I don’t want to try to speak for you, but I’m guessing that maybe it hasn’t been the easiest week. Campuses and offices are back in full swing after winter holidays, workloads are building back up, and also…well, as we talked about earlier this week, the world as you know it may feel like it’s suddenly, rapidly changing. It can be a lot to try to manage at once, this combination of the mundane, the annoying and the epic. It’s hard to know where to put your energy, or how to find any energy at all. I definitely get it, which is why this weekend’s “no-fail” mindfulness challenge is going to cover two important bases: restoring, and then, rebooting.
We can’t have you this confused and exhausted for the foreseeable future, can we? There’s too much work to be done, and you’re too capable not to be doing it.
So, the first thing this challenge is going to help us to do is simmer. Maybe not all the way, if a low-grade simmer helps you get things done, but enough to actually be able to see your thoughts one at a time, and note your emotions without involuntarily responding through them.
Part 1: Restore
- First, be still. Sometimes mindfulness involves movement, but for now, I’m strongly recommending you put it in park. Sitting is probably the easiest, but if you need to meet me halfway by standing, I’ll give you that. Know thyself, right? If you can close your eyes, go ahead and do that. It will help you turn your focus inward for just a few minutes.
- Next, notice your breath. I say “notice” because while you’ve been reading this so far, you’ve also been breathing, but you probably weren’t paying attention to it. So check it out…inhale, exhale. Tune into the natural rhythm your body already has for your breath. Let these observations be your project for a moment.
- Finally, repeat this internally to yourself: “I know I’m breathing in (as you inhale). I know I’m breathing out (as you exhale). I know this is the present moment (as you inhale). I know this is the only moment (as you exhale).” Repeat for at least 5 total rounds. If you have a few more in you, keep it up. You’re thinking this internally, so no one has to hear you or think you’re a weirdo who talks to themselves, so let that go. In fact, while you’re at it, let as much go as you can, or let go of trying too hard to let go. Just be with whatever’s there, and keep breathing.
You should start to notice your heartrate slowing a bit, your breathing may become more consistent, or maybe your skin feels a bit cooler than it did when you started. If your thoughts try to interrupt your flow, that’s totally normal. Your brain thinks. That’s what it does. Just gently bring your primary focus back to your breath and the phrases your repeating (also known as a gatha), and carry on.
Next, once you’ve spent a few minutes giving your body and mind a chance to rest, it’s time to check back in with your energy levels.
Part 2: Re-energize
- Stay still. I know you want to move, and you will very soon, I promise. But for just a few more minutes, give your body a break and stay where you are.
- Deepen your breath. While you’ve been gently noticing your breath these past few minutes, your focus has been on your gatha, or the phrases you were internally repeating. If you like, it’s ok to let that gatha go now, and return your attention to what’s happening with your breath. Make a gentle effort to inhale a bit more deeply, really filling your chest, your lungs and even your belly with air, like there’s a balloon in there. When you exhale, notice that balloon deflate as the air leaves you.
- Let it out. Transition now to really letting those exhales go….as in, forcefully leave your body. Let them go out of your nose and your mouth, maybe even making a little noise about it. Feel your jaw, neck, shoulders, arms and whole body release as you do.
- Repeat. Big inhale. Full exhale. And again, as needed. These big breaths can be really relaxing, just like the smaller ones before them, but they should also be a bit energizing, clearing you out and helping you reset before heading back out into the rest of your day, and weekend.
(If these big exhales don’t do it for you, or if you’re just feeling a little adventurous this weekend, you might also want to check out the more emphatic kapalabhati style of breathing for getting your energy back up…)
The idea here is that by first taking a few minutes to center, you can reconnect with the steady center that helps guide you as you prioritize where you want your attention to be focused. Then, with your intentions more clear and your mind and body more steady, you can more effectively channel your precious energy and considerable talent in the directions that are most meaningful to you.
“Self-care isn’t selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn
Photo credit: Steinar La Engeland