I didn't train to become a meditation or mindfulness teacher because I am good at it. On the contrary, I am 'terrible' at both and struggle with consistency; I can't seem to find the right room, the right alter, the right candle or the right time in the day. Teaching simple forces me to practice. Its the way I trick the worst part of myself into working towards the better part of myself.
Mornings always seem to be encouraged, preferable before the sun rises. Morning have never been my best time, until about 9 am and by then I feel like I should be working. Nights are probably better for me, when the day is over and my energy is spent. But by then I something just want to flop down in front of a really bad television reality show and turn off.
So here are three useful, simple tips I apply when I need to get off my arse and reinvigorate my mindfulness practice to improve my self, my outlook and my wellbeing.
1. Start and the pressure will be off.
I think most of us struggle with just getting started. The saying, "start and the pressure will be off" is one of the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga. For me, its something I replay in my head when I am prone to procrastination, over-thinking, or perfectionism.
Laying in bed and not wanting to face the day? Close your eyes and focus on your breath for three minutes.
At work and feeling frustrated? Go into the bathroom, sit on the toilet, close your eyes and focus on your breath for three minutes.
Kids or husband making your blood boil? Get in your car, drive down the street until they cant see you, park the car outside a stranger's house. Focus on your breath for three minutes while you are sitting in the drivers seat.
It doesn't have to be pretty. You don't have to be levitating. It doesn't have to be before sunrise and it certainly doesn't have to be for 2.5 hours. But every little damn bit counts towards a better YOU. So just sit your ass down and do something.
2. Think how long you can meditate each day...and then do less than that.
Mark Lesser, one of my fantastic teachers with Google's mindfulness program Search Inside Yourself, said this simple statement when I asked "how long should I meditate for?"
To me, it was a complete revelation and I felt like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders.
Of course. Its a mind game. If we set the goal to meditate for 31 minutes a day, the ego will set us up for failure. Rather, if we think 31 minutes is the ideal, well, do 11 minutes instead! It will seem so easy, the pressure will be off and it will be achievable.
3. Bring mindfulness practices into your daily hobbies and habits.
The reality is that many of us already choose to do activities that improve our mindfulness and encourage the benefits that are attributed to meditation; surfing, running, walking the dog, watching the sunset, camping under the stars can all help us to suspend judgement, be in the moment and stop focusing on the past or future.
Activities that anchor us in the moment, keep us focused in the here and now for a few minutes more than usual, and provide us relief from our busy lives all contribute some of the same benefits as mindfulness does.
Now, just build on them.
When you are surfing, really focus on each time your hand goes in the water to paddle. What does it feel like? When your mind wanders off, bring it back to the sensation of the palm of your hand against the feel of the ocean.
When you are swimming, quietly say the words, "I am, I am" with every stroke to anchor the mind in the moment.
When you are walking the dog, focus on each and every footstep and feel the road beneath your feet.
By bringing explicit mindfulness practices into activities that are already a habit or hobby, you will start to reap the same benefits that sitting meditation can also bring (like reducing reaction time to stresses, cooling your body temperature, slowing your heart rate, etc).
4. If you have kids, encourage them to practice mindfulness with you or teach them how to embed it into daily activities.
When I got pregnant and had my daughter, I knew that my days of being able to work as a consultant as well as teach yoga and meditation might be numbered. The truth is, I simply started 'teaching' in a different way.
When my daughter was a baby, I would set a timer for 22 minutes, chant quietly to her as I was holding her, and use it to relax her and put her to sleep.
As a I toddler, I taught her how to focus on her breath and slow down when she was upset about something, to self soothe (and used the technique to soothe myself as well!). We also used prayer at night to 'thank the universe for all the wonderful things' (her saying).
As a tween, she sometimes sits and meditates with me during mornings before school when she is feeling anxious. I also took her to a yoga festival with me in Joshua Tree California. Instead of just going to yoga sessions, I did activities I never usually did at such events. We made malas, learned how to play the gong, ate organic dark chocolate and had an absolute BLAST.
The moral of the story? Be clever. Leverage the little moments. And know that sometimes your kids and even your pets know better than you and will help to encourage you to practice in their own little ways.