Mindfulness practice happens when one is purposefully attending to sensation with an accepting, non-judgmental attitude. The mindfulness exercises in this workbook are a toolbox for managing stress, enhancing wellness, and building resilience. Even though these simple exercises are about focusing awareness, they can also be thought of as a skill-based approach to stress management. An “embodied awareness” of resting attention on the sensations of breathing tends to have a remarkable side effect called “The Relaxation Response.” Even over the course of just one cycle of breathing, mindfully breathing can noticeably relax muscle tension or “body armor.” Among all the exercises in this workbook, see if attending to sensation is accompanied by some movement from a sense of contraction to a sense of relaxed openness. Another hallmark for the relaxation response is a slower rate of breath, though it may take three to five minutes to reach this calmer state of metabolism.
Sighing happens naturally when an endeavor is briefly frustrating. Sighs are self-soothing. They activate a small balancing quantum of the relaxation response. Exhales tend to slow one’s heart rate. Likely you’ve reminded yourself to “just take a breath,” when pausing to collect your inner resources to improve the next moment’s performance. Mindfulness exercise builds upon simple behaviors, like these, to help establish a foundation of wellness and resilience. These basic processes can also become expert skills.
The big ask of this workbook is to practice daily. Having a routine daily practice can become a game-changing laboratory. Life naturally cues up plenty of opportunities for working with stress, but setting aside 10 minutes a day to practice at home, before the tumult of the day, can provide a focused workshop, a lab for learning mindfulness skills. Routine practice is transformative. It builds foundational skills for awareness, attention, non-reactivity, calm, and balance. It also, quite literally, changes the brain in salutary ways.
The heart of mindfulness practice is a friendly curiosity that disarms our habit patterns of knee jerk defenses. Invite your curious inner-scientist to observe and evaluate if mindfulness practice is useful. Notice and note the experience of sensations before, during, and after practicing. The workbook is designed for tinkering, reflecting, and journaling for four weeks. If you find an exercise suits you, work with it daily, strengthening your skills routinely literally changes the brain. There is some sort of dose-response or learning curve with mindfulness. Practice will strengthen skills, but also likely eventually generalize from one situation to the next, revealing new features and applications. Everyone tailors their own practices, these are just some suggestions and tools, a starter kit.
We’re earnestly curious to know if, for you, practicing these skills will be helpful in managing stress at work, as well as at home. There are weekly surveys for assessing the impacts of these practices. We do hope they translate into measurable impacts of wellness and resilience. As always, being open to accepting feedback is the best path for adapting. We would be grateful to receive your comments and advice.
January 17th, 2021
Richard King, PhDricharddkingjr@gmail.com
When the mind is completely filled with the present moment.
Purposefully accepting one’s awareness of present moment experience, from moment to moment.
Intentionally living in the present moment with an attitude of non-judgment and acceptance.
Purposefully attending to sensations with an attitude of calm non-judgmental acceptance.
Remembering. (From ancient Pali script, mindfulness happens when one is gently returning one’s attention back to the present moment)
Gently bringing attention back to the present moment is a game of catch with one’s attention, each return is like doing a push-up with one’s attention “muscles,” gradually building capacity.
Observing with friendly curiosity.
Noticing and Noting. (Observing & labeling one’s experience with acceptance and nonjudgment)
Heartfulness.(Being present with a kind awareness of self, others, the moment)
The emotional seatbelt… because practicing mindfulness builds emotional regulation.
Awareness of awareness… being aware that you are aware
Purposeful passive awareness of the present moment (Non-doing).
Four Steps in All Mindfulness Practice (Playing Catch with One’s Attention)
Setting the intention to pay attention to sensation from moment to moment
1)Recognizing that the mind has wandered
2)Noting where the mind wandered to (Labeling Non-Judgmentally)
3)Gently returning attention to the present moment
4)Maintaining attention on the present moment experience
Table of Contents
Day 1Tuning Into the Breath
Day 2Starting the Morning with GLAD, A Writing Practice
Day 3The Body Scan
Day 4The Weather Report
Day 5A Self-Compassion Exercise
Day 6Meeting Daily Stressors with RAIN
Day 7Some Breathing Exercises
Day 8Formal and Informal Mindfulness Practice
Day 9Thought Watching Exercises
Day 10Practicing States, Cultivating Traits
Day 11Loving Kindness
Day 12Writing A Letter of Gratitude
Day 13Pebble Meditations
Day 14100 Breaths
Day 15Tracing Hand with Breathing
Day 16A Mindful Tea
Day 17Soaking Up the Good
Day 18Using “STOP”
Day 20Turning Toward the Edge
Day 21The Worry Box
Day 22The Relaxation Response
Day 23Mindful Walking
Day 24Recognizing social sources of stress, including “SCARF” events
Day 25The Hot Wash Cloth, Releasing Body Armor
Day 26Counting breaths, rather than sheep
Day 27Mindful Listening, Reflecting, Affirming, Empathizing
Day 28Effortless Attention in Open Monitoring
Day 1: Tuning Into the Breath for Relaxation
Bringing attention to the sensation of the breath can activate something called “The Relaxation Response.” It’s a physiological side-effect of mindfulness practice. Relaxation may happen during mindfulness practice, i.e., when we intentionally place attention on the sensations of the body with non-judgemental acceptance, even for a few moments. Initially the relaxation response may take 3 to several minutes to become noticeable. But it’s a skill that gets more accessible, deeper, and stronger with practice. Practicing every morning can become a great way to start the day.
