people.
There are both physiological and psychological benefits to breathing exercises. A deep breath may not solve a problem or make a fear disappear, but it will center you in the present moment, regulate your emotions, and help you choose to respond rather than react. Breathing exercises are foundational skills for students at Open Sky, and the three-fold breath is one of the first skills our students learn.
Here’s how to practice the three-fold breath:
Find a comfortable seated or standing position. Notice the points of contact your body has with the chair or the ground.
Exhale your air completely. Imagine bringing your belly button toward your spine.
Inhale slowly into your belly, then your rib cage, and lastly, your upper chest. Hold your breath there.
Breathe out slowly, elongating the exhale for six to eight seconds.
Move through this pattern several times, taking care to notice any stressful feelings that might come up. Breathe them out.
By focusing your inhalations and elongating your exhalations, this breathing exercise helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax, regulate, and communicate to the mind and body that you are safe. In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system is what causes fight, flight, or freeze responses, all of which are unhelpful for a productive and regulated response to an overwhelming situation. The three-fold breath is a tool you can utilize at any time to center yourself and regulate your emotions.
Another mindfulness skill for centering and emotional regulation is the four-line feelings check. This exercise helps use observation and vocabulary to build awareness around your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experience. By building this awareness with focused attention, you will be able to more authentically connect with yourself and others.
To begin this exercise, close your eyes or soften your gaze. Pause as you consider each aspect of your health—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—and name what’s happening for you in each one. Here is an example of what a four-line feelings check might look like.
Direct your attention to your body and note any physical sensations.
Physically, I feel a looseness in my body, the fabric of my clothes on my skin, sunlight coming in through my eyes, and a smile on my face.
Direct your attention to your heart and note what emotions you are feeling.
Emotionally, I feel some playfulness, joy, and gratitude.
Direct your attention to your mind and note the quality or current characteristics of your thoughts.
Mentally, my thoughts are sharp, focused, and present.
Direct your attention to your “soul” or “spirit” and note the qualities of your current experience.
Note: Awareness of this aspect of health is often the most challenging. If you don’t have a regular spiritual or religious practice, simply consider what you feel connected to or disconnected from that is greater than yourself. This could be a sense of hope, comfort, meaning, or peace in your inner life. It could also be your connection to or disconnection from nature, family, humankind, or a higher power.
Spiritually, I feel connected to this work of emotional regulation, as well as the mountains behind me and the expansive sky above.
With the four-line feelings check, it’s important to stay present without overthinking or elaborating on your experience. This exercise is not aimed to tell a story, solve a problem, or explain a situation. It’s simply about centering yourself, tapping into your present experience, and sitting with it.
Furthermore, sharing your four-line feelings check with others can foster internal and external connection as well. The intentionality and mindfulness of this exercise helps us understand ourselves, navigate conflict, and connect with others.
As you practice the four-line feelings check, do you find yourself getting stuck while naming your emotions and feelings? When asked how we are feeling, how often do we simply reply with “good” or “bad?” These are ingrained responses for a majority of us, and many students at Open Sky don’t have practice naming their emotions.
This is why we provide students with a feelings resource wheel. We encourage you to refer to one often as well! It can be indispensable when you notice intense emotions or certain physical sensations tied to your emotional or mental state. It also helps for practicing four-line feelings checks. Pull out the resource list and consider how your emotions go beyond good, bad, or even happy or sad.
By expanding your feelings vocabulary, you will begin to understand yourself and experiences better. This supports overall health and provides a clearer path forward when faced with mental and emotional challenges. Perhaps you thought you were just feeling bad, but more specifically, you’re feeling powerless and disappointed. This insight can help you determine steps to empower yourself. It could also help you fully experience that disappointment instead of brushing it aside or bottling it up.
Or maybe instead of good, you realize you are feeling hopeful and optimistic. By naming those feelings, you can realize and enjoy them in the present moment or become inspired to act on your optimism.
The 5-4-3-2-1, three-fold breath, four-line feelings check, and feelings resource wheel are all tools to help you become purposefully present. They are ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life by breathing, centering, and drawing awareness to your experience as a whole human being. They lead to emotional regulation, authentic connection, and healthy relationships.