MF 38 – Nourishing Meditation Practice Remotely with Wild Mind Teacher and Founder Bodhipaksa

MF 38 – Nourishing Meditation Practice Remotely with Wild Mind Teacher and Founder Bodhipaksa

MF 38 – Nourishing Meditation Practice Remotely with Wild Mind Teacher and Founder Bodhipaksa

Biography: Bodhipaksa is an accomplished teacher, published author, and founder of the popular Wildmind web site. He recently (Oct 2012) gave a TEDx talk on compassion (“The Surprising Secret of Unlocking Compassion”).

He has been meditating and practicing Buddhism since 1982. He was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order (former known as the Western Buddhist Order) in 1993. In addition to his work with Wildmind, he leads activities at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire, and for nine years he has taught a summer course to low income teens at the University of New Hampshire.

He was formerly the director of a retreat center in Scotland, and was center director at the Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center in Missoula, Montana. He completed a Master’s degree in Buddhist approaches to business at the university of Montana, and founded Wildmind in 2001.

He has published several books and audiobooks on aspects of meditation and Buddhist practice, and is well-known for his guided meditation recordings. As the director of Wildmind and the father of two young children, Bodhipaksa understands the challenges of balancing a meditation practice with a busy life. His online courses have been running since 2002, and he has received consistent praise for his practical, down-to-earth approach as well as his care for and commitment to each student.

What brought you to a meditation practice?

It was a confluence of things in his life. Bodhipaksa was young and in high school, 17 or 18 years old, when he got interested in finding some kind of religious path, to find meaning and purpose in his life.

He did some exploration of left-wing politics, in an era where the communist party was very strong at the time. It was idealistic, socialism that attracted him. He’d been an atheist since he was eleven years old, the concept of God didn’t make sense at all. He did go back to the New Testament, interested in the ethical teachings of the New Testament.

He did come across references of Buddhism. It was not well known in Scotland at that time. But Buddhism made sense to him. It was rational to him, and didn’t require any belief in a supernatural being, etc.

At that same time, he went through a personal crisis as well. His friends went off to do other things, and left the area. His friends were very important to him, and he experienced a lot suffering. He felt quite lonely, anxiety, and a feeling of not fitting in. He had a hard time getting on with the people remaining.

Bodhipaksa was looking for something that gave his life meaning and purpose.

The idea of meditation as being a way of finding happiness within oneself was attractive to him. Because the outside world didn’t seem at all reliable.

Unfortunately there was no way for him to get to a meditation class. The nearest town was about 30 miles away, and might as well be on the other side of the world, as he didn’t drive. So it wasn’t until Bodhipaksa went to Glasgow, to the university, and he saw posters around campus, until he started going to these classes.

Did your sense of what you were looking for change as you started going to these classes? Anything you wanted to delve more deeply into?

Bodhipaksa had some particular experiences fairly early on. On particular day, he was with some classmates, and they were sitting together in the car to go home. And he was in a terrible mood, he tended to be very irritable in those days. In some ways he was quiet sensitive, and irritation was his defense mechanism in those days. He was listening to this conversation these two girls were having, and getting annoyed at how trivial and trite it seemed. But he caught himself getting really annoyed.

“And I remembered this loving-kindness practice that he had learned.  And just started saying to myself, “May I be well…. may I be happy… may I be free from suffering”. And it completely stunned me, but after 3 or 4 minutes of this, I actually felt really happy! Nothing mystical, or anything like that, meditation just works.”

Yeah, it’s pretty radical..

It does actually work. Today, I’m getting into teaching very short meditations to people, just 3 or 4 minutes long. They very often, almost everyone reports they’ve experienced a change in their level of well-being.

The reason for teaching these short meditations is because he’s very interested in helping people to make meditation part of their life. The trouble is that we teach meditation, make them sit through 25, 35, or 45 minutes of meditation.

People can get the idea that meditation isn’t real meditation, no point in doing it, unless you sit for 45 minutes. And then they go home at the end of the meditation class, and the next day its like, OK, I suppose I should meditate. Do I have 30 or 40 spare minutes?

No of course they don’t, because their lives are already full, they’ve already got a bunch of habits and responsibilities. And because they have this idea that it has to be a full fledged long meditation, or it is not a real meditation. And they end up not doing it at all.

