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Mindfulness: It’s Not One Size Fits All

24 February 2017

Eden listened to the Three-Minute Breathing Space and appreciated the different ways she is learning to practice mindfulness.

Tags: eden listened, eden read, mindfulness

It seems like everywhere I look there is a new article, infographic, or really happy person talking about mindfulness and the benefits of meditation. In fact, the New York Times has a column called Mindfulness for Real Life. This column publishes a new mini meditation script every week with topics ranging from How to Be Mindful at Airport Security, to How to Be Mindful while Eating Chocolate. However, I have found that when I need to practice mindfulness the most, reminders that I should appreciate the little things (like sipping my coffee or washing the dishes) are not very helpful. These types of exercises might work for some people, but I am not one of them.

So, what does it actually look like to practice mindfulness in a meaningful way? The answer is, it looks different for everyone. You might not enjoy the mindfulness exercises that I enjoy. Likewise, the moments when I choose to practice mindfulness might be very different from the moments you would choose. Luckily, we get to decide for ourselves which exercises we like and when we want to practice them. Here are a few examples of situations in which I find it helpful to practice mindfulness:

  • When I look at the short-term and long-term items on my to-do list and can’t decide where to begin.
  • When I am excited to visit with friends, but also sad because I know the visit will be over soon even though it hasn’t started yet.
  • When the plane takes off.
  • When I am trying to focus on a task, but other thoughts begin to surface, fighting for my attention.
  • When I need a reminder that the world is not racing ahead of me, even though it feels like it is.

The exercise that I most regularly incorporate into these types of moments is the Three-Minute Breathing Space, created by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale. I like this exercise because it’s short enough that I do not struggle to maintain focus, but substantial enough to impact my day. This is how it typically goes for me:

Minute 1: I spend the first minute of the exercise observing my thoughts. This often turns into a mental to-do list of thank you cards I haven’t written, an errand I need to run, a conversation I’ve been meaning to have, and the fact that my car needs air in its tires. I like that when I spend just one minute observing my thoughts, they seem to quiet down a little bit because I have given them attention.

Minute 2: The second minute I spend only observing my breath, without trying to change it. Instead of allowing my thoughts to flow freely, I actively push away any thoughts that try to surface. For me, this is good practice in strengthening my ability to focus. Sometimes I spend an extra minute or two here.

Minute 3: In the third minute, I continue to observe my breath, but I also tune into my surroundings. I give attention to my feet against the floor, my back against the chair, and whatever sounds I might hear. The third minute helps me to feel present.

Sometimes, when I open my eyes after the three minutes are over, I feel like I am seeing the desk in front of me for the first time all day. It helps me to slow down my racing thoughts because I am tuned into my current environment instead of my anticipated environment. It reminds me that even though my mind is two weeks into the future, I am presently sitting in my chair. The Three-Minute Breathing Space works for me, and it is an exercise that I enjoy and have learned to incorporate into my life over the years. However, it still takes discipline and practice, especially on days when I feel like I don’t have three minutes to spare.

If you’d like to try the Three-Minute Breathing Space, you might find it helpful to start with a guided meditation, like I did. Or, you might enjoy first practicing mindfulness with a simple relaxation technique: “I am breathing in, I am breathing out, I am relaxing.” These are just two of the many ways you could begin to incorporate mindfulness into your day. However, instead of trying to make someone else’s mindfulness routine fit into your life, I encourage you to think about the things you enjoy, the type of practice that best fits your day, and the moments when you might need it the most. After all, when it comes to practicing mindfulness, it’s not one-size-fits-all.


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