Just a little longer: How to deal with impatience while meditating

Reading Time: 3 minutes Sometimes you decide to meditate, but it feels like your mind didn’t get the memo. Our expert shares a simple strategy to help quiet down the voice that asks: “how much longer?”

Expert Q&A: Mindfulness and meditation explained

Reading Time: 7 minutes What is mindfulness? And does it really work, or is it just a New-Agey trend? Our expert is here to fill you in on the basics with a down-to-earth approach to mindfulness.

Mindfulness for beginners: A simple game to get started with meditation

Reading Time: 4 minutes If you’ve heard a ton about mindfulness but have no clue where to begin, this video is for you.

Press pause: How to mindfully reduce screen time

Reading Time: 2 minutes Learning to use our phones and other digital devices in moderation takes a little (or a lot of) effort, but it’s worth it. Here are a few tips on how to mindfully reduce screen time.

Count your way to calm: A simple breathing technique to help you stay present

Reading Time: < 1 minute Meditation is proven to reduce racing thoughts, stress, and unhappiness. Best of all, meditation can be done anywhere, anytime! Don’t know where to begin? This basic breathing technique can help get you started.

The art of being selfishly kind this holiday season

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The holidays make me think of two things: (1) lots of talk about kindness and giving and “the holiday spirit,” and (2) lots of stress about travel, family, last-minute work, and other holiday hassles. The problem is that I’m usually too busy dealing with #2 to bother with #1. Sound familiar at all? We often feel too weighed down by our own problems to worry about other people. But we’re missing one simple point: Caring about others actually reduces our stress.

How to be selfishly kind

Most of our stress and anxiety comes from a fixation on our own petty concerns, the stories we fabricate about what’s wrong with ourselves and our lives. When we turn our focus toward others, we loosen up this stressful, self-oriented fixation, and we can relax a bit.

For thousands of years, meditation masters have taught techniques for cultivating an attitude of kindness and generosity. They didn’t do it because they were hippies. They did it because kinder people are happier.

As the Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be selfish, be wisely selfish: care for others.” Science supports this idea too; studies show that people who volunteer are more satisfied with life, experience enhanced well-being, and may even live longer. What better time than the holiday season to get in on that action?

Here’s a quick, simple kindness meditation you can try when you’re caught up in holiday stress:

1.Close your eyes and picture someone you feel great love and gratitude for. It can be a relative, a friend, a mentor, etc. Cute babies and animals also work well.

2.Inhale and silently say, “May all your suffering melt away.” Imagine that you’re breathing in the person’s (or animal’s) suffering as a black cloud. (Note: This will not actually transfer their suffering to you.)

3.Exhale and silently say, “May you overflow with happiness.” Imagine breathing out happiness toward the person in the form of sunny, yellow light.

4.Repeat steps 1–3 for someone you feel more neutrally toward, like an or acquaintance or fellow staff member. Alternatively, go for a walk and do this practice for random people you pass on the street.

Happy (and kind) holidays!

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Article sources

Jenkinson, C. E., Dickens, A. P., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., et al. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 773.

How to make everyday life more mindful for yourself and your students

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Lately, I’ve seen a lot of articles along the lines of “Mindfulness without meditation!” or “How to be mindful in just 30 seconds!” or “Mindful binge-watching!”

OK, I made up that last one, but you get the idea. People want the calming, stress-busting benefits of mindfulness, but they don’t want to spend the time to get those benefits.

I get it. We all lead busy lives. While I do encourage setting time aside for traditional meditation—honestly, it’s changed my life—I know it can be hard for many.

Luckily, small amounts of informal mindfulness practice can bring real benefits. The Tibetan meditation masters like to say, “Short sessions, many times,” and I support that approach. After all, that “How to be mindful in 30 seconds” article I mentioned? I wrote it.

Here’s an easy way you can bring mindfulness into your life without carving time out of your day: Take activities you already do and learn to do them mindfully.

In the video below, I share a few simple ways to do that. These practices are great on their own, but my hope is that they’ll show you, and your students as well, how good mindfulness can feel, and inspire you and them to set aside a little time for traditional meditation.

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Float on: Learn how this meditation technique can help your stress level

Reading Time: 2 minutes Stressed out? No worries! This meditation technique–called “floating noting”–will teach you how to accept your current situation and prevent your mind from spinning out of control.

Meditation: How to do nothing and everything

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In this column, I’ve shared a few different mindfulness methods to help with stress and difficult situations. The uber-method, the cornerstone of mindfulness practice, is meditation. Many people try meditation and think they “can’t” do it—but, actually, they’re doing it.

Here is my favorite definition of meditation: the practice of learning to stay in the present moment and out of our heads. In recent years, psychologists have confirmed what meditators have known for millennia: Meditation is super-good for you. The full list of benefits would make this article too long, but they include reduced stress and anxiety, improved focus, and better sleep.

Distracted? You’re doing it right

We spend so much time caught up in worries, fears, memories, and anxieties. When we untangle ourselves from those mental stories and come back to the present moment, we discover a refreshing simplicity and calm.

Unfortunately, resting in the present is easier said than done. Our mental stories tend to suck us in. Letting go of them is a skill that requires training. Meditation is that training, and it’s very simple.

One more tip before you get started: Daily consistency is more important than sitting for a long time. Even a few minutes a day will bring noticeable benefits. The Tibetan masters say, “Short sessions, many times.”

4-step guide to doing nothing but actually everything

1. Sit down: Find a comfortable sitting position that lets you maintain a straight, unsupported spine. The simplest way is to sit in a chair, with both feet on the floor and hands resting on your thighs. Sitting toward the front edge of the seat may make it easier to sit straight without slouching.