Practice: Notice what happens when you fully tune your attention onto your sensations of breathing for just one breath. This can be called “an anchoring breath.” It helps establish awareness back into the body and the present moment. One breath can open the door to being fully present in the moment. It doesn’t have to be a deep breath, just a breath that you are keenly observing. Sometimes a side effect is that a small amount of relaxation happens as a result of shifting attention to the breath. See if you can notice this as well. Do you feel less contracted, more expansive, and more open after “being with” the breath? If not, that’s fine too. Not everyone can always “ just relax” on command… mindfulness is exquisitely designed for these situations. Keep in mind it’s an awareness exercise, and with a side effect of relaxation.
As you bring your awareness to body sensations, do you notice a “shift” in body tension? This is a skill that can be cultivated, but sometimes, just bringing awareness to the body can cause a “shift” or “softening” of muscle tone. 1) Try bringing this sense of “embodied awareness” often throughout your day. Practice these “small moments, many times” throughout the day and notice what happens. Take a few moments now to follow the breath with your full attention. It’s easy to do for just one breath, but very challenging to do for a few minutes. When you notice the mind wanders, just gently bring it back. 2) Set a timer for 3 minutes and sit with feeling your breathing.
Journal: Write a few sentences reflecting about your mindfulness exercise. You can write anything, but some prompts may be useful. What did you notice about the breathing practice today? When, where, and how much did you practice? Did you notice any thoughts happening? Were there any stressful events to practice with? Did you activate a small “Relaxation Response?” Did you notice reduced muscle tension, rate of breathing, or an increase in calm?
Day 2: Starting the Morning with GLAD, a Writing Practice (5 Minutes)
“GLAD” is way to prompt 4 types of gratitude.
G is for being Grateful for some person, experience, or thing that shows up in your life.
L is for something that you’ve Learned.
A is for something that you feel good about Accomplishing.
D is for something that brought you Delight.
Practice: Sitting and Breathing with Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is a great way to start the day. Try taking a few breaths and maybe a stretch or two before the workday begins. Try staying with the breath for a minute or so, noticing sensations at the nostrils, at the back of the throat, in the chest expansion, how about your back, and the belly when you take a deeper breath? Do you notice your body shifting with a deep breath that uses both the belly and the chest? Now, try writing about three things that you are grateful for. Writing a few sentences expressing gratitude is the mindfulness practice. Another practice would be to notice, seek out and relish the delightful aspects in your day today. (This practice can shift mind and body toward wellness.)
Here are three things that I’m grateful for today, I’ll pause for a breath or two to be grateful for each item:
From thought to feeling: Does a feeling of gratitude happen in the body when you think of something or someone that you are grateful for? Tune into that feeling, what does it feel like? Can you “turn up the dial” on this feeling, by focusing in on it? Can you thoughtfully consider different aspects of why something is a GOOD thing, how it it helpful to you? Recall what are the sights, sounds, textures, smells and reasons that you are grateful for one item. The more basic and simple the good thing the better: A roof, a home, food, water, sky, sunshine, shoes and clothes, a kindness, etc.
See if you can turn up the volume of your appreciation and hold onto the deep sense of appreciation. It helps if you can for a few breaths (10 to 30 seconds) sustain the focus and appreciation. It takes time for good emotions to have a sustaining positive impact on us. Priming these positive emotional states, extending them for 30 seconds may deepen the impact of the practice and shift our wellness throughout the day.
How does one gratitude specifically feel? Where do you feel it? What does it feel like? What thoughts are there that accompany the feeling? Write a few sentences:
Day 3: The Body Scan (for Awareness and Relaxation)
Set aside a few minutes to be uninterrupted for this restful practice at home. The body scan can be done, sitting, laying down, or standing. The body scan can be done with the eyes open, half-open, or closed. To begin, as always, set a clear intention to focus on the body’s sensations. If the mind wanders, that’s ok, that’s what happens… just gently but firmly bring your attention back to the body scan. To begin, imagine that your attention is like a floodlight of awareness, filling up your entire body with awareness. Feel yourself being present and aware that you are aware. Take an anchoring breath or two, exhaling slowly and feeling the breath and relaxing on the exhale. Now narrow the floodlight to a spotlight of awareness on the toes, next slowly move the spotlight of your attention from your feet to the top of your head. You may use each cycle or two of breathing to shift your attention to the next body region: From feet to ankles, lower legs, knees, upper legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, hands, shoulders, etc., all the way to the top of the head. Then recap again using the flood light of your awareness to feel your entire body from head to feet. You may also wish to separate your sense of bone, connective, muscle and skin tissues as well along the way. The body scan can also be done from the head to the feet.
It’s probably easiest to begin body scan by listening to a short guided body scan. Guided meditations are great for learning the basics, but they’re a little bit like training wheels when learning to ride a bicycle. Eventually its better without them. But for starters try laying down on a floor and listening to a guided audio at home. (link here***)
On a scale of 1 to 10, you may want to note the level of relaxation in your body before and after the body scan. Was there a noticeable change? Did the rate of your breathing slow down? Do you feel more rested or relaxed?
Day 4: The Weather Report
The Weather Report can be done anytime briefly throughout one’s day or as sitting exercise. Bringing some warm friendly curiosity to this observation game cultivates a skill for “kindfulness” or a warm accepting awareness of sensations. Let’s start by sitting quietly with a hand or two resting on the heart area of the chest. Can you feel your chest breathing? Maybe feel your heart beating? Just like you would look out the window and “note” what the weather is outside, gently pay attention to your internal weather with a sort of “kindfullness” and noting practice.