So Bodhipaksa tries to encourage people to just try tiny 3 or 4 minutes of meditation, this is what you can do. He gets them to do the meditation standing up, or sitting in a chair. Get the idea across that you don’t need special equipment, get all setup, or lighting all the candles.

Yes, in our daily life is where the real fruits of meditation are..

Yes, especially with regularity, consistency in practice.

Do you find that the folks who do the mini meditations repeat the meditations until it becomes part of their lives..that something kicks in that activates within the person that then practices automatically, where it might be really helpful to de-escalate the inner turmoil? 

Yes, I think it’s quite hard for people to start meditating on their own. This is maybe another reason to encourage people to do shorter meditations. Because what we’re asking people to do is to apply a certain mindset, things like being patient, and kind with yourself. Recognizing that it’s OK to be distracted. You’re not the worst meditator in the world because your mind is distracted and all over the place. 

People bring a lot of unhelpful attitudes into the practice, so it can be quite difficult to get a meditation practice established.

Did you find that as you as you bring these meditations online, that this influences the way you’re doing these meditations? Because some of the folks are like you were when you were young in a remote place far away from a meditation center. So maybe that is part of the reason why you decided you wanted to bring it online to make it accessible to people who are like you at an earlier time in your life?

That’s really interesting. I haven’t made that connection before but i think that’s quite possibly the case. Yeah I have a very strong sympathetic, empathetic response to people who are in isolated situations, and who find it difficult to get a meditation practice started, and there are a lot of them. 

How many are there, what is that like since you’ve been doing this since 2001?

Yeah, I’ve doing it for a long time. I mean when I said there’s a lot of them I was thinking there’s a lot of people in a similar situation and perhaps the entire state where there’s hardly any meditations centers. And you have to travel like a 120 miles to get to a meditation center.

But in terms of how many I managed to reach through online activities is quite difficult to count. We have a lot of traffic to our website. I have this website with structured guides to meditation, all free. There’s recorded guided meditations that you can listen to. The Wild Mind web site get something like a 150.ooo thousand visits per month. 

Wow, that’s a lot. 

Yeah, and they’re all over the world as well so when the last time I looked, there were visitors from every country in the world except for think Western Sahara. It’s a disputed area, government or maybe there’s not even the internet there. Quite possibly there’s no internet connection. 

You wrote a couple of books about diets. Did that change as a result of meditation in any way?

Yes, it did interestingly. To put this in context. I first got in touch with a practicing Buddhist since I’ve been meditating. I was going to the University of Glasgow and I was training to be a veterinarian which is something that I had wanted to be for a long long time. Since it was a long time, probably since I was about 14 years old. 

I was in contact with Buddhists and most of the Buddhists I knew where vegetarian. And I actually hung around with Buddhists a lot. I really enjoyed being with them. I was actually working with a Buddhist company during my summer vacation. We’d eat with each other, going to each other’s houses after working all day. So I was eating a lot of vegetarian food but I was almost militantly anti-vegetarian.

People would say you’re eating a  dead animal. I didn’t affect me at all at that time. It was completely normal and natural to me to eat meat. And then my entire veterinary class went to a slaughter house.

One of the things that you’re trained to do as a veterinarian is meat inspection.  Two aspects to it There’s the welfare of animals before they die, and there’s also inspecting carcasses to make sure they’re not diseased so that cancer and infections and things don’t get to the food supply. So we had to go and learn how to do these things. 

And the very first day I went into the slaughterhouse was quite horrifying. First of all those the smell of the place felt absolutely disgusting. Nobody else having this reaction I think it was possibly because I had just for several months not been eating much meat and been living a vegetarian diet. As I was hanging around with other vegetarians.

I had to have a scarf wrapped around my face to try to filter out some of the smell. And then we went through into the killing floor to have a look at the end of the day and they’d finished slaughtering animals for the day. There was a pig which had been spotted which had been quite badly injured. And the animal welfare rules say, that the animals to be killed as quickly as possible. So I saw my first pig being slaughtered, by being shot in the head and having its throat cut and bleeding on the floor.

And at that point the question or statement, “you do realize that that meat is a dead animal” is something that made sense. I didn’t actually make a conscious decision to become a vegetarian. I just went home and I couldn’t eat it anymore. We already had some meat that we bought for our meal. And I just looked at it and I realized I can’t eat this. And I think it was a combination of, as I mentioned not having it very much meat for a while, while hanging out with vegetarians. Their philosophical approach to vegetarianism had not really affected me on a conscious level. 

