A Few Thoughts on Mindfulness and Stress Reduction
What is your routine when you wake up? Hit the alarm clock and jump out of bed? Snooze button for half an hour? Waking is an important part of the day”you wouldn’t have much of a day without it! Honor this time with a refreshing mindfulness practice that feels right for you.
For example, upon waking you might take several minutes to just notice your breath coming into the day. Take a few slow and deep breaths and notice your senses starting to engage. Your sense of smell, your eyes adjusting to the morning light, the sensation of your body against the sheets, and the morning sounds of the world waking with you. Once you have experienced those sensations you might add some light stretches or wrist rolls and notice the energy starting to flow. Maybe you’re not a morning person, so this is a great way to ease into it.
Is your next step to hop in the shower? Is this usually when you really start to wake up or do you stand there in zombie mode until the first cup of coffee? The shower is one of my favorite times to practice mindfulness because you can really focus on your body while the water drowns out the noise of the waking world outside.
In fact, the water alone can be your call to mindfulness. Just notice all the sensations that the water offers. Notice the temperature change from when the water first hits your skin to when it rolls off your feet and cools on the floor of the shower. Is your shower a gentle spray or a strong jet? Notice its pressure on your skin and pay attention to single drops. Can you follow a drop of water down the length of your body without looking at it? Then, what does your shower smell like? Are you fully tuned in on the present or are you thinking about work already? Be careful not to inhale too deeply while under the water or you’ll quickly be mindful of an entirely different and less pleasant experience!
Ready for breakfast? Can you remember what you had for breakfast this morning? Better yet, do you remember chewing or remember what it tasted like? Sometimes we’re on auto-pilot when we eat, especially in the morning. Next time, no gobbling down that bagel without truly tasting it.
At your first meal remember the senses that you jump-started in the shower. Experience them again in new ways. An egg yolk isn’t just an egg yolk”it has color variations, it has a nearly invisible skin, and it behaves in different ways when you touch it, depending on how it was cooked.
As for chewing and tasting, that can be a whole practice in itself. Mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn is known for introducing patients to the ‘Raisin Consciousness’ meditation.
Whether it’s a raisin or a piece of toast, we can slowly experience all aspects of savoring our food. There are so many flavors and textures that go unnoticed when we eat mindlessly. What does that toast feel like between your fingers? Smell it. Notice the tiny holes and grains in the surface. Take a tiny bite and notice how it brushes against your tongue, crunches under your teeth, breaks apart and dissolves, and slides down your throat. It may take you half an hour just to eat that piece of toast! The point is to slow down and stay present with your food. No you don’t need to be a foodie, but I urge you to not take the food or the experience of eating for granted.
When we drive mindlessly all sorts of scary things happen. The least of which might be slamming on the brakes in the nick of time. It’s just so easy to get lost in the thoughts of our day’s obligations or concern ourselves with the lives of the drivers around us: “How dare he!” “What a jerk!” “Ooh, donuts!”
When we’re fully present in our vehicle, eyes on the road and minds on the drive, we are much safer and calmer drivers. As long as that other guy is driving safely, we don’t need to concern ourselves with his business. We can avoid bumper stickers and billboards because we know they don’t matter. We are not speeding, we are not digging our fingernails into the steering wheel, and our blood is not boiling with road rage.
We are letting all of that go by breathing deeply, staying present, and accepting that the outside world is outside of our control.
Did he just cut you off? Well, that moment has already passed. You can’t go back and prevent it and you won’t be teaching her a lesson by getting mad. Granted, this takes some practice. But if you’re a frustrated driver, you will have plenty of opportunity to do so.
You’re ready for the red-light meditation challenge…
Let’s say you pull up to a red light that lasts 60 seconds. That’s one minute you can fill with deep breathing and awareness. One minute that yesterday was filled with wiping up spilled coffee or cursing at traffic. Next time, consider it your 60-second timer. Red light starts the timer and green light stops it.
Kind of like a power nap, this is your power meditation. Just be present with your surroundings without judging them. And if you do get distracted, which you will, gently bring yourself back to the moment. Keep practicing. Let go of that frustration. You don’t have any control of other drivers but you have full control of how you will react (or non-react) toward them. Your thoughts do not control you and you are not your thoughts.
This exercise was adapted by my former professor Tom Holmes at Western Michigan University, from a story once told by Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Always one to add a humorous spin on a story, Dr. Holmes concluded the exercise by telling students: If you close your eyes for too long while stopped at the red light and lose track of time, don’t worry, the person behind you will surely let you know when the light has turned green! Just breathe.