By: Leigh Graham
Last year I took the opportunity to go on a ten-day silent meditation retreat at the Ontario Vipassana Centre, in which approximately 100 other men and women and I sat silently (and still!) for 10 hours a day, eyes closed, meditating. We ate together and bunked together, and were unable to communicate verbally or non-verbally. Phones or other electronic devices were not permitted over this time either.
Prior to this experience, I think my record for meditating was around 10 minutes. I felt I needed an immersion to master it. The good news? I now have a few tips to share with you, so that YOU don’t have to sit there forever….
One of my most important takeaways from the experience was that it changed the way I look at difficult feelings. Anxiety can take a tough but manageable situation and convince you that it’s a disaster. Human nature is to want to avoid these uncomfortable feelings at all costs, or to try and control them.
A couple of wise people once said this: “Discomfort avoidance is the common thread that binds all anxiety problems together.”— John Forsyth, Ph.D., and Georg Eifert, Ph.D., psychologists specializing in anxiety
Therefore, though counterintuitive, turning toward our difficulties for acknowledgement, and not away from them is the key!
I am in the habit of starting my morning off with a meditation practice after the alarm goes off. If daily meditation is not a part of your routine, not to worry.
You can use this short-term solution with maximum benefit. There are times in which stresses run high and we need a shorter, faster fix.
Enter the mindful pause.
A mindful pause is meditation but not in a daunting way. Studies show that meditation can reduce stress and anxiety . One study f ound that meditation actually shrinks the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for stress, anxiety, and fear. Right on.
The mindful pause is a great “spot treatment” when you feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed but still have lots to do. Hello! Sound familiar?
It only takes 30 seconds to tune into your own body. You can do it anywhere. You can be sitting, standing, or lying down. No one will even know you’re meditating. When we’re spinning out of control, sometimes we just need to interrupt the process.
Here’s how it works:
1. Take a deep breath.
Take a slow inhale, filling your lungs from bottom to top.
This will help you take advantage of the well-documented connection between breath and mood. By slowing and deepening your breathing, you can actually create feelings of relaxation and calm.
2. Tune into your body.
Open your attention to the sensations in your body. Let yourself notice whatever comes up: warmth, coolness, tingling, pressure, or the touch of clothing. There’s no need to evaluate the sensations as “good” or “bad.” Itching is simply itching. Coolness is simply coolness.
If you notice a variety of sensations: perfect. If all you notice is the feeling of your butt on the chair: also perfect.
If you notice sensations that seem connected to stress or anxiety, those are especially good to pay attention to. Maybe it’s a tightness in your chest, a twist in your gut, or warmth on your face. If you can stay with these bodily sensations and simply watch them, you can let tough emotions pass without too much stress. It is like playing in the ocean: When a wave is coming, and you try to plant your feet and resist, you get knocked over. But if you swim with the wave, it’s no problem.
This step needn’t take longer than one inhale or exhale. Stay with it longer if you like.
3. Notice your breath.
Pay attention to the sensation of air touching your nostrils as you breathe. With gentle curiosity, watch the changing sensations at the nostrils. These sensations anchor you in the present moment.
In this step, there’s no need to deepen or slow your breath at all; just breathe however your body wants to. And this step can also be as short as one inhale or exhale. Again, stay with it longer if you like.
The last step of the mindful pause is to re-engage with the world without hurry.
See if you can maintain that calm feeling and groundedness. Don’t lunge for your phone (I know, I know) or speed off. If you can, take a few seconds just sitting or standing there quietly, and then move at a more leisurely pace.
Because mindful pauses are so quick and discreet, you can do them anywhere, anytime. Be careful not to use the mindful pause as a way to resist anxiety, but rather simply to observe. If you do the steps then think to yourself ,”Crap! My anxiety is still here! The stupid thing didn’t work”, remember this tip. The trick is to accept that tough feelings like anxiety will come and go. When they’re here, they’re here, but ‘this too will pass’.
By turning toward our emotions and watching them, even for 30 seconds, we can find real relief.
The mindful pause can change your whole life. I recommend it.