To begin, first take an anchoring breath or two and notice what it is like to just sit for a few moments, “mindfully sitting”… then take another anchoring breath or two and narrow the flood light of full-body awareness to a spot light on the area of the chest and throat region. Just notice the sensations there, allowing them to be and be curious, noticing, “What does this feel like?” Stay with this flowing river of sensation. Notice what the level of body tension or relaxation is like. Notice if any thoughts are happening. See if any words or phrases emerge that matching up, describing the experience of your internal weather in this moment. Just notice, tune in and see if you can label in a neutral way what sensations are present. This is called “noting practice.” You are practicing being gentle and accepting, allowing the sensations that are present to “just be.”
Try pretending to be a curious but passive observer, one that has some perspective, as if watching the clouds in the sky with a freedom of objectivity. Try noting with a bit of non-judgmental equanimity: “Sunny,” “Windy,” “Stormy” or “Partly Cloudy,” … it’s just weather and we don’t try to change the weather, but one thing is for sure, given time, the weather will change. Notice if you feel more open and relaxed after this exercise.
Journal: Write a few sentences here
Day 5: Self-Compassion Exercise (A Technique for Emotional First Aid )
Self-compassion can be used as a form of emotional first-aid during difficult times. Like all mindfulness exercise, it’s a skill that strengthens with practice, though it may at first feel quite awkward, it can tangibly become a trusted skill for resilience. The process of self-compassion involves setting the intention to cultivate a warm, gentle, kind, supportive, and caring with one’s self… while offering words of encouragement for yourself to help soothe and heal and promote one’s well-being.
There are three steps to doing a Self-Compassion Exercise:
- Mindfulness. Being aware that a difficult event has happened (this is could be called “mindful noticing”). Simply, this means when something hurts, acknowledge it. Sense it: Gently place a hand over the heart and silently say something like, “Ouch, this hurts!”
- Connectedness. Acknowledge that this is what it feels like to be human. Everyone feels this way sometimes. Our whole world of people feel this way sometimes. I am not alone in feeling this way.
- Heartfelt Blessings. Generate a warm sense of caring, as you would for a friend in need, and silently say phrases to offer comforting-caring support for yourself. Imagine feeling the compassion you would have coming to the aid of a dear and valued friend in need. Offer to yourself the same kind gentle warmth and support that you would offer a dear friend. Or Imagine the tender loving-care that you would have for a crying infant cradled in your arms… the idea is to generate that supportive feeling of acceptance and compassion for yourself as you silently offer phrases of support or “blessing.” Say one phrase to yourself with loving intention and then allow a breath or two to let the words sink in and take root. Usually, these are offered in sets of 4 phrases.
“May I be safe… May I be well… May I live with ease of being… May I have joy…”
Or“May I have peace… May I have laughter… May I be healthy… May I feel loved… “
Or Use your choice of 4 phrases that support a caring sense of healing for yourself in this situation.
Journal: What did you notice?
Day 6: Meeting Daily Stressors with RAIN
The RAIN is a practice for mindfully engaging a difficult event or experience in real time. RAIN stands for Recognize, Accept, Investigate and Non-Identify. These four mindful steps can help to adapt, reframe, and transform a stressful event into a mindful learning experience. Typically we all bump into stressors throughout the day and we all have knee-jerk habit responses to these stressors every day. We tend to try to push these experiences away as if on automatic pilot. RAIN is a method for un-learning autopilot knee-jerk responses to stressful events, opening up possibilities for new coping skills. Our autopilot habits of stressing that may not be supporting our goals, values, or the people around us. They may in fact be adding additional problem layers to the initial stressor… RAIN is a method for bringing new resources into play… its power is that it stops the autopilot of stimulus-response and allows one to see the problem with a new degree of freedom.
When an upsetting event happens, rather than cursing a blue streak, think of RAIN.
RRecognize that the stressful event is happening… label it as accurately and neutrally as possible.
AAcceptrather than push back, judge, deny, or counter with a knee jerk emotional response.
IInvestigate with friendly curiosity: What are the sensations of Body, Emotions, and Thoughts?
NNon-Identify: Take an observer’s perspective, sometimes this is called “The Backward Step.” … this is as if you were watching a stream of rushing water rather than being on the inside being tumbled about by it… it’s just watching, curiously observing what you are noticing… what are the sensations that are present? What is the a autopilot or knee-jerk response to the situation?. Curiously, discomfort plus an observer attitude is very different than discomfort… it’s not really willpower-driven, it’s an open framework for learning and building inner resources. The invitation is to be a dispassionate observer rather than being inside a looping autopilot of irritation-judging that’s replaying and perhaps adding to the difficulty. Alternatively, notice what is happening with an open adventurous curiosity, as if its new superpower. What are the sensations, the emotions, and the thoughts that are present?
Q: “When did Noah build the Ark?” A: “Before the rain!”
So, try this practice with some a small predictable problem at first, (traffic?) perhaps, from the past week?
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our power and our freedom. Victor Frankl
Day 7: Some Breathing Exercises
Set a timer for a few minutes, take a sit, and test drive these ways of breathing: Inhale for 3 counts, hold for 2 counts, then exhale for 4 counts. Did you find that counting may have helped with keeping the attention on the sensations of breathing? Check-in before and after to see if you feel more relaxed. Tinker around and find a certain breathing format works best.
