I’m always trying to come up with simpler versions of the assignments I give to patients to work on between sessions. It is helpful to have techniques at hand to deal with the vicissitudes of of daily life that don’t require reviewing your therapy notes to remember.
Here is a simpler version of the basic 5-20 minutes daily mindfulness practice.
1. BREATHE. After finding a comfortable sitting position, hands and feet uncrossed, begin by taking one or two slow, deep breaths. You might choose your relaxing word for the session–the word you will use as you breathe out to deepen your relaxation (e.g., “calm,” “peace,” “serene,” etc.).
2. CHECK. Scan your body for any particular sensation–sore spots, itches, aches, thirst, etc. If you need to scratch, take a drink of water, etc., go ahead and do so.
3. MUSCLES. Head to foot, in conjunction with your breathing, let every group of muscles relax, two slow breaths (or more) per muscle group. Remember that you are breathing in oxygen, which fuels the cells of your body, and breathing out CO2 and other waste products. Quite literally, you are breathing in energy and breathing out the effects of tension and stress. If you wish, or if it’s helpful, continue to use the relaxing word you have chosen with each outbreath.
4. FOCUS. When you feel sufficiently physically relaxed, chose a focus for the session. It can be a visual focus, such as a lit candle or a flower; it can be a tactile focus, such as holding a small stone in the hand (I particularly like stones because of their irregular shape and texture); it can be a scent or odor such as incense; it can be sounds, such as birdsong, running water, ticking clock, or a professionally made relaxation CD; it can be a word, phrase, or simple sentence such as the following (from colleague psychologist Peggy Muench at a recent case consult):
“Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Remember not to become irritated or frustrated with yourself if you find your attention wandering. Mindfulness is not effortful–it is the opposite of effortful, of trying–when your attention wanders (as it will of course), gently turn it back to your chosen focus. Continue until you are ready to go on with your day.
PS. I was going to title this post “Simple Mindfulness,” but I suppose that could be misread.