“Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
“Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
“Come back to your breath.”
It was a simple direction, but powerful nonetheless. I was in the middle of a fairly intense yoga class. Could the instructor read my mind because I had wandered into thoughts; and thinking, for me, can be a source of positivity or, as is more often the case, a source of negativity and defeat.
I often give a similar instruction when I am teaching yoga.
“Focus on your breath. If thoughts enter your mind, brush them away as if they are food crumbs on the table of your mind.”
And yet, how very often do I practice this? How often do I ruminate on lists of things to do for school and other work, for home, for my daughter, for my husband, for when-I-get-home, for when-the-weekend-gets-here . . . On and on the mental post-it notes stick in my mind in the same way they adorn my work desk, my notebooks, and sometimes throughout my home. Must do, gotta remember, can’t forget . . .Oh, those lists; and I haven’t even made it to the lists of worries; the lists of things for which I should feel guilty; the lists of oh-I-wish-I-would-have-thought-to-do . . .. All this mental inventory and babble!
Like the lists that adorn my notebooks, kitchen counters, and work desk, my mind is often filled with post-it notes of mental lists.
Of all people, I should know better! After all, I spent a large portion of 2018 in yoga teacher training (YTT), which had a huge emphasis on mindfulness and meditation. In fact, during this time period, I was an avid meditator with a daily practice emphasizing breath work. As a matter of fact, I had a couple of years of meditation under my belt before starting YTT, and yet, here I was standing in a yoga class with my monkey mind as it dashed, darted, and dipped.
Momentarily, my racing mind, as if it were a bird in flight alighting upon a tree limb, landed on a phrase by Thich Nhat Hanh, the author of hundreds of books on mindfulness and meditation. In fact, at the end of my YTT training, each student, in our group of 20, received a mini-book with excerpts from his numerous books.
“This is an in-breath. This is an out-breath.”
As I repeated those words, my awareness shifted its focus to my breath. So simple, yet so energy shifting. Without realizing it, I lost the words as I continued to follow the breath—which of course is the point. Lose the words along with the chattering thoughts. Albeit, it was brief, because my mind is so addicted to its thoughts, worries, and fears. However, with the brevity came the recognition that in order to be of service to others, as well as myself, I needed to return to a regular mindfulness practice–one that included more meditation.
Yes, I had a whole routine of prayers, petitions, and points of focus that I did daily each time I drove first thing in the morning. I mean, I even turn the radio off for heaven’s sake to ensure my mind is not distracted, so I can fully concentrated on my murmurings. Plus, each week at mass, I also wholly devote myself to prayers and meditations—ok, ok, semi-wholly . . . ok, more like, well, like the squirrels that scamper throughout our school’s grounds skittering around from one thought to the next. Truth be told, I had been lying to myself for several month as guilt washed over me. Great, another point to add to list of things for which to feel guilty!
Time to get back on the proverbial wagon. After honest reflection, I realized I could not make meditation-time another item on my many running post-it lists of things-to-do-for-the-day. It would then run the risk of becoming a daily point of pressure for which to create an excuse for not doing—I don’t have time for twenty minutes, so why bother at all? What could I do then?
“Come back to your breath.”
Wait, could it really be that simple? What if I set a timer for five minutes in the morning before showering? Then, for five minutes sit and focus on breathing-in and breathing-out; and, actually practice what I preach. If . . .I mean, when, because I do know my mind . . .when thoughts enter my mind, I push them away as if they are food crumbs on the mind of my table—just for five minutes; or three minutes, if need be.
As I write this, I am three days in to this practice. Ironically, I ended up sitting all three days for 10-15 minutes focusing on the breath and pushing away those pesky mental post-it notes of thoughts. Afterwards, I have felt more grounded, focused, and less anxious. Oh-to-be-certain, all those lists were still there! However, for the time that I focused on the in-breath and the out-breath, they did not exist. And, that, for now, is good enough. That said, I fully recognize that there will be days when five minutes will be all that I manage, but this is how one returns to a habit that has been lost—at least how I know I can realistically.
There are numerous apps and youtube videos on meditations that can be of great assistance. . .if I would actually use them!
In fact, this simple practice of focusing on breathing in and breathing can be accomplished anywhere, even at those dang-blasted red lights that prevent me from getting home quickly after a long day away. As Hanh points out, “The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful.” And, while there are numerous other benefits from a regular meditation practice supported by science that can be found with a quick click of computer keys, I’ll start with a bit more joy!