Exercises in Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Here are a number of exercises and approaches in meditation
which I often have used, adapting them from various
methods to fit my own circumstances and preferences.
“Select the ones you like best and find the most suitable
for your own self. The value of each method will vary
according to each person’s unique needs. Although these
exercises are relatively easy, they form the foundations
on which everything else is built.”
Half-smile when you first wake up in the morning:
Hang a branch, any other sign, or even the
word “smile” on the ceiling or wall so that you
see it right away when you open your eyes. This
sign will serve as your reminder. Use these
seconds before you get out of bed to take hold
of your breath. Inhale and exhale three breaths
gently while maintaini.ng the half smile. Follow
Half-smile during your free moments:
Anywhere you find yourself sitting or standing,
half-smile. Look at a child, a leaf, a painting on
the wall, anything which is relatively still, and
smile. Inhale and exhale quietly three times.
Maintain the half smile and consider the spot
of your attention as your own true nature.
Half-smile while listening to music:
Listen to a piece of music for two or three
minutes. Pay attention to the words, music,
rhythm, and sentiments. Smile while watching
your inhalations and exhalations.
Half-smile when irritated:
When you realize you’re irritated, half-smile
at once. Inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining
the half smile for three breaths.
Letting go in a lying-down position:
Lie on your back on a flat surface without the
support of mattress or pillow. Keep your two
arms loosely by your sides and your two legs
slightly apart, stretched out before you. Maintain
a half smile. Breathe in and out gently, keeping
your attention focused on your breath. Let
go of every muscle in your body. Relax each
muscle as though it were sinking down through
the floor or as though it were as soft and yielding
as a piece of silk hanging in the breeze to dry.
Let go entirely, keeping your attention only on
your breath and half smile. Think of yourself
as a cat, completely relaxed before a warm fire,
whose muscles yield without resistance to
anyone’s touch. Continue for 15 breaths.
Letting go in the sitting position:
Sit in the half or full lotus, or cross-legged, or
your two legs folded beneath you, or even on a
chair, your two feet touching the floor. Halfsmile.
Inhale and exhale while maintaining the
half smile. Let go.
Lie on your back. Breathe evenly and gently,
focusing your attention on the movement of
your stomach. As you begin to breathe in, allow
your stomach to rise in order to bring air into the
lower half of your lungs. As the upper halves of
your lungs begin to fill with air, your chest begins
to rise and your stomach begins to lower. Don’t
tire yourself. Continue for 10 breaths. The exhalation
will be longer than the inhalation.
Measuring your breath by your footsteps:
Walk slowly and leisurely in a garden, along a
river, or on a village path. Breathe normally.
Determine the length of your breath, the
exhalation and the inhalation, by the number
of your footsteps. Continue for a few minutes.
Begin to lengthen your exhalation by one step.
Do not force a longer inhalation. Let it be
natural. Watch your inhalation carefully to see
if there is a desire to lengthen it. Continue for 10 breaths.
Now lengthen the exhalation by one more
footstep. Watch to see whether the inhalation
also lengthens by one step or not. Only lengthen
the inhalation when you feel that it will give
delight. After 20 breaths, return your breath
to normal. About five minutes later, you can
begin the practice of lengthened breaths again.
When you feel the least bit tired, return to
normal. After several sessions of the practice
of lengthened breath, your exhalation and inhalation
will grow equal in length. Do not practice
long, equal breaths for mote than 10 to
20 breaths before returning to normal.
Counting your breath:
Sit in the half or full lotus or take a walk. As
you inhale, be mindful that “I am inhaling, one.”
When you exhale, be mindful that “I am exhaling,
one.” Remember to breathe from the stomach.
When beginning the second inhalation, be
mindful that “I am inhaling, two.” And slowly
exhaling, be mindful that “I am exhaling, two.”
Continue on up through 10. After you have
reached 10, return to one. Whenever you lose
count, return to one.
Following your breath while listening to music:
Listen to a piece of music. Breathe long, light,
and even breaths. Follow your breath, be master
of it while remaining aware of the movement
and sentiments of the music. Do not get lost
in the music, but continue to be master of your
breath and your self.
Following your breath while carrying on a conversation:
Breathe long, light, and even breaths. Follow
your breath while listening to a friend’s words
and to your own replies. Continue as with the
Following the breath:
Sit in a full or half lotus or go for a walk. Begin
to inhale gently and normally (from the stomach),
mindful that “I am inhaling normally.” Exhale
in mindfulness, “I am exhaling normally.”
Continue for three breaths. On the fourth
breath, extend the inhalation, mindful that
“I am breathing in a long inhalation.” Exhale
in mindfulness, “I am breathing out a long
exhalation.” Continue for three breaths.
Now follow your breath carefully, aware
of every movement of your stomach and lungs.
Follow the entrance and exit of air. Be mindful
that “I am inhaling and following the inhalation
from its beginning to its end. I am exhaling
and following the exhalation from its beginning
to its end.”
Continue for 20 breaths. Return to normal.
After 5 minutes, repeat the exercise. Remember
to maintain the half smile while breathing.
Once you have mastered this exercise, move
on to the next.
