Tuesday, October 27, 2020

5 Mindfulness Practices for Challenging Times


Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash



by Catharine Hannay


I don't have to tell you this is the most exhausting, stressful, and confusing school year in living memory. 

An hour a day of meditation or yoga is probably unrealistic right now. But there are plenty of other ways you can integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

Here are five ways you can practice mindfulness on even the busiest and most stressful day. 



1. 'Yellow Slide Meditation'

When my mom was very weak from brain cancer, there wasn't anything I could do to help except sit quietly beside her. I decided to use her rest time as my meditation time. 

Especially when I'm feeling anxious, I tend to prefer a visual 'anchor' or point of focus, rather than closing my eyes and focusing on my breath. 

As I stared out the window, what caught my attention was the bright yellow slide in our neighbor's back yard. That became my anchor every afternoon as I sat in the same chair looking out the same window.

You might want to try this, whether or not there happens to be a yellow slide in your neighborhood. It could be 'Red Car Meditation.' Or 'Houseplant Meditation.' Or whatever you happen to see out your window or in your immediate environment.


If you tend to prefer visual practices, as I do, here are a few more you might want to try:


Or, if you prefer breath-based practices, there are several options, as well:



2. 'Stuck Waiting' LovingKindness Practice

Isn't it frustrating and nerve-wracking to be stuck waiting? 

Waiting in a long line when you're in a hurry.

Waiting for someone else to start a meeting.

Waiting for test results, either from a medical exam or academic exam.

These can be the perfect time to try a lovingkindness practice. Basically, you send good wishes to yourself, to someone you care about, to someone you find challenging, and to everyone.

You can send good wishes to the other people who are in line with you, who are likely feeling just as bored and frustrated as you are.

Or you can send good wishes to everyone who's feeling anxious waiting to hear important news. 



3. Name Your Feelings

Especially if you're feeling overwhelmed or overwrought, it can help to shift your awareness from experiencing the feeling to verbalizing the feeling.

You may or may not choose to mention your feelings to someone else. And you may or may not choose to change your behavior. 

Maybe you need to take a break. 

Maybe you need to advocate for yourself. 

Or maybe it's best at this moment to just silently acknowledge how you're feeling and get back to what you need to do right now.


You might want to try labeling your thoughts, feelings, and other sensations. Here are instructions for this type of meditation, from The Practicing Happiness Handbook by Ruth Baer:


And this excerpt from In This Moment by Kirk Strosahl and Patricia Robinson explains the ways we tend to push away uncomfortable feelings, which can give you insights into your own behavior patterns:



4. 'Stretchitation': Slow, Mindful Stretching


During the pandemic, you're likely feeling stiff from not moving as much as usual. Most teachers can't even move around their own classrooms because of social distancing and needing to be on camera for online or hybrid teaching.

Stretching can also help by: 

  • releasing stress and tension; and
  • shifting your attention away from rumination and onto your moment-by-moment physical sensations.


You don't need any special clothing or equipment. You just need enough space to move through your full range of motion.

  • Move slowly and gently, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.  
  • Notice your reactions, both in the moment and as patterns emerge from doing this every day. 
    • Do you tend to want to give up too soon?
    • Do you tend to push yourself too hard?
    • Do you tend to resist taking time to stretch but always feel better afterwards?


These posts can help you get into, or back into, a stretching routine:


And here at MindfulTeachers, I have several self-care video playlists, including:


One word of caution, especially if you tend to be either very competitive or very compliant: Stretch to the point where you feel tightness. Don't try to imitate the instructor's pose if it's too intense for your current level of flexibility. And of course follow any guidelines from your medical care provider if you have a condition that impacts your movement.



5. Five-Minute Mindful Snack Break


As I mentioned in a previous post: 

I used to be convinced that I didn't have time to eat lunch, or that I had to correct papers with one hand while using the other hand to mindlessly shove food in my mouth. 

I finally decided to time myself. It only took five minutes with no distractions to enjoy a small salad or half a sandwich. I ate the rest of my lunch in another short break after classes ended for the day.

No matter how busy you are, you can probably carve out a few minutes to eat something healthy. In her book on Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky describes how one woman managed to take five-minute lunch breaks at a hectic emergency shelter: 

“She would close her door and spread out a white paper napkin on her desk, arrange her modest meal on her makeshift placemat, and, to the best of her ability, eat her food in relative peace and quiet. Meanwhile, other workers struggle to avoid car accidents while eating their lunches while driving between home visits or meetings.”

from Realistic Self-Care: How Many Minutes Have You Got?


Since you need to eat a few times a day anyway, this can be a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Just focus on the sensation of chewing and swallowing, or you can try Five Senses Snack: A Mindful Eating Chart. Either way, I'm sure you'll find that it's healthier and more enjoyable than mindlessly munching while you're doing something else.


Conclusion

Mindfulness won't make bad days go away, but it can make them more bearable. It also helps you to shift your perspective, clear your head, and develop insight into your own life and how you interact with other people. 

Most mindfulness programs include practices focusing on concentration, insight, and compassion, along with some form of mindful movement. I hope the five suggestions I've included here are useful ways for you to integrate mindfulness into your daily life, even during this time of unprecedented stress and uncertainty. 


You'll find more advice and resources in the following posts: 


And there are hundreds more posts here at MindfulTeachers.org about:

and 




About the Author


Catharine Hannay is the founder of MindfulTeachers.org and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. She is currently working on a book about mindfulness and self-care for teachers.