Square Breathing: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold the exhale for a count of 4. Just counts not necessarily seconds, adapt as need be. Again, try for a couple minutes and notice how you feel before and after. Do you feel calmer, quieter, or more relaxed?
Doubling the exhale: Inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 8 counts… pausing in between as feels comfortable. This practice may activate the parasympathetic system on the exhale. It should become easier to do the long exhales as the metabolism slows over the course of a few minutes.
Focusing on the pause at the end of the ebb and flow of the breathing. Taking a slow inhale to fullness then pause for a moment of peace before exhaling slowly to the complete exhale and focusing on the stillness before inhaling again. See if you can focus and highlight with awareness the pause between inhale and exhale, exhale and inhale… is there a stillness the emerges there? Is the process calming and restful?
Slow Deep Steady Breathing: This is so simple but it may be the only exercise you’ll ever need. Just breath deep slow steady inhales and exhales naturally… just focus on comfortably, naturally extending the breath cycles to slow, steady, breath that uses both the belly and the chest for full expansion and emptying.
Belly breathing: Expanding the chest brings air rushing in. Similarly, expanding the belly is a way of inhaling. Belly breathing without using the chest at all can be very relaxing. See if placing the focus of attention in the belly when doing belly breathing may also augment the relaxation response. Try several breaths…
Circular Belly Breathing: This is a mix of body scan and belly breathing. On the inhale (a slow belly expansion) imagine the air entering the nostrils, moving through the back of the throat, and all the way traveling deep into the belly a few inches below the navel. Then, perhaps after a brief pause, on the exhale, (slowly contracting the belly) imagine the breath traveling back out all the way from the belly to the nostrils. Trace this circular breathing over and over and after a couple weeks it may acquire a soothing circular entrainment of pleasant sensations.
Note: Mindful breathing typically is a process of simply “attending-observing”and specifically not trying to control the breath in anyway. So, most of these exercises are not traditional mindfulness exercises.
Day 8: Formal and Informal Mindfulness Practice
A formal mindfulness practice could be “sitting” for 5 to 15 minutes before starting the day. Mindfulness, or purposefully attending to one’s moment to moment sensations with an accepting attitude, can also be brought to our daily routine activities. Washing the dishes, walking the dog, brushing the teeth, doing the laundry, yard work, or driving the car. Try completely being in the shower rather than being at work when you’re in the shower! All that’s necessary is to set an intention to holding one’s attention within the present moment’s activity, or holding a sense of being present. Washing the dishes used to be one of my least favorite things to do before it became a mindfulness exercise… now it’s one of my favorites.
Here are some times and places when I could do a daily informal mindfulness practice:
My informal practice today was:
I noticed setting my intention to:
I noticed during my informal practicing that:
Was it an effective practice?
I found my mind wandering to:
I was particularly more aware of:
Did I feel more relaxed, open, expansive, and spacious afterward?
Day 9: Some Thought Watching Exercises
- Imagine you are like a cat sitting completely focused and waiting just outside of a mouse hole. You are intently waiting for a mouse to appear. For this practice, take that same intensive attention and turn it to watching for your thoughts to emerge and disappear. Set a timer for one minute. Take a sitting position, an anchoring of breath, and count how many thoughts appear in one minute.
- Taking “the backward step” or “Non-Identification with thoughts” can be profoundly liberating. It can remove much of the stress and emotional reactivity of being stuck in a cycle of difficult thoughts. It may be helpful to remind one’s self that thoughts aren’t necessarily true, they are just thoughts. Or that you are not your thoughts… thoughts come can go and you can simply observe them like a part of passing weather. Another way to gain some perspective on thoughts may be to consider the difference between being caught in the rushing currents of a white water stream and watching the rushing stream from a small distance. This backward step offers some perspective and distance. Similarly, the passage of time often gives us that distance and perspective. The next exercise can also help dis-entangle our sense of an observer-self from our thoughts, and mental states, and bring some perspective that has a quality of equanimity and balance.
- Sometimes our thoughts can “push our buttons,” they can be chaotic, busy, stressful, or overwhelming. In this exercise we will get some perspective on our thoughts, imagine seeing them with a little distance. It is a practice of “Non-Identifying” with our thoughts, recognizing that thoughts aren’t necessarily true, they are just thoughts. They come can go. We are not our thoughts. We observe them.
To begin, take a sitting position with eyes closed and imagine yourself sitting on a grassy hillside above a stream with a wide view of an expansive sky, watching some clouds that are moving slowly from one horizon to the other. While peacefully sitting there, taking this all in, you notice a thought emerging. Label the thought and place it on one of the clouds that’s making its way across the expansive sky. Let it float in the distance till it fades over the horizon… do the same with the next several thoughts for about 5 minutes.
Journal some of the thoughts that you noticed. What did you notice during the exercise? Self-critical thoughts, frequent fliers if you will, those that you have often, you may wish to name them to bring some manageability to them as well.
Day 10: Practicing States, Cultivating Traits
Concept: Just thinking about our values can have a positive impact on mood.
Mindfulness practice transforms us. Mindfulness practice cultivates ways of being that become healthy habits of mind… Sort of like scaffolding for building a loving parent within you, mindfulness promotes a healthy warm relationship with one’s self. Just as qualities of good parenting influence a child’s healthy development, mindfulness exercise can promote the type of skills or traits that help us to be happier. Notice that our values help guide our actions. Daily practice can builds skills that are applied in daily living.
