I wake up in the morning to the sound of birds chirping delightfully outside my window. I quietly make my way in the early morning hour to my yoga room where the gentle flow of the table top waterfall cascades rhythmically, inviting me to my morning meditation.
I inhale deeply, letting the stream of thoughts flowing in my mind pass gracefully in and out of consciousness and I exhale any tension or tightness my body may be holding as I sit in my deep meditation for a delicious 40 minutes.
BEEP BEEP BEEP! The sound of my alarm wakes me from my dream. I roll out of bed, grab my robe, fumble to let the dogs out, stubbing my toe along the way. Following a few expletives, I scoop the dog food into the metal bowls, toss them to the floor and make my way to the hot, steaming shower that must quickly wash away the foggy brain of sleep still lingering.
I jump into my clothes, paint on some semblence of a face, and pull up my hair. I grab a glass of juice and a packet of instant oatmeal and yogurt which will serve as my breakfast and lunch when I make it to the office.
I secure the dogs, and (as I exit my house) I take a deep breath (holding it for the required four seconds), offer a blessing for the day on the exhale, and haul it to my Jeep because I am now five minutes late for work!
Research continues to remind us of the role of mindfulness in our experience of overall wellness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn in his groundbreaking book “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness,” writes “…there is something about the cultivation of mindfulness that is healing, that is transformative and that can serve to give our lives back to us…” (pg. xxvii).
A practice of mindfulness extends beyond the individual practitioner and benefits those who surround her or him. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and author of many books including “Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children,” offers “When you are solid, happy and full of compassion, you will naturally know how to create a happy family or school environmen, and how to water the positive qualities in your children, other family members, students, and colleagues at work” (p. 41).
While most of us would agree that this sounds divine and long to attain a lifestyle that promotes full presence, many of us struggle with the basic logistics of beginning a practice.
To devote the suggested 40 minutes a day to meditation would require many of us to eliminate sleep, and while I am a huge advocate for daily meditation, I find that a 20 minute practice following my hour at the gym is about all I can devote daily.
However, there are numerous ways that we can create moments of mindfulness throughout our day.
1. Add intention to routine activities.
Routine activities can take on contemplative practice when we se t our intention on being fully present in that moment. Putting the distraction of our phones away, walking the dogs, making the bed, even emptying the dishwasher can become moments of mindfulness. For example, a morning shower is filled with sensory experiences, if we allow ourselves to be present to the sensations of the water cascading down the body. We can use that time to do a body scan and note tension being held and allow the warm water to release the tightness and relax our muscles.
2. Breathe through the mundane
Traffic lights are notorious stressors. However, we can repurpose those few minutes by taking deep breaths, setting aside the agenda for the day, turning off the radio and becoming fully present in our bodies.
3. Color consciousness
Adult coloring books have become the latest craze as it allows the individual to focus on a single task. It incorporates creativity and color and allows a few moments of relaxed consciousness. Grab a book and color during breaks at work.
4. Jigsaw meditation
Jigsaw puzzles are another way to promote a focused meditation. Dollar stores carry small puzzles that can be placed in work break rooms, promoting collective consciousness with colleagues. Again, taking a few quiet moments focusing on this task may be just what the doctor ordered to relieve stress during the day.
5. Devotion moments
Opening a book with inspirational quotes offers just moments of reflection and contemplation.
While I have many, my recent favorite book, “The Meaning of Life” by Bradley Trevor Greive, provides brief reflections captured in precious pictures of animals.
Taking a break for` a cuppa’ tea has long been a favorite of mine. Tea has been a staple in China for centuries, at first used for medicinal reasons and later for more social consumption. British afternoon tea was offered to break up the extremely long time between breakfast and the fashionably late dinner which were the only two meals served. Still a good cup of tea in the afternoon can provide a soothing, fragrant, mini-escape from a stressful day.
7. The Zen of Nature
Years ago, I purchased a mini Zen garden for my office. Filled with sand and miniature rocks, I use a small rake and create swirls and twirls in the sand as I release the tension of the day. I know other colleagues who enjoy the art of Bonsai and trim their tiny trees during breaks. Nature is a sacred space that connects with us in prophetic ways. Gardening, nature walks, watching a sun rise or set, just being present to the outdoors for moments can provide us with significant stress reduction.
8. Blow Bubbles
Bubble therapy is a personal favorite and requires one to take a deep breath only to skillfully exhale in a way that will not burst the bubble. After a particularly stressful day, I like to take my huge bubble bottle outside and blow to my heart’s content.
9. Gratitude List
Counting our blessings appears to offer not only a moment of mindfulness but a shift in brain chemistry. Taking time to reflect on that which we are grateful can promote an immediate reduction in the experience of external stressors that lingers long after the moment has dissipated.
10. Connect with others.
Animals can provide a connection and comfort in the most primal way. Watching goldfish pop to the surface during feeding and swim gracefully among the miniatures in the bowl is therapeutic. However, nothing beats a cuddle with two 65 pound dogs. We all just huddle together rubbing each other’s tummies and enjoying the connection between human and animal. While I love my canine cuddles, my ultimate is sitting quietly for a few moments hugging my spouse.
Armed with a handful (or two) of ways to incorporate moments of mindfulness take a deep breath, exhale and enjoy being present in your day.
Bird at the window photo available from Shutterstock