I think the meditation practice that I’ve been doing had perhaps woken me up. Because I was the only person out of like 40, 45 people.  The only one who had this kind of response. 

I don’t want to have anything to do with this.

Yeah so that it opened you up in in a sense to the the suffering of someone else. Kind of like an empathetic response.

I think so yeah. I’ve been doing a combination of mindfulness of breathing and loving-kindness practice for several months. And at that point I think it opened me up in an empathetic way.

I also noticed on your website you mentioned you see your children as your spiritual teachers. Maybe you can explain that a little bit what you mean.

Well , so you’re a meditation teacher and you go and teach your meditation class. You’re friendly and understanding to everybody, even when people can be quite difficult. And you’re patient with them. It is much more difficult to maintain that sense of, I’m in public, and I’m in charge of myself and I am emotionally non-reactive, kind and patient.

It’s much more difficult to maintain that kind of equanimity when you’ve got a child who’s screaming at you. Or having a temper tantrum or really upset about something. Doesn’t want to do what you want to do. Or even when they’re sick you know. When my kids were really young and I’d have to stay up half the night, holding them up right because they couldn’t sleep lying down, because of an earache, etc. 

It really tests you. Children push your buttons and they learn how to push your buttons . So it teaches you to practice patience and kindness in a much deeper level. Because when you’re doing it at the meditation class, it’s relatively easy to do.

When you’re in public and people are watching you, you’re on your best behavior. But you can also remember to be on your best behavior all the time when with your kids. And you don’t feel like anyone is watching you when you’re on your own with them. 

Yeah just like at the workplace, you know it’s easier to be nice there too because you’re you’re also getting getting paid to be there and so forth.

 I think sometimes the amount of time that people spend at work leads to that familiarity that breeds contempt. That’s also a very good practice place for sure. Especially at meetings, where people disagree with you, it’s very easy to get heated and to get stubborn. 

And in terms of your website, what inspired you to decide to do the Wild Mind web site about meditation full time? What what makes you realize this is something that you wanted to do full time right?

It is now. It was not full time at first, it was a very part time thing for a long time. The idea for the website came to me but I was doing a master’s degree at the University of Montana.  And I had this decision that I wanted to go and study Buddhism at University. I wanted to do a master’s in Buddhism.

And the reason for that was because being smart can be a bit of a problem sometimes, because it can seem quite easy to get your head around Buddhist teachings. And because you think you understand it, you don’t ask yourself the deeper questions, like do I really understand this?

On an experiential level. Does this even make sense. Are there contradictions. Because you can sometimes find yourself holding contradictory ideas in your head. And you can flip from one to the other without even realizing that you’re doing. It is very common to do that. So I wanted to be challenged to think more deeply about about the Dharma, about Buddhism.

And I was lucky enough to bump into professor of Buddhist Studies who is looking for a teaching assistant. And a teaching assistantship would pay for a masters degree.

However, and this was a real stroke of good luck. It wasn’t possible to do a pure masters in Buddhism at this particular University. There weren’t enough for credit courses available. So was gonna have to do some kind of interdisciplinary masters. And choose two different areas of Buddhism. And something else and focus on both of those areas but especially on the overlap between them and I considered various options. I was quite interested at one point in studying Zen Buddhism and so on studying Japanese. But my adviser pointed out that would take many many years to develop enough proficiency in Japanese and Chinese, which I’d also have to learn, classical Chinese, in order to be able to make any use of that.

And it occurred to me that one of the things I’d always really love doing was running businesses. Hadn’t really thought of myself as doing that. But when I was in Glasgow and involved in Dharma center there, I volunteered to run the book shop. I love the craft of taking something and making it work well. And making it appealing to people. Increasing the range of books there, expanding things, building things up

So I love that, and then moved into a Buddhist center for a number of years. A retreat center in the Highlands of Scotland when I arrived it was a very small scale operation then. Again I just love building it up and be able to reach more people and being the benefit more people. 

And so I thought well maybe I could study Buddhism and business. A really intreaging thing to do. Most people do what you’re doing right now and give a little nervous laugh. Buddhism, business? Aren’t they the complete opposite? (laughing)

But of course in the Buddhist teaching there’s the 8 fold path, which is the core teaching of Buddhism, and one of the aspects of the eight fold path, is right livelihood . So that’s Buddhism and business. It’s how to make your work into a practice.

So I was studying classes in the business school and I was studying Buddhism in the philosophy department. And I was trying to think what am I gonna do with this degree. Where is this going to go. I had friends who were Buddhists who were running businesses, and I got involved. And looked at whether I might be able to apply the principles I was learning to their particular businesses.

Lin Chi in trashHello dogs! (NOTE: Sorry, the dogs were barking for a few seconds at this point..As you can see, our dogs can be troublemakers. They want to apparently insert themselves not just in pots, pans, and trashcans, but also in the podcast!)

And then it just it just came to me one day, but it just came to me that the internet at that time (around 2000) was not a good place to go if you want to learn meditation. There were people who were advertising meditation classes there, but you can’t go onto the internet at a particular time and learn how to meditate.

And I thought well you know you can. People don’t think it’s unusual to learn meditation from a book to go out and buy tons of books about meditation. People don’t think it’s unusual to go out and buy a CD on meditation. And then you can do all of those things on the internet.

So I worked on putting together a structured program, and actually wrote a grant proposal to the Council of learned societies and managed to get some grant money. Which funded me for a summer to work on writing and recording some material and I tried to make in the University first of all of it was an online course. Just within the university and then I you know that started the website and that was 2001 November 2001.

And and then it started attracting people to come to it, and and how did you do change over time, to meet whatever needs they had. Did you just do it based on whatever feedback you got?

Well things just kind of evolved. My original idea was just have a website where people can come and we can learn something about meditation. And that was it. Trouble, I was a graduate student and I could barely scrape through a week and feed myself. Never mind set a website. I had a friend who was a Buddhist was fairly successful businessman and I told them about my idea for this website and I said I’d probably need a couple hundred dollars to get started. He said, no problem at all more like this one particular time. He asked if I thought about doing meditation classes online, because he knew I was a meditation teacher. And I thought, yeah I know how I could do that. I Immediately thought about how you could you could do that with discussion forum and readings and guided meditations.

And so after starting their website I moved into having online courses . And people liked the recordings I done. So tried to put some of  those CD and CD did very well. And things just gonna took off from there.

And then did the CD’s then turn into downloadable audio?

Yeah we’ve the website now has a an online store, where you can buy CDs. The online courses have changed quite dramatically. I used to work with a small number of people quite intensively. And have a daily correspondence with them about their practice. That limits you to a small number though. 

Now there’s a suggested donation, no fixed charges. If you got some more money use another level of donation. And so you know we’re getting in our most recent course there is like 227 people.

You also mentioned prison, do you the same way with them?

Yeah for several years I went along to the state prison for men in Concord, New Hampshire, where there was already a meditation group. They don’t have a lot of internet access in prison, for obvious reasons. So that was actually an incredibly fulfilling thing to do. This was quite frustrating in some ways not because of the inmates that the staff was often making it quite difficult. I would drive an hour there and discover that was something else planned at the chapel that day, and no one had bothered to call any of the volunteers. So you drive an hour home again. So sometimes it it was quite frustrating.

But the amazing thing was that these guys had an incredible depth of practice, as they were living in very difficult circumstances and the Dharma practice, their meditation practice was a lifesaver. But it was actually inspirational to be with a group of people who are so committed to the practice.

It was much more satisfying in many ways then teaching meditation class in my my local Dharma center just down the road. Where you know in some cases people would come along and meditate in the evening. But that was the only meditation that they did all week.

It’s almost like that image of your hair being on fire. I have a sense that if you’re in prison you’re more willing to make a full commitment. Then in the case that you’re not in prison where you got lots of distractions and other things. 

Yeah absolutely the problem became one of time and resources. My then wife and I adopted two children , and she wasn’t working anymore, because she was staying with them. Staying at home to look after the children. And a lot less money came in, and I just have to be more careful about how I spent my time. So unfortunately there was one of the things I had to withdraw.

Their group is still meeting by the other people who stepped. I also went down to a couple of prisons in Massachusetts as well to manage to get somebody else to take over.

And you also mentioned you worked with low-income teens have at one point.

That was the University of New Hampshire. There was a program there is actually a federally funded program called Upward Bound. And everyone thinks I’m saying outward bound, and think it’s about camping. It’s a federally funded program that started in the nineteen sixties. Back in the days when people had a consensus around helping people from low-income families to get into higher education, and when they saw it as a good thing. Because it would strengthen the nation, because you’re tapping into talent, that might otherwise go unrealized.

And so the program means to help teens from low-income families prepare for college. Very well actually none of their parents have ever been to college. Often their parents are quite impoverished. Sometimes now your mental health problems substance abuse problems etc. So they were great bunch of kids and I did that for ten years. I have very tentatively started doing some meditation with them. I was basically asked to come in and help teach them study skills and personal development skills.  And I was a little hesitant about it at first, because it’s something that really precious to me. And the thought of taking something very precious and offering up to a bunch of people who might not appreciate it, or think it was boring or dull or something like that that was that was scary.

But I took the risk and I started introducing to meditation to the low-income kids, and found out very quickly it was their favorite thing of everything that was being taught. And they wanted more of it. It became a regular thing, and we did it in every single class. And they found that very beneficial.

Did you notice it changed them as well?

It’s kinda hard to tell, whether meditation changes people. I mean I’m getting a bunch of people I don’t really know very well I’m teaching to meditate. By the time I’m getting to know them they had only been meditating for a few weeks. But a lot of them said that they find it helpful. I have to go on their reports, rather than mine. 

How do you explain Wild Mind in terms of working with habit patterns?

It was just a name. Well it’s become in a way just the name. I would explain it in terms of ecosystem for example. An ecosystem doesn’t have anyone in control of it. There was no one saying, okay we’ve got too many insects you know, let’s send in the birds. There’s no one saying, oh, there’s a clearing. Let’s plant seeds so that some trees drop. It just all you know works perfectly and beautifully.

So meditation can bring about something like that as well. First we feel compelled to meddle with our minds. Feeling like we always need to be doing something. And actually we do need to do something at first. You know we need to make some kind of an effort. But with practice you can get more of a sense that your meditation practice is just happening. It’s just something that’s just arising within you. And it can happen quite beautifully.

There can be no conscious intent to do anything. You’re just sitting there. It’s like sitting observing a forest and seeing all the life going about its business, doing whatever it does, staying, keeping in balance. And it can be like that with the mind well. You’re not doing anything but sitting there.

And sometimes even when you’re not watching you get the sense there’s things going on. I’ve had many times in my meditation practice, where I’ve become mildly distracted. And I’m thinking about something, and then I realized. Oh, I’m distracted, let’s go back to my experiences and notice what my experience is. And I find that my experience is very different from what it was before I got distracted.

Suddenly now I’m really happy. And it’s really easy to be calm. My mind feels bright and I feel energized And it’s like, while my attention was out of the way, some parts of me were collaborating to produce this beautiful experience for me to come back to.

And so, yeah there is there is a sense in which I’m using this word Wild Mind, to suggest something quite expansive. Also tend to use a lot of nature images.

I think all meditation teachers end up using a lot of nature imagery, as it is very evocative. So we talk about sitting like a mountain.

We talk about letting your mind be like water so the water. You stop stirring the water, and you just let it settle down and let it become clear and and calm. And able to reflect. You find but as water calms down, you can see into it. With your mind calming down, you can also see into that more easily.

So there’s a lot of nature imagery that tends to come into meditation practice. Again this idea, of the wild as being something spiritual.

But I don’t tend to think about why I called it, “Wild Mind” very much these days. 

But it’s really nice to let meditation help you become aware of the background (nature), instead what is often the foreground (our minds). The Background comes to the foreground.

You’re also an individual coach. Is that part of the website as well?

It’s something that’s available through the website. It is something that’s fairly new for me as well. As I mentioned I did quite a bit of coaching in my early days when I first saw online courses. I mean a lot.  I was doing a lot of coaching. But primarily through text. Corresponding with them pretty much on a daily basis. And that’s where I got the idea from being on the generation X dharma teachers conference this past summer. And there were a few people there who are coaching.

Folks listening to this might be thinking, maybe that’s a helpful way to have somebody like a coach, “see your back”. You’ve already mentioned your kids, and that’s wonderful. That folks folks like us who have families. They look at the back of our necks as well. They can see the parts of ourselves that we don’t necessarily notice or wanna notice as much. And as a coach you kind of do that as well, seeing patterns that someone else might not recognize as easily?

Yeah, I think that’s one of the big advantages of Kalyana Mitta (spiritual friends) or special friendship. It is interesting you look at the scriptures and you see that, “spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life“. That is a very strong statement.

There’s actually very little in terms of teachings apart from that, spiritual friendship. I can think of a couple of suttas where either the Buddha either discusses spiritual friendship or praises spiