Writer Taylor Okamura sits in paschima namaskarasana, a heart-opening yoga pose, before playing sound bowls. (Photo courtesy of Justin Gardner)

By Taylor Okamura | Staff Writer

Finals can be stressful, life can take unexpected twists and turns, and the multifaceted experience of life can send us on emotional rollercoasters we may not have intended on signing up for. So, what can we incorporate into our schedules to help us regulate our emotions, reduce stress, and improve sleep and attention? These are some of the benefits of practices like meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. It can be challenging to make time to practice these things, but here are seven mindfulness practices even a full-time college student can make time for. 

I am a 200-hour certified yoga teacher, I taught a restorative yoga and meditation class. I have guided spoken, breath, and sound meditation for yoga classes in Hawaiʻi. I am a certified reiki practitioner. I’ve taken Yale’s Science of Well-Being course and have taken many courses on mindfulness, yoga, meditation and Eastern philosophy. As someone who has practiced mindfulness, meditation, and yoga and independently studied psychology, eastern philosophy, and religion for the past seven years, I have experienced the benefits of this information and these practices. 

Remember, it can take time, patience, and consistency to experience the benefits these practices offer. I encourage you to find what works for you in your life. These are some mindfulness practices that have benefited me in regulating my emotions, reducing stress, and experiencing more frequent moments of presence and attention. Theses practices may not be your cup of tea, and it’s ok if what benefits you is different from what has benefited me. 

What is Mindfulness?

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. 

Mindfulness focuses on acknowledging what we’re doing, how we’re feeling, and what we’re experiencing. Learning to observe our thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judgment can help us avoid automatic habits and overthinking. 

“It is intended to help us come to a healthy relationship with the inevitabilities of the difficulties of life, which is much more profound than relaxation training,” Dr. Siegel said in his book “The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems.”

“These practices are designed to train the brain and the mind to embrace life as it actually is,” he writes. “When we can do that, we wind up being much less stressed. Ultimately, most of our stress comes from fighting reality.”

1. Reframing Your Thoughts, AKA Cognitive Reframing 

Everyone’s perceptions and feelings are unique. Reframing your thoughts is a practice of noticing recurring thoughts that are more damaging than beneficial and finding a new way to think about them. Challenge that pre-existing mental narrative and expand your perspective on it. Is there another way you could see what you’ve been thinking about? Is there another way you could word your thoughts? Remember, sometimes the first way we reframe something won’t stick. It’s important you find an interpretation that works for you. 

According to Harvard University’s Stress & Development Lab, positive reframing and evidence examining help people flexibly re-examine situations to find interpretations that feel better. 

Instead of thinking about all the homework you HAVE to do, you can reframe the thought and infuse it with excitement by changing HAVE to GET to do. Hopefully, at least one part of your homework or your class excites you: learning a new skill or stepping out of your comfort zone. Think about how that homework may be challenging but gives you an opportunity to expand your learning. 

If you did poorly on a test, you could judge yourself and perceive yourself as a failure, or you can acknowledge that you may not have scored well, but you showed up and tried. You may have room to improve, but you tried, and a bad grade doesn’t equate to being a bad person or a failure.

2. Set An Intention For Your Day 

Schedules can be busy; mornings can be rushed. You may wake up, and within 10 minutes, you’re leaving your house. Even if that is so, set an intention for your day in that 10 minutes or during your commute. When someone intends to do something, they have in mind a purpose or goal. Pick a purpose or goal. It can be anything that you would like to expand on throughout the day. Diana Raab, who holds a doctorate in Psychology, wrote that “making time in the morning to set an intention is one way to pause before the day begins and ask yourself what you want. This will help you be more mindful during the course of the day. A daily practice will not only set the tone but will give you a mindset for the day.”

My examples:

Just for today:

I will be patient
I will be grateful
I will be kind
I will work hard
I will smile more
I will be honest

These are some that I practice in my life. I picked character traits I would like to embody more of. I value kindness, empathy, compassion, and honesty. I’d like to expand on opportunities to smile more, experience more frequent gratitude, and hold myself accountable for my work ethic. But based on the emotions I’m experiencing, plans and goals I have for the day, or environments I’m in; I will change the intention I set for the day to match that. 

3. Observing Your Breath

One of the most accessible ways to practice presence is by observing your breath. Our bodies are always in the here and now. Our bodies and breath are here even if our minds dance into other places. According to Harvard University’s Medical School Publishing’s article, “Simply observing the breath can damp down stress and open a door to a more healthy and mindful lifestyle.” The article also says,One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to simply focus your attention on your breath. It’s a form of ‘entry-level’ meditation that anyone can do. You’ll notice an immediate sense of relaxation that could help protect your health over time.” 