Choose 3 of these mindfulness qualities or skills or traits that you would like to see grow stronger:
CalmnessEnergyStability of AttentionWellness
Or choose any three values of yours that come to mind. What is it about these qualities that you like?
Do you find that just thinking about your values promotes a positive mood or sense of wellness?
Reflect (write a sentence about) how you expressed one of your values today, maybe it showed up in something that you did helping someone. Maybe it was when you were practicing mindfulness?
I practiced ________ (one of my values) today, when I _________ (chose to … )
I am ________ (value), when I _________...
I have _________(value), when I_________...
Day 11: Loving Kindness
Loving-kindness can transform difficult emotions that emerge from conflict or habit loops of judgmental resentment. Loving-kindness is a healing process for relationships. Basically, it involves offering heartfelt blessings for others. This may sound awkward, but actually our daily lives and culture are saturated with these phrases in greetings and farewells that bring some grace to our social world. These words also serve, in a sense, as gifts that we can offer each other as well. Studies have shown that the act of giving something has a positive impact on the mood of the giver. The simple custom of offering a “Good Morning, Good Bye, Take Care, or Be Well” in some small measure also can invoke a subtle yet positive change within us. This process has been called covert conditioning as you are the only one who sees the impact of silently offering these warm kind words of blessing. Loving-kindness exercise can help transform a difficult relationship, without even talking to the other person… just by genuinely offering warmly intentioned words with a healing intention.
As in the self-compassion exercise, loving-kindness involves invoking silent blessings, usually while sitting, such as: “May you be safe,” “May you be healthy,” or “May you be happy,” and “May you be well.” The blessings are offered with a warm-heartfelt intention of support. Loving-kindness can bring true compassion into a difficult relationship and can dissolve a negative emotional mind-set. It’s a skill that grows stronger with practice. It may feel awkward at first, persevere just to see what the result are.
It may be helpful to begin with a guided audio. (Link here)
To begin, sit comfortably and take an anchoring breath and brief moment of body scan. Then bring a dear friend or loved one to mind. First begin with someone whom you feel a dear love for, and start by offering them in your mind’s eye, the 4 silent phrases of caring support. Then shift to someone you are only fond of, then shift to someone you have neutral emotions for, and finally, shift to someone that you may be having some difficulty with. You could wrap up with offering these phrases of compassion to yourself or the world.
In Preparation, make some mental notes:
Bring to mind someone that you have unconditional warmth or love for:
Bring to mind someone that you are fond of:
Bring to mind someone that you feel neutrally about:
(Maybe someone you saw in passing on the street)
Bring to mind someone whom you have some difficulty with:
Journal * * *
Day 12: Writing A Letter of Gratitude
Think of someone who has been kind and helpful to you. Think of the time that they help you. Write a few journal notes below describing what they did and how it was helpful. How did it make you feel like? How did it change you and your situation? Now write a short card or letter thanking them and send it. Note how you feel in the process of writing and in having sent the letter.
Journal * * *
Day 13: Pebble Meditations
Mindfulness in the ancient texts translates to remembering. When starting a mindfulness practice, the trick is to remember to practice. Some scaffolding can be helpful. One can post a sticky note saying, “Breathe.” Carrying a pebble with you can be another way to help remind one to cue up to “breathing with awareness.” Place a pebble (or some other small object) in your pocket in the morning. Throughout the day, noticing the pebble may cue up an opportunity for being present and connecting with your breath for a moment of embodied awareness. For being fully present and collected. Take an anchoring breath. Shift back into breath awareness. Maybe try saying silently “Being Aware” on the inhale, and “Relaxing” on the exhale. Notice if you feel more present, more open and less contracted, after taking an anchoring breath.
Journal * * *
Day 14: 100 Breaths
The Daili Lama suggests that a good way to learn meditation is to simply count 100 breaths. Just allow the breathing to happen as it will, and sit quietly counting the out breaths up to 100. The counting is more for structuring the process while keeping 90% of the attention tuned to the ever changing sensations of the waves of breathing. The goal is to stay with the breath, keeping the mind connected with breath, moment to moment, knowing where the breathing is at each instant in the process, within the waves of breathing in and breathing out. The counting may help to keep track of how long and far the mind has drifted, it may help connect moment to moment with a sense of sustained attention. If you lose count, rest easy in this awareness and simply start again.
If you practice counting 100 breaths daily, you may find that last 10 breaths could take two or three times as long, they may be slower than the starting breaths. This is the effect of the relaxation response. For some, it takes about 10-15 minutes on the dot to count 100 breaths. One method is to count 10 “out-breaths” and then start over counting with the next set of 10 outbreaths… counting 10 sets of 10 outbreaths up to 100. This practice also teaches where the mind wanders to… Playing catch with your attention is part of the 100 breaths exercise.
If you find counting is too cumbersome or effortful, simply silently say “in” and “out.”
Another 100 breaths exercise is to simply tune into and mindfully breathe, 100 breaths as you move throughout your day.
Journal * * *
Day 15: Tracing Hand with Breath
Hand tracing with the breath is a mindfulness exercise well suited for wrangling calm and focus when one’s energy and emotions may be at a high level. Holding your left hand in front of you, palm facing, with fingers splayed. Trace your pointed index finger of the right hand from wrist to top of the left thumb, inhaling as you do so. Exhale tracing to the valley between the thumb and index finger of the left hand. As you inhale, bring the right index finger up the valley to the top of the left index finger. Continue inhaling and exhaling as you go from finger to finger from peak to valley in synch with your breathing. Feel your hand sensations along with your breath as you trace from finger to finger.