2. Find your anchor: Bring your attention to your nostrils and notice the sensation of air passing through that area as you breathe. That sensation is your “anchor,” a resting place for your attention that will help you connect with the present moment.

3. Rest attention on the anchor: Rest your attention on the breath at the nostrils. Form the gentle intention simply to remain there and observe the flow of changing sensations. As you do this, there’s no need to deliberately make your breath slower, or deeper, or anything like that. If the rhythm of your breathing changes on its own, that’s fine.

4. When the attention wanders, notice that and return: You will eventually become distracted—probably pretty quickly. That’s OK. In fact, that’s what’s supposed to happen. All you do is notice that the attention has wandered and then gently escort it back to the breath at the nose, back to the present.

Give it a try (and another, and another). Enjoy!

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How to react less and enjoy more this holiday season

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The holidays are coming up, and I know two things for certain: (1) My aunt will re-gift me an old book and pretend she bought it for me, and (2) someone will start an argument at the big family dinner. It’s usually good-natured bickering, but now and then, it gets heated—and sometimes I get pulled in. Even though we love each other, we can end up saying angry or hurtful things, and it takes time for everyone to calm down. Maybe you’ve been in a situation like that before.

When we find ourselves getting upset with someone, we have two choices. We could cut loose and vent our emotions, which is tempting and might feel satisfying at the time. But those feelings of relief won’t last long. In the end, you might hurt people’s feelings and deepen the conflict.

OK, so maybe we really have only one choice, or at least one good one—we can apply strategies to calm down, see our emotions clearly, and respond rather than react. As the great psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response.”

In the video below, I share one method for calming down in the midst of a conflict. Give it a watch, then give it a try. Happy holidays.

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Article sources

Hamilton, D. M. (2015, December 22). Calming your brain during conflict. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/12/calming-your-brain-during-conflict

Mind your mind: How to summer mindfully

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June is here, and several massive changes are just around the corner. First, no more mindfulness columns until next fall! (I know; I’m sad about it too.) Second, summer break is coming up, if you care about that sort of thing. Third (getting serious now), a major transition like the end of the school year offers a special opportunity, and here it is:

Transition periods are among the easiest times to create new habits, according to psychology research. Want to create a simple, low-effort habit that will integrate the practice of mindfulness into your day? Create a mindfulness trigger—something that sets you up for a few moments of mindfulness several times a day.

How to find your mindfulness trigger

Pick any minor, routine activity that you do every day (e.g., washing your hands or flipping on a light switch). Make this activity a mindfulness trigger: Every time you do the activity, try to remember to do it mindfully. That means paying nonjudgmental attention to the experience through your senses.

For example, when you turn on the faucet, think, “Aha! This is my trigger to be mindful.” Then, as you wash, tune your attention into the raw sensory experience of washing: the sensations of coldness, wetness, and contact as the water hits your hands, the sound and sight of the water, and so on.

Be more interested in the sensory experience than in evaluating the experience (e.g., “This feels good!” “Ugh, this water is too cold!”) or telling stories about it (e.g., “I’d better wash fast, I’m running late…”). This exercise has two benefits. It sharpens your mindfulness skills and helps bring mindfulness to the forefront throughout your day. In addition, it turns routine activities into surprisingly rich and enjoyable experiences.

Unless you are the Dalai Lama, you will sometimes forget about your trigger and carry out the activity obliviously. For example, you may wash your hands and not remember until a half-hour later that you were supposed to do so mindfully. That’s OK! This is a practice, and proficiency takes time.

Eventually, remembering this trigger activity will become a habit. Then, when you feel ready, you can add a second activity. Over time, you’ll add more and more mindful moments to your day.

Mind your mind: Power up your mindfulness strategies

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Mindfulness techniques are like apps or pieces of software. The apps might be great, but they won’t work perfectly if you run them on a slow, clunky, out-of-date device. Sometimes you have to update the hardware—your brain.

Maybe you’ve been using the techniques that I share here for dealing with stress, improving your focus, and sharpening your mind. Want to power them up? Here’s how you can access the full strength of these techniques: meditation. If you meditate every day, even just a few minutes, the mindfulness techniques you’ve learned will become much more powerful. Plus, the meditation practice itself becomes very restful and enjoyable, like giving your mind a well-deserved break.

Two game-changing tricks to develop the meditation habit

Meditation is easy (see Mind your mind in previous issues). But creating a habit of daily practice is not. I struggled for years before discovering two tricks that solved the problem for me:

1. The clever trick

I use this trick whenever I feel the urge to skip my daily sit or do it “later” (aka never). The trick is this:

I shrink the length of the session in my head until I hit a level I don’t feel resistance to.

For example: “Could I do 15 minutes? No, I feel resistance, I’m not gonna do it. OK, what about 10? Still too long, the thought puts me off. Maybe five? Huh, I don’t feel resistance to that. I feel like I can sit for five.” Boom.

Then, if my session ends and I feel like sitting longer, I do.

2. The better trick

I wake up at a set time every morning and immediately meditate, before doing anything else.

You might be different, but if I do anything else first — breakfast, a workout, checking my phone — I have trouble getting myself to sit. Actually, I’ll go further: Putting off the morning sit almost guarantees I won’t sit at all.

So there’s a second part to this trick: Admitting to myself that “I’ll sit later” is code for “I’m skipping my sit today.”

Once I owned up to that, meditating daily became almost effortless. I just stopped believing my own “I’ll sit later” lie and committed to sitting first thing in the morning, when I’d actually do it. This was a game-changer for me.