When I’m overthinking or feeling overwhelmed, I will focus on the cadence and quality of my breath. Am I breathing fast and short or long and full? Once I find the cadence I can focus on slowing down my breath. Taking longer inhales and exhales. I follow the trail of air into my nose, feel my chest and belly rise, and then I exhale, feeling my chest and belly sink back into my body. My shoulders relax, and I feel the air exiting from my nose. After a couple of deeper and fuller breaths, I start to feel much more relaxed.

4. Body Scanning

According to an article from Healthline, “Body Scanning can help you feel more connected to your physical and emotional self by tuning into your body and noticing any pain, tension, or sensations.” 

Body scanning can be done by lying down and getting comfortable. You close your eyes and breathe. Then, bring your attention to your feet. Is there any tension, pain or sensations you notice? If so, breathe and imagine that with every breath, you’re sending energy through your attention into that space of tension. Visualize that tension easing with every exhale. Scan your entire body from your feet up to your forehead.

I work as a surf instructor in Waikiki, and because of the physical exertion the job requires, my body often experiences pain and tension. Body scanning has helped me relieve some of the tension in my neck and shoulders after being in the water for 8 hours. Usually, after a long day at work, I’ll want to lie down for a while, so once I do, I will do a body scan to notice where I’m feeling the most tension and pain in my body. I put on some meditation music or a guided meditation, and I will breathe into those spaces and visualize the tension easing. Then, if I’m still experiencing tension or pain, I will stretch or give myself a massage. Body scanning is a way for me to increase my awareness of my body and makes me better informed to care for my body. 

You can find some body scan meditations online if you prefer to be guided through this.

This is not a replacement for medical attention. If you notice a lot of pain in your body, please seek medical attention.

5. Journaling

Journaling allows us to sit with our thoughts, express them, and reflect on them. There are many ways to journal, and there is no right or wrong way to write to yourself. Some examples are prompted journaling, reflective journaling, writing about your day, or writing about your feelings. 

According to an article from Positive Psychology, “Research suggests that journaling can help us accept rather than judge our mental experiences, resulting in fewer negative emotions in response to stressors.” 

And, Healthline reported journaling helps reduce stress, may boost health and wellbeing, encourage space from negative thoughts, provides a way to process emotions, and can help with goal setting.

As a writer, I found a love for writing through journaling and writing poetry. I had no idea when I started that it would become one of the most cathartic and stress-relieving tools in my mindfulness tool belt. Journaling has helped me shift into more of an observer’s mindset, acknowledging and accepting my thoughts. Instead of judging and automatically reacting to what I’m experiencing, journaling gave me a way to express myself and my emotions in a way that felt safe to me.

Here are some journal prompts in case the blank page seems daunting:

What are three things that made me smile today?
What are three things that challenged me?
Was there anything today that I felt resistant to doing?
What would I like to achieve in the next day, week, month, year?
If I wrote a love letter to myself, what would I write?

6. Mindful Eating 

According to an article from Harvard University’s School of Public Health on mindful eating,Eating mindfully means that you are using all of your physical and emotional senses to experience and enjoy the food choices you make. This helps to increase gratitude for food, which can improve the overall eating experience. Mindful eating encourages one to make choices that will be satisfying and nourishing to the body. However, it discourages ‘judging’ one’s eating behaviors as there are different types of eating experiences.” The article also states “that research has shown that mindful eating can lead to greater psychological well-being, increased pleasure when eating, and body satisfaction.”

An example of mindful eating is slowing down and savoring the food we eat to fuel our bodies. One way this can be done is by being grateful for the food you’re eating. Did your grandma cook it? Can you taste the love she put into making it? That time she spent cooking was an act of love; when you eat it, you also absorb the love she put into it. Or maybe you cooked something for yourself. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but the time you spend preparing the food is an act of care. As you’re eating, remind yourself of the love and care you put into your meal and that your food nourishes you. Thank yourself and your food.

7. Be Compassionate To Yourself 

This may sound cliche or simple, but being a friend to ourselves can be challenging, especially if we’re experiencing stress. Ask yourself, would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? If the answer is no, you may put too much pressure on yourself or hold yourself to unrealistic standards and expectations. Dr. Kristen Neff, an associate professor at the University of Austin at Texas and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, wrote that “self-compassion simply involves doing a U-turn and giving yourself the same compassion you’d naturally show a friend.”

Remember, no one is perfect; mistakes happen, and some things take time. Be patient with yourself, and reframe mistakes into opportunities to learn and grow. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Be willing to be your own cheerleader. Acknowledge your successes even if they’re “little.” Try to be grateful for yourself. It is impossible to be kind to yourself all of the time, that’s an unrealistic expectation. However, we can consciously take opportunities when we can to treat ourselves with more compassion and kindness.

If the only person you have with you 24/7 is you, you might as well be a friend to yourself.