Journal * * *
Day 16: A Mindful Tea
To begin, create the intention to sit up comfortably balanced and awake to your sensations in the present moment, accepting your experience in the present moment. Set your intention to be open to experiencing the cup of tea in front of you with all your senses. Briefly check in with your breathing, follow the breath for a few cycles. What is your internal weather feeling like today?
* Now, bring the flashlight of your attention to just looking at the cup of tea before you for a breath or two. Notice the cup. Notice the tea in the cup. What colors, shapes, and textures do you see?
* Hold the tea cup in your hands, completely sensing what the cup feels like. Closing eyes for a moment and feel your hands on the cup, feel the warmth of the tea in your hands… feel the weight, the shape and size of the cup for a few breaths.
* Smell the tea for a breath or two… ,bring tea up close enough to feel and smell the vapors, close your eyes and completely focus on the sensations of smelling the warm steaming vapors of the tea… investigate with open curiosity this experience of smelling the tea.
* Feel what you are feeling inside… Check in again with a gentle, friendly curiosity, notice what your body feels like as you sit up holding this cup of tea. Do you feel the urge to sip the tea? What are the sensations of your feet, belly, chest, and head?
* Notice the sensations in your mouth before sipping the tea for a breath or two. What is the taste, the temperature, and other sensations in the mouth before sipping?
* When you’re ready, carefully, curiously have a sip of tea… completely focus on the symphony of sensations that happen when sipping… the flavor, the temperature, all the sensations in the mouth.
* Notice the sensations of swallowing… can you feel the tea flowing through the back of the mouth, the throat, and even into your tummy? Follow one sip of tea as it moves through the throat to the stomach. Can you feel the warmth in your stomach? Can you feel the tea warming you from the inside? Appreciate…
* Notice if you are happy for drinking this tea… be thankful for all the sun and rain and soil and tea plants and farmers and truck drivers and tea servers that helped bring this tea sipping into being. What are you thankful for in this moment?
Once practiced at home, try bringing a few breaths of this practice to your drinking tea or water during your workday.
Journal * * *
Describe what you were noticing during the tea exercise with a few sentences.
Day 17: Soaking Up the Good (A Wellness Exercise by Rick Hanson)
Simply be on the look-out for noticing the good experiences in your day. When they happen, actively recognize them, briefly dwell on how they are pleasant in thought, feeling, body sensations and impactful on one’s outlook or options. This exercise takes about 15 to 30 seconds for “Soaking up the Good,” relishing the experience, turning up the dial on the glowing pleasant sensations of a delightful GOOD experience. Notice what is happening with your smile muscles, your chest, belly, posture, and general energy level. Sustaining attention for 15 to 30 seconds on these positive experiences is key as it helps shift our frame of reference to a more optimistic and positive way of being. Priming our neural pathways with these positive experiences shifts our cognitive temperament or “filters” for seeing the world as more filled with positive experiences.
Worth noting that soaking up the good is much more a wellness exercise rather than a mindfulness exercise. It was developed by Dr. Rick Hanson to counter our bias for worry. The notion is that evolution has selected humans to have a “negativity bias” that results in a cognitive bias for making errors that tend to cultivate worries and anxiety. This is useful for keeping keeping our primative ancestors alive to survive for another day. But it tends to keep us anxious and worried in modern times. So, soaking up the good is designed to help shift these biases and errors of our minds that have been selected to be “Velcro for negative” and “Teflon for positive” experiences. Interesting sidebar: Daily mindfulness meditation tends to do this as well.
Journal * * *
What are some of the positive experiences that happened in the last day or so. Take a few moments to recreate them in your mind and tune into the various ways that they affected you. What are some of the consequences of the GOOD thing? How does the good thing work to bring delight? What happens at the level of body, emotions, thoughts and your world view?
Day 18: STOP (Recognizing/Dampening A Stress Response)
Practicing mindfulness at home in the morning for a few minutes can help build a physiological resilience to stressors that may happen throughout the workday. Mindfulness practices can help manage stressors before, during, and after stressful experiences.
“STOP” is for managing stress in real time during a stress response. It stands forStopping for a moment to Take an anchoring breath with full awareness (this can help dampen a stress response), Observe the situation and thenProceed. Pausing for a moment may help support clearing the way for good decision making.
Journal * * *
Have you tried the STOP process? Was it useful? Have you ever told someone else to, “Stop and take a breath?” Try writing it on a notecard placed in the pocket as a reminder.
Day 19: Welcoming
Welcoming is an elegant concept for reframing what we may initially see as a harsh set-back… Welcoming involves kindness, directed attention, a beginner’s mind, and some friendly curiosity. Welcoming involves creating a space that holds the present with a welcoming equanimity. It’s an invitation to be non-judgmental and accepting even if there is a tsunami wave of circumstance arriving. Often what we may see as a harsh negative setback can be positively reframed as a new beginning, a challenge, a skill-building opportunity, or an opportunity for growth and healing. It is also true that we do not know how things may turn out tomorrow and so perhaps withholding judgment and intentionally, deliberately, allowing for equanimity can avoid unnecessary fretting. Here is a timeless poem by Rumi that gratefully expresses the art of welcoming.
The Guest House
JELALUDDIN RUMI, TRANSLATION BY COLEMAN BARKS
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Journal * * *
What is today’s worry? Reframing: What opportunity is presenting? Are new skills being cued up for play or being cultivated?
