There’s a Zen koan that says:
Meditate for an hour every day unless you are too busy. In that case meditate for two hours.
I think of this line frequently when people tell me they are “too busy” for mindfulness. The parents and teachers and students I work with describe days of perpetual motion: school and work and activities and errands and meals-on-the-run…. “I just feel like I never have a moment to stop!” they tell me.
Which makes me think, “If you don’t have a single moment to stop, then you need at least 60 moments!”
Very few of us likely have an entire hour or two to devote to meditation and stillness each day, but we all can find at least one mindful minute. We can take 60 glorious seconds to STOP — to momentarily drop our need to respond to and engage with the outside world, to drop out of DOING mode and ease into BEING mode.
You might be thinking, “YES! That’s EXACTLY what I need!” But the hard part is actually remembering to do it. Luckily, it’s pretty easy these days to set up reminders to pause. You can set an alarm on your phone, and there are LOTS of mindfulness apps that have this feature.
Or you could identify the times during your day that you know you need A MINDFUL MINUTE, perhaps when you first wake up, during lunch, when the kids go down for a nap, before you leave work, before bed… and then make that activity your cue to take a pause.
And, lest you think that a mere 60 seconds is not long enough for a “real” mindfulness practice, check out my list of 10 simple mindfulness practices you can do in under a minute:
1. Breathe (Part I)
You’re doing this all day anyway, so take sixty seconds to breathe with awareness. What does it feel like when you inhale? What does it feel like when you exhale? Place your hand on your chest or your belly and feel the gentle rise and fall of your ribcage and abdomen as you breathe.
2. Breathe (Part II)
As you breathe, you can bring to your mind Thich Nhat Hanh’s short breathing mantra: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” With each in-breath, think of the nourishing oxygen you’re bringing into your body, and notice the soothing quality of the breath. With each out-breath, allow your lips to gently curl upward into a subtle smile (more Mona Lisa than “Say cheese!”)
Does the smile feel good? Research tells us that just moving the muscles of the face into “smile position” elevates our mood!
3. Five-Finger Gratitude
Close your eyes, and spread out one hand like a starfish. With your other hand, gently touch each finger and think of one thing you are grateful for. Spend a few seconds (12, to be precise, for you math-y folks) with each thought, really appreciating the person/thing/fact/sensation that you are thinking of. You could even combine this practice with giving yourself a gentle, soothing hand/finger massage as you reflect on the goodness in your life.
4. Stand and Stretch
Stand up and take a deep breath as you reach your arms up above your body. Stretch your arms out and make your body as tall and expansive as possible. As you exhale, gently float the arms down and feel how the breath helps “reset” your nervous system and brings a feeling of calm. (A variation on this is drain breathing, which my son demonstrates in this video here.)
5. Be the Sky
Close your eyes, and imagine that your awareness is as big as the sky — expansive and serene. As thoughts pop up (which they will do), just notice them. Can you see each thought as a bird flying through the vast sky of awareness? Can you watch the thought as you would a bird, with curiosity, and without knowing what will happen next? Is the bird (thought) fast or slow, loud or quiet, reassuring or frightening? Can you notice the bird (thought) without trying to argue with it, without deciding whether you like it or not, without trying to cling to it or make it go away? Can you just be aware of it?
6. Check Your Posture
Take a moment to notice how you are sitting or standing — does your current body position feel comfortable? tense? relaxed? painful? What is the quality of your attention in this posture — are you alert, sleepy, distracted, focused? Try adjusting your posture into a position that Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as one that conveys “dignity and wakefulness.” Let the head rest comfortably on the spine, with the spine in an upright position, and, if possible, both feet planted on the floor. How does this body position feel?
7. Practice Lovingkindness
Close your eyes and think of someone who is important and special to you. Maybe bring to mind someone you care about that you know is struggling or having a difficult time right now. Imagine this person (call to mind their face, maybe even what they might be doing right now) and see them as being content and safe. You can repeat to yourself, “May [this person] be happy, healthy, safe, and loved.”
8. Body Scan
Close your eyes and gently scan your body, from your toes to the tip of your head. Notice any areas in the body where you are holding tension (perhaps in the neck and shoulders, or the muscles of the face), and try to breathe into those areas, allowing them to soften and for tension to be released. See if you can notice pleasant sensations in the body, perhaps places where there is a subtle feeling of ease or relaxation. It’s so easy for us to notice the discomforts of the body, but it can feel amazing when we take a moment to find, and savor, the physical comforts and resources of the body.
9. Breathe, Part III
Did you know they’ve actually researched the “ideal” rate of relaxed breathing? And it just so happens to be the breath rate that people often reach in meditation. That “ideal” breath frequency is 5-6 breaths per minute (for reference, most adults breathe 12-15 times per minute). For one minute, try to slow down your rate of breathing, counting to five on the inhale, and five on the exhale. (You may need to “work up” to this slower type of breathing, so use your judgment — if you really need to breathe before you get to 5, BREATHE! We don’t want anyone passing out!)
10. Mindful Listening
This is helpful when the body feels tense, the breath is erratic, or the mind seems frantic, and focusing on any of those things feels overwhelming. Close your eyes and just notice the sounds around you — what sounds are in the room, in your body, outside the window? I love this practice because it literally gets us out of our heads and focused on the here and now. (You can learn more about mindful listening here).
And to help you out with that, I’ve made a one-page printable pdf of this Mindful Minute list for you to post in your office, on your fridge, or anywhere else you could use a reminder to pause. Click the image to the right to download your copy.
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