6 Simple Mindfulness Practices
6 Simple Practices from the Masters: Sylvia Boorstein, PhD, Joan Borysenko, PhD, Tara Brach, PhD, Rick Hanson, PhD, Sharon Salzberg, and Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Metta Meditation with Sylvia Boorstein, PhD
One of the practices that I have is to be in touch with how I’m feeling. When I’m not feeling good, I try to have good intentions for myself I have a rubric that I say to myself: “May I feel safe; may I feel content; may I feel strong; may I be at ease; may I feel safe, may I feel content…” Sometimes I say, “May I feel happy; may I feel strong; may I be at ease.” I’ve said that to myself thousands of times as part of a meditation exercise.
When I realize I’m unhappy in a situation, it starts by itself like a little metronome in the mind. I can be listening, I can be talking, and in the back of my mind it’s playing my soothing words, “May I feelsafe; may I feel content; may I feel strong; may I live with ease…” It focuses my attention because I’ve given my attention something more than being neutral. I’ve given it something positive, soothing, and trustworthy to balance itself on. This allows you to catch your balance when you’re shaky.
Cultivating Attention with Joan Borysenko, PhD
Dan Siegel, MD has a great exercise to do before you sit and do a mindfulness meditation, and it goes like this: “Put your attention on the wall in back of you. Now, put your attention on the wall in front of you. Now bring it to the middle of the room. Finally, bring it inside.”
That is a teaching in and of itself because you realize you get to choose where your attention goes. It doesn’t have to get hijacked by everything that goes by. Attention is a choice. Mindfulness is like a microscope that allows you to hone in, but it allows you to have a greater depth of field so that you see more.
Here’s an example of that. There was a time during World War II when one of the intelligence agencies was recruiting spies. The test for how good a spy you would be was this: they would put you in a waiting room and then, when they brought you in for your interview, they would simply ask you questions like, “What did you see in the waiting room? Did you notice the color of the couch? Did you notice the scents? Did you notice a crooked picture hanging?” They would ask any question like this. It’s like finding Waldo – to practice pattern recognition, which is what mindfulness really is. Take a break during your day: How many sounds do you hear in the room right now? Take a break during the day just for thirty seconds. What’s going on in your body? Are yourshoulders like concrete? Is your back starting to hurt?
Whether we are doing mindfulness meditation or not, take a break. Learn to be mindful. Remember, you choose what you pay attention to.
The Pause with Tara Brach, PhD
One of the big misunderstandings in meditation is that we are trying to get rid of thoughts, and that is not the case. It’s really this patient, interested, friendly attention that notices when we’ve gone off into the trance of thinking and gently gets us to ask, “Well, what’s actually right here?” In the moment of noticing a thought, I always encourage people to simply pause because it’s one of the central facets of being able to really be here. I invite people to pause and then notice, “What are the actual sounds that you’re listening to right now? Can you re-relax in your body and feel the sensations right now? Even relax your heart and sense right now what is here…” People start getting the knack. It’s like neuro-pathways. We know that we can strengthen some: we can strengthen the ones that are worrying about the future or we can strengthen the ones that have a remembrance of presence.
Taking in the Good with Rick Hanson, PhD
Memory research shows that there are four factors in particular that have a huge impact. One is intensity of experience or information you are trying to learn. We are talking about learning, not events, but in effect learning experiences. We are talking about the implicit memory of a positive emotion, a positive view, or a behavioral inclination. So, here are the four factors: 1 – intensity; 2- duration; 3 – whole body, or enacted; and then 4 – personal relevance. In other words, if a person can savor an experience for ten, twenty, or thirty seconds in a row and let it be as intense and as whole-body as possible, and have a sense of how it is personally meaningful, at a mechanical level deep down in the brain there is a dosing effect. The more you rely upon, or evoke, or activate those four factors, the deeper the memory traits will tend to be. Novelty helps, but often mild-positive experiences are not particularly novel. But we still have an
opportunity to take them in.To summarize quickly there are three steps.
- Number one, let good facts become good experiences. That is the hardest step for mostevent here, or a good condition, or a good thing in oneself.
- people to actually let the needle move, to register emotionally that there is actually a good
- Two, savor it ten, twenty, or thirty seconds in a row.
- Three, sense and intend that it is sinking into oneself. That will prime, bias, and stimulate
- memory systems to really register this experience.
Experiencing a Cup of Tea with Sharon Salzberg
There are exercises that don’t take too long and can break the crazy momentum of our day. For example, it can be as simple as letting the phone ring three times before you pick it up, breathing, and then picking up the phone. And if we just do that, it can be a very different day. Or my favorite – drinking a cup of tea. Take an activity that doesn’t last a long time. You can actually enjoy a cup of tea so much more if you are not drinking the tea, and checking your email, and making a phone call, and doing any number of things. It is not going to take away from responsibilities and obligations – it doesn’t last that long – but it is so enjoyable just to sit there, feel the warmth of the teacup, smell the tea, lift the teacup, and taste the tea.
STOP – A Quick Practice to Start Patients Off with Elisha Goldstein, PhD
A lot of us love acronyms because we can remember them. So one of the acronyms I really like as an introductory practice is STOP.
S stands for stop. That’s just to stop what they’re doing.
T stands for take a breath. This can be done in a couple of different ways if you’re actually leadingthis. It could be either someone just taking a few deep breaths, and being aware of taking a few deep breaths. Or you can actually have them come to their breath and start resting their attention and just be curious about what it’s like to breathe in, or breathe out, and when the mind goes off, just noting it and gently bringing it back.
O is observe, the idea of observing where their body is, what’s going on in their body, the connection to whatever they are standing or sitting on, their emotions, being able to maybe label or name the emotion or just feeling something that’s there. If there’s nothing there and they can’t label it, that’s okay. They can just kind of be with the experience of not knowing what’s there or they can be with their thoughts, and observe if their mind’s busy or calm.
P is for proceed, [and] what I think is so effective about this is now that you’ve broken out of autopilot, you can ask yourself this question: What’s most important for me to be paying attention to in this moment?
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine: nicabm http://www.nicabm.com