One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is the belief that it’s an isolated practice that starts and ends on a meditation cushion or chair. I’d like to explore some of the ways we can carry meditative practices into our daily lives, especially as the semester ramps up in difficulty. The following practices are perfect for beginners who haven’t practiced meditation before. Better yet, you can implement them anywhere, whether it be seated in a lecture hall, eating lunch on Memorial Glade or walking to your next class. Don’t worry: There isn’t any exclusive or esoteric formula to becoming more mindful but rather extremely simple habits that develop over time through consistency and practice.
Use belly breathing to ground your mind
Throughout the day, try grounding your mind by taking slow and deliberate breaths deep into your belly as opposed to shallow, or chest, breathing. As you deeply belly breathe, your facial muscles and chest cavity will slowly relax. Like the roots of a tree, your belly grounds your attention in a simple yet profound way. Over time — and through consistent attention — belly breathing serves as a constant reminder to be present.
This type of breathing can have a surprising effect on the quality of our thoughts. If we usually live in the forehead, the mind can feel restrictive and tense. Shallow breathing leads us to take in less air, which can evoke a stress response within our bodies. As you take in deep breaths, watch how the movement of the breath impacts the mind. Though thoughts will still be there when we belly breathe, they’ll likely have a less threatening quality to them.
Pay attention to the energy in your hands and feet
Gently close your eyes, and sit still for just a moment. Can you feel a tingling in your fingertips or some pressure on the soles of your feet? At first, the sensations might be faint, but over time, you will gradually grow accustomed to the force that constantly flows through your body.
Like belly breathing, I find that focusing on the energy that courses through my hands and feet provides a similar grounding effect. When I’m focusing on my hands, I’m here — now! When walking, I touch the Earth with the energy in the soles of my feet and feel the solid ground beneath me. Notice as the energy in your body takes your attention away from the mental chatter in your head and how the sensations of your body unfold as you direct your attention toward them.
Take note of the urge to distract yourself
“Hello, habit energy” is a phrase I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, a peace activist and renowned Buddhist teacher. When one notices unwanted habit energies such as anger or jealousy, he recommends that they mindfully recognize, embrace and take care of such negative energy. In a few minutes of doing this practice, the feeling usually fades and loses its potency.
I would apply the same idea to the urge to distract myself. Usually, underneath the distraction is an uncomfortable or unwanted feeling that would like to express itself. Instead of turning to the phone or finding some desired object to avoid the feeling of discomfort, what happens if we turn toward that feeling? Whatever we find — whether that be tiredness, anxiety, loneliness, sadness or whatever else — it may be best for us to allow the feeling to “sing its song.” It’s totally normal to experience the urge to distract oneself, but the practice of mindfulness involves us taking note of our urges in order to feel and observe them in a nonjudgmental manner.
Overall, these simple suggestions can help us return to the present moment — even when our thoughts and feelings may seem overwhelming. Gently investigate each of these practices to find what feels natural and can fit into your own schedule. It might be taking five minutes to sit on a bench outside of the classroom and breathe deeply, or it could be consciously making an effort to not go on your phone before class starts. Each moment presents an opportunity to inquire into the nature of our ongoing experience.