Coping techniques: Mindfulness practice

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

  1. While making judgments and decisions are an important part of our lives, our lives are more than those activities. Mindfulness is about noticing without judging, without gathering up information in order to make decisions, without clinging to what we like or avoiding what we’re not so fond of. Mindfulness is simply being aware of this moment and noticing what’s present without judging it, approving or disapproving of it. Just acknowledging that it’s here.
  2. That said, what are you experiencing right now? What environment are you in? How do you feel physically—warm, dry, sore, comfortable? What are you thinking and feeling? What are you currently doing? No need to judge. Just notice and acknowledge.
  3. Stopping to breathe: Whatever you’re doing, pause. Take a brief moment to notice what you’re feeling, thinking, doing. Take three slow deep breaths. Inhale deeply. Exhale completely. Now, decide whether you want to continue with what you were doing or do something different.
  4. Belly breathing: Sit upright, with your feet flat on the floor and shoulder level. Inhale. As you do, feel the breath as it enters your body. With each inhalation pull the breath deeper into your body so that your belly rises.
  5. Focused breathing: Sitting upright with your back flat against the chair, or lying on the floor with your back flat against it, inhale. As you do repeat a phrase to yourself such as, “I am happy,” or “Everything is all right.” As you exhale, visualize yourself breathing out a negative quality, such as distress or anxiety. Breathe out the negative. Slowly and deliberately breathe in what you want for yourself to fill that space.
  6. Bodhisattva breathing: This is an alternative to focused breathing, and can be useful if you’re sitting with a distressed person. As you breathe in, inhale their distress or suffering into yourself. Visualize your body neutralizing the suffering. As you breathe out, exhale freedom from suffering, comfort and calmness.
  7. Breathe counting: Sit comfortably, with your body relaxed. For this exercise you will simply breathe—inhale, and then exhale, counting “One.” Repeat until you get to ten. Concentrate only on your breath, the way your nose, throat, chest feel as the breath enters, pauses, and then leaves. Of course, it’s very challenging to stay focused on the breath. Pretty soon your thoughts will take off along one string of associations or another. No problem. When you notice you’ve drifted, simply acknowledge that without trying to resolve or suppress whatever the thought was, and gently come back to your breathe, starting again at “One.” Each time your thoughts take off, as you notice that just acknowledge what’s occurred and come back. It can be helpful to sit facing a blank wall while you practice this. This can be a useful practice when you get home from work, or before you go to bed at night.
  8. Observe your thoughts. Are they slow or fast, strong or mild? What is their content? As you become lost in them, when you notice this return to simply observing them. Notice how easy it is to be caught up in thoughts and carried with them. Notice yourself as you return to simply observing them.
  9. Body scan: Sit or lie in a relaxed position. Loosen your clothing if need be. Beginning at your feet focus your awareness there. Let yourself become aware of any tension, soreness, sensation pleasant or uncomfortable. You don’t need to do anything about those sensations, not resolve them or repress them or explain them. In this practice it’s enough to simply notice your sensations, to be aware of them. Move your attention from your feet to your lower legs—ankles, calves, shins, knees. Where is there tension, pain, ease, comfort? This is about noticing what’s present, so there’s no need to judge or solve. From your lower legs move to upper legs, then up into your lower body, upper body, hands, arms and shoulders, neck, head and face. Notice where the stress has gathered, where the comfort exists, where tightness, where looseness. Now let your awareness pass down your body, back to your feet. This practice can be done sitting in a chair or when you’re lying in bed, readying yourself for sleep.
  10. Mindful walking: Choose a safe environment for this practice. As you are about to begin your walk, set your intention to notice and to remain present. Let your attention focus on your body, on the sensation of walking. Your feet as they push down on and then away from the ground. Your weight as it moves fluidly from one foot to the other. Your arms and legs moving in your clothing. If your focus slips away—as focus has a tendency to do!—bring it easily back to the sensation of your body in movement. Now without “losing” awareness of your body allow your attention to expand in order to take in the environment around you. What do you hear? What do you see? How does the air feel on your skin or in your hair? Finally, while remaining aware of the environment and your body allow your attention to expand further and take in your inner process. Your thoughts, your feelings. Not judging them but only noting them—what they are, how strong or how mild. As you complete your walk, acknowledge that you set the intention of mindfulness. Congratulate yourself for having done this.
  11. Mindful eating: Turn off the television, move away from the computer and put down your book or your work so you can focus on the experience of eating. Observe the food before you. Inhale: what aromas do you notice? Notice your hand as it picks up the fork or spoon. As you put food into your mouth, what do you notice? Is the food warm or cold, sweet or sour, bitter or salty? What happens in your mouth when you have a bite of food? What are the differences between taste and aroma? As you chew, notice the consistency of the food. As you swallow, how does your body feel? And as you continue to eat, notice how you begin to feel full, how appetite changes. Do you eat slowly or quickly? What is it like to pay attention to this part of your life? Listen to your body as it tells you when it’s hungry and when it’s full. Does your body become full before your mouth does?
  12. Mindful eating with a friend: Taking turns with a friend, close your eyes while he or she puts a piece of food into your mouth. Rather than trying to recognize and identify what it is, notice its taste, aroma, texture, juiciness, consistency. Now let your friend close their eyes and take a turn.
  13. Mindful chores: Completing chores around the house can be an opportunity for practicing mindfulness. When washing the dishes notice the temperature and flow of the water, the smell of the dish soap, the weight and size of each object as you wash it and turn it under the water to rinse it.
  14. Automatic writing: Many of us experience tension around ideas of writing or drawing. For this practice sit comfortably at a table with a piece of paper in front of you. Hold a pen, pencil or crayon to the surface of the paper and move your hand, not attempting to draw a picture or write a word, only making an unbroken line on the paper. Observe the line as it moves across the paper—whether it spirals or loops, whether it’s smooth or jagged. Now move your entire arm and observe the line, noticing any changes that you observe. Finally move your whole body, observing the line.
  15. Mindfulness and suffering: Pain is physical sensation. Suffering incorporates that sensation and our responses to it. These responses can include fear, anger, hatred and self-blame. They can also include increased bodily tension—clenching or tightness, or attempts to get away from the pain. Sit or lie down as comfortably as possible. Notice the position of your body. Scan your body and focus on an area where you aren’t in pain, that’s comfortable or at least neutral. Allow your focus to rest there for a long moment. Now shift your focus to the area of your body where you’re experiencing pain. Just let yourself be there without trying to reduce, resolve or explain the pain. As much as possible, just notice. Is the pain sharp? Burning? Constant, or in waves? Is its area clearly defined or does it shift? In this moment let yourself be curious about the physical sensation, letting go of any need to know its cause or determine its meaning, to remember the past or predict the future. Now bring your attention back to the area of your body that feels okay, or neutral. Rest there for a few moments. If you choose, you can return your attention again to the painful area. Do you notice any attitude that you have towards the pain or towards yourself—fear, anger, hatred, guilt or shame? Do you notice any changes in your body when you focus on the painful area—tightening or twisting, holding your breath or clenching your teeth? Simply notice these feelings, and breathe. Return to the comfortable or neutral area of your body.