Breathing to quiet the mind and body to realize joy:
Sit in the full or half lotus. Half-smile. Follow
your breath. When your mind and body are
quiet, continue to inhale and exhale very
lightly, mindful that, “1 am breathing in and
making the breath-body light and peaceful.
I am exhaling and making the breath-body
light and peaceful.” Continue for three breaths,
giving rise to the thought in mindfulness, “I
am breathing in and making my entire body
light and peaceful and joyous.” Continue for
three breaths and in mindfulness give rise to
the thought, “1 am breathing in while my body
and mind are peace and joy. I am breathing out
while my body and mind are peace and joy.”
Maintain this thought in mindfulness from
5 to 30 minutes, or for an hour, according to
your ability and to the time available to you.
The beginning and end of the practice should
be relaxed and gentle. When you want to stop,
gently massage your eyes and face with your
two hands and then massage the muscles in your
legs before returning to a normal sitting position.
Wait a moment before standing up.
Mindfulness of the positions of the body:
This can be practiced in any time and place.
Begin to focus your attention on your breath.
Breathe quietly and more deeply than usual.
Be mindful of the position of your body,
whether you are walking, standing, lying, or
sitting down. Know where you walk; where you
stand; where you lie; where you sit. Be mind-
ful of the purpose of your position. For example,
you might be conscious that you are standing
on a green hillside in order to refresh
yourself, to practice breathing, or just to stand.
If there is no purpose, be mindful that there is
Mindfulness while making tea:
Prepare a pot of tea to serve a guest or to drink
by yourself. Do each movement slowly, in mindfulness.
Do not let one detail of your movements
go by without being mindful of it. Know that
your hand lifts the pot by its handle. Know that
you are pouring the fragrant warm tea into the
cup. Follow each step in mindfulness. Breathe
gently and more deeply than usual. Take hold
of your breath if your mind strays.
Washing the dishes:
Wash the dishes relaxingly, as though each
bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider
each bowl as sacred. Follow your breath to
prevent your mind from straying. Do not try
to hurry to get the job over with. Consider
washing the dishes the most important thing
in life. Washing the dishes is meditation. If you
cannot wash the dishes in mindfulness, neither
can you meditate while sitting in silence.
Divide your work into stages: straightening
things and putting away books, scrubbing
the toilet, scrubbing the bathroom, sweeping
the floors and dusting. Allow a good length of
time for each task. Move slowly, three times
more slowly than usual. Fully focus your attention
on each task. For example, while placing
a book on the shelf, look at the book, be aware
of what book it is, know that you are in the
process of placing it on the shelf, intending to
put it in that specific place. Know that your
hand reaches for the book, and picks it up.
Avoid any abrupt or harsh movement. Maintain
mindfulness of the breath, especially when
your thoughts wander.
A slow-motion bath:
Allow yourself 30 to 45 minutes to take a bath.
Don’t hurry for even one second. From the
moment you prepare the bathwater to the
moment you put on clean clothes, let every
motion be light and slow. Be attentive of every
movement. Place your attention to every part
of your body, without discrimination or fear.
Be mindful of each stream of water on your
body. By the time you’ve finished, your mind
should feel as peaceful and light as your body.
Follow your breath. Think of yourself as being
in a clean and fragrant lotus pond in the summer.
While sitting still and breathing slowly, think
of yourself as a pebble which is falling through
a clear stream. While sinking, there is no intention
to guide your movement. Sink toward the
spot of total rest on the gentle sand of the riverbed.
Continue meditating on the pebble until
your mind and body are at complete rest: a
pebble resting on the sand. Maintain this peace
and joy a half hour while watching your breath.
No thought about the past or future can pull
you away from your present peace and joy. The
universe exists in this present moment. No desire
can pull you away from this present peace, not
even the desire to become a Buddha or the
desire to save all beings. Know that to become a
Buddha and to save all beings can only be realized
on the foundation of the pure peace of the
A day of mindfulness:
Set aside one day of the week, any day that
accords with your own situation. Forget the
work you do during the other days. Do not
organize any meetings or have friends over.
Do only such simple work as house cleaning,
cooking, washing clothes, and dusting.
Once the house is neat and clean, and all
your things are in order, take a slow-motion
bath. Afterwards, prepare and drink tea. You
might read scripture or write letters to close
friends. Afterwards, take a walk to practice
While reading scripture or writing
letters, maintain your mindfulness, don’t let
the text or letter pull you away to somewhere
else. While reading the sacred text, know what
you are reading; while writing the letter, know
what you are writing. Follow the same procedure
as listening to music or conversing with a
In the evening prepare yourself a light
meal, perhaps only a little fruit or a glass of
fruit juice. Sit in meditation for an hour before
you go to bed.
During the day, take two walks
of a half hour to 45 minutes. Instead of reading
before you go to bed, practice total relaxation
for 5 to 10 minutes. Be master of your breathing.
Breathe gently (the breath should not be
too long), following the rising, the lowering of
your stomach and chest, your eyes closed. Every
movement during this day should be at least
two times slower than usual.
source: The Miracle of Mindfulness, PDF file pp. 96 – 105 (more exercises on pp. 105 – 115)