Day 20: Holding, Irritations, and “Turning Toward the Edge”
“To Scratch or Not to Scratch,“ that is, sometimes the question. Oftentimes when practicing mindfulness an awareness of a discomfort arises, and the question may become what’s the best response? Trying to suppress or ignore the irritation isn’t a very “mindful” choice. Perhaps acknowledging the itch, but refocusing back to the breath? Or maybe trying to be aware of the itching and mindfully, slowly, and with fulness of presence, bringing oneself to scratching and curiously noting that moment to moment experience?
There is another mindfulness approach, called “turning toward the edge.” Simply the focusing attention onto the difficult sensation… an itch will, as all things do, change and disappear over time without intervention. Watching this happen with intent focused curiosity is transformative. This is an exercise that can be generalized to difficult emotions that we tend to suppress, ignore, distract ourselves from, or avoid with complex layers of autopilot coping. Often we can get stuck in habit loops that we have become disenchanted with. We can step out of these habit loops by bringing an observing friendly curiosity to rest our awareness directly upon the source of discomfort. Focusing awareness directly on the itch is an awareness exercise in “unlearning.” It extinguishes old coping behaviors. It transforms the given discomfort that typically elicits autopilot coping into a challenging “un-learning” experience. Rather than ignoring or scratching, shift the focus of meditation to attending with curiosity to the sensation of the itch itself. Notice with curiosity what happens. Notice your thoughts, emotions, and body responses in the process of observing the itch.
This same attention technique, of “Turning Toward the Sharp Edge” can be applied to both painful emotions and powerful experiences, such as craving. It may build skills and opportunities for unlearning habitual responses that can be less than helpful. Three things may happen: 1) By not engaging in the autopilot knee-jerk response that response can become extinguished, 2) It may create a space for freedom of choice, a discerning, to compare and choose new options. And, 3) It will, for sure, build tolerance to pain or discomfort
Journal * * *
Was there some skill developed in watching an itch disappear all on its own? What did it turn into? Did you notice a “habit of mind” (perhaps thoughts, resistance) in responding to this new guest? Was there a sense of accomplishment in the triumph of patient warm friendly observing over the knee-jerk or autopilot responding?
Day 21: The Worry Box
Draw a doodle on an envelope, maybe a smiley face and a worry face… then on a separate piece of paper write 3 things that you are grateful for in the present moment:
Then think of one thing that you are worried about today, label it, write a sentence about the worry. Tuck the paper away in the envelope and place the worry envelope into a small “worry box,” (any little box will do). Set the box in a remote place in your home, maybe not where you sleep, and return to open the worry box 7 days later… Read, reflect, and revisit a week later, notice if you or your thoughts, your feelings may have changed over time. Are you still worried about the same thing? Has some other worry become more important a week later? See if the worry box can be helpful in exploring how worries change over time. Does some equanimity emerge when revisiting with the perspective of 7 days?
Day 22: The Relaxation Response
Herbert Benson, was a Havard Medical School cardiologist, who he coined the term, “The Relaxation Response” to describe the state of physiological calm induced by meditative rituals. The relaxation response is the physiological opposite of the stress response in many ways. The relaxation response involves both the activation of the parasympathetic system as well as reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in a decrease in muscle tension, heart rate, breathing, metabolism, etc.
Dr. Benson’s survey of cultures and religions found two common features were present across all practices that activated the relaxation response: 1) A mental device, 2) a passive attitude. Mindfulness, in its definition, offers these two ingredients: Purposefully attending to sensation with a calm non-judgmental acceptance. The first part of the definition of mindfulness “attention on sensation” provides the framework for a “mental device,” the second half of the definition provides features and qualities for holding a “passive attitude” from moment to moment.
Set a timer for 60 seconds. See how many breaths happen in a minute:
I breathed ________ breaths per minute.
Now, without trying to change your breath in any way, set your intention to pay attention to your breathing. Just be present with the breath as it happens each moment to moment, stay with the breath. Count 30 out-breaths as they happen, not trying to breathe in any way at all, just watching the breathing and if the mind wanders, just recognize and accept where the mind wandered to, and then gently return to the breath, being a passive observer of the breathing, curious to be aware of where exactly in the cycle of breathing you are in each moment and what each instant of breath feels like. Once you get to 30 out-breaths measure again your rate of breathing... Restart the timer for 60 seconds.
I breathed ________ breaths per minute.
Try building up a practice of counting 100 out-breaths in sets of 10. This may take 10 to 15 minutes at first. but after some practice may take 20 minutes!
Day 23: Mindful Walking
Mindful Walking is simply bringing full attention to the process of walking. I remember doing it when I was 16 years old and thinking it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of, and these days it’s one of my favorite daily practices, often done while walking the dog. Simply turn up the volume on feeling the sensations of walking, and stay with the sensation of walking. Variations of the practice could be focusing on the sensations of the feet. Parsing each placement of the foot into the phases of heel, sole, toe…. or noticing the sensations of the entire body while walking. Traditionally it is done relatively slowly either in a circle or with several paces and then turning around. Mindful walking is a great practice for when one’s energy level or anxiety is too high for sitting or breathing meditation. A great wellness routine is setting aside a few minutes for getting outside to try being fully present and mindfully walking. A dog can be a great teacher in this regard, every day is a great day for a walk! And each moment is an opportunity for basking in being within the present moment.
