Whenever I ask people what gets in their way of practising mindful meditation, the answer is most often: “time.” There’s no time to sit on a chair or cushion and simply notice your breath. There’s no time in a busy, stressful day to pause and check in with yourself. There’s no time to get into the relaxed state of mind that some assume is necessary for meditation (it’s not). There’s no time to practise and gain all the benefits of mindfulness (increased focus/creativity, reduced reactivity, etc.).
I’m not here to argue with anyone about this either. Once you’ve tried mindful meditation for an extended period (in a course, retreat or on your own), it’s likely you have already discovered that time is not the issue; rather, it is about how you choose to spend the time you have and what you consider most important. Hopefully by then you have also debunked any myths about how long you must meditate for – like any new habit, consistency matters more than duration. It is better to meditate for ten minutes a day, every day, than to meditate for an hour once a week.
As you’re developing this daily habit, you may want to find opportunities to be mindful outside of your regular practice, so that you continue to reap the rewards all day. Here are a few tips for being mindful in the moment:
How often do you find yourself waiting during the day? Waiting in line for your coffee, waiting to get to work on the subway, waiting at a stop light, waiting for the commercials to be over, waiting for a pot to boil, waiting for the shower to get warm… you get the idea: we all do a lot of waiting each day. These seemingly useless moments are perfect for checking in with yourself in a mindful way, by following these steps:
- Adjust your body so it is in a neutral position, whether you’re standing or sitting (feet flat on the floor, legs and arms uncrossed, soft gaze)
- Pay attention to your breath, without judging what you notice: is it short or ragged? Is your exhale longer than your inhale (or vice-versa)? Where in your body is your breath most evident (does it get caught in your throat, is it high or low in your chest)? How does it sound?
- Pay attention to your mind, without judging what you notice: is it busy or calm? Are you ruminating or worrying? Are there a multitude of thoughts in your head or does your mind seem foggy?
- Practise letting your thoughts go and coming back to your breath – at least once while you’re waiting. Notice how it feels to let go in that moment.
Janice Marturano writes about purposeful pauses in her book, “Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership.” She describes them as follows:
“A purpose pause is available to you at any moment. It’s as close as the sensations of the next breath in your body or the sensations of your feet on the floor. You don’t need to find a quiet room or a meditation cushion. Wherever you are – in the midst of whatever meeting or call, or even as you are walking to your next appointment – intentionally escorting your attention to the sensations in the body is a powerful way to interrupt the discursive mind, and to calm the racing pulse of the body’s reactions to thoughts of the future or the past. When you interrupt the treadmill, even for a few moments of practice in this way, your body and mind have a chance to reset, to allow you to see things more clearly, so that you can respond rather than react, and pay attention to that gut feeling that’s been calling you.”
Some suggestions she includes for purposeful pauses are:
- Mindfully brush your teeth (notice the taste of the toothpaste, the sounds the water makes, the water temperature).
- Mindfully drink that first coffee of the day (smell the aroma, feel the warmth of the cup, taste the brew on your tongue).
- Mindfully walk from one destination to another (feel your body moving through the air, your feet on the ground, hear the sounds of your surroundings).
When many of us lie down to sleep, our bodies weary from a long day, our minds suddenly wake up and want to rehash everything that happened or what we anticipate is to come. This does not usually make for a restful sleep. One of the best ways I’ve found to help my mind relax into much-needed sleep is to mindfully check in on the emotions underlying my stressful thoughts. It only takes a minute, here’s how:
a) Become aware that you are thinking (ruminating, worrying, or otherwise) as you lie in bed.
b) Let your thoughts go for a moment and focus your attention on any physical sensations you notice in your body: pressure or tightness in your stomach or chest, aching or emptiness in your middle, tightness in your throat, pressure in your eyes – whatever you can be aware of.
c) Concentrate on allowing those sensations to exist fully without going back to your thoughts or trying to make any discomfort go away. When you allow yourself to feel your emotions mindfully in this way, this is often all that’s needed for your mind to slide into sleep and give you the rest you need (and if this still doesn’t work with some practice, try the Anti-Ruminator).
When you explore your day for opportunities to be mindful in the moment, you begin to realize just how much time there actually is for those powerful check-ins that help you step back, gain perspective and thoughtfully choose your next action.