Day 24: Recognizing social sources of stress, including “SCARF” events
Life is balancing. Homeostasis is balancing. Wellness and resilience is this adaptive property of bouncing back from challenge. The thing about being human is that we balance our lives within complex layers of interdependent relationships within our families, our friends, and our communities. Our survival instincts evolved a highly tuned sense of our social lives. Our big brains are hiigh performance logic engines helping to guide our lives, avoiding pain, to seek safety, and generally trying to avoid problems before they happen in so many different ways. Stress happens when our mind and body rev up to take action, emergently as needed, in the world when our sense of balance is challenged. The fight, flight, or freeze response can be due to some emergent physical risk. More generally, stress happens as we perceive something in our life is going out of balance and we are uncertain that we have the resources to bring it back into balance. Being social creatures we stress about our social world. “SCARF” can be helpful sorting out, recognizing, understanding, and labeling our different kinds of social stressors. Stress (and SCARF) happen when we perceive a challenge to the balance in our sense of:
SStatusAm I being treated as valued?
CCertaintyDo I know what to expect?
AAutonomyDo I have the freedom to choose the path to take?
RRelatednessDo I feel connected in my relationships?
F FairnessIs there a fairness in this situation?
Reflect on the events of the past 24 hrs to see if there are examples of SCARF challenges. Sometimes simply labeling an event aptly can help dampen a stress response, providing a degree of freedom for a well-measured healthy choice. Was there an event yesterday when you chose to support your healthy values in response to a SCARF challenge? (Yes, there was. Write a sentence about it!) Write the letters SCARF on a notecard. Carry it in your pocket. When a stressor happens, refer to the card to help refine awareness and bring skills online in the moment.
Day 25: The Hot Wash Cloth, Unconscious Body Armor
Soak a tea towel or a few washcloths under running hot water in a small bowl. Wring out the water and lay down on the bed. Carefully place the wash cloth on your face, being careful that the washcloth is not too hot. Observe what happens to your muscle tension, not just in the face muscles but throughout the neck, shoulders, chest, back and belly. Do a body scan noting if there was a “shift” or dramatic release of muscle tension. Soak up the sensations of this moment. Notice how the attention is drawn into the face, but the whole body relaxes.
Awareness of body armor is helpful. Simply bringing awareness to excess muscle tension tends to bring a balancing, homeostatic response.
Write a few sentences about this experience. What other experiences tend to activate relaxation for you?
Day 26: Counting breaths, rather than sheep
If you find it difficult to get to sleep at night try focused attention mindful breathing. Set up a timer and do some sitting meditation, guided meditation or body scan before bedtime. If sleep is interrupted, finding yourself waking in the middle of the night, try meditation as a way to step out of the cycle of midnight ruminations that can activate a stress response and prevent going back to sleep. Consider doing a body scan as you lay in bed... followed by counting your out-breaths in sets of 10 before starting over. This practice of meditating in bed after awakening during the night can generate a deep sense of rest. Almost always this practice sets excellent conditions for falling back to sleep before counting to 200 breaths. Even if one doesn’t fall asleep, a deep restful state can still be achieved.
Journal for the next week the time that you fall asleep and wake up each day, noting if you woke during the night and if practicing breathing meditation was helpful in guiding you back to sleep.
Day 27: Mindful Listening, Reflecting, Affirming, Empathizing
Set an intention to be a good listener, a curious listener, just for a day. Deep listening can be startlingly different than a normal conversation mode. We often are just waiting or jumping for our turn to speak, chaffing to guide the conversation, positioning for what we may have to say, waiting for the other person to pause for a breath. Rather, set an intention to: 1) Look at the person as they speak with open eyes, open to their expressions, open to seeing every detail of their being in the moment. 2) Briefly check-in, reflecting back on what you think they’ve just said, asking confirmation that you’ve heard them well. 3) Affirm your interest in hearing them. Actively engaging curiosity helps in holding a open non-judgmental attitude. Note your appreciation for their sharing thoughts, emotions, and perspectives.
Day 28: Effortless Attention in Open Monitoring
This exercise may be summed up with the simple phrase “Being Present with ease,” or “being aware that you are aware.” Rather than choosing an object to focus upon, allow attention to naturally flow as it will from one object to the next, noting or labeling each transition, each emergent shift of attention. Holding an attitude of acceptance, ease, and non-striving is key. “Open monitoring” is more allowing emergent experience to enter the foreground of awareness than focusing attention on anything in particular. It’s just holding a coherent level of awareness of being, and holding the perspective of an observer, nonjudgmentally watching the flow of experience, allowing the attention to shift naturally from one object to the next. Here one practices being present, accepting non-judgementally what arises, without trying to hold focus on any one particular object. It is called open monitoring, because you’re just present with open curiosity, non-reactively monitoring and accepting.
In this way of “effortless attention,” simply note what the awareness is arriving to rest upon in this particular moment… and this may naturally shift in the next moment to the next object… your self-awareness, your presence as the observer provides a continuity across these moments. This is practicing a sense of being. This exercise may require considerable groundwork in preparing a foundation of a stability of attention, as it requires building an observer who keeps perspective of the mind wandering, and yet is able to maintain a resting stability of attention. The practice may cultivate equanimity.
Think about the lifestyle activities that you love to do that you find calming and relaxing. They may be active, they may be social, or outdoors. Make a list of some of these and consider mixing the definitions of mindfulness into these activities as well. Walking outdoors in the sunshine? Playing music, dancing, or some sport? Cooking or baking or attending to a household pet or plant. Bring a full sense of your presence, acceptance, and engagement in the activity. Write a list… write a few sentences… schedule some fun to look forward to some practice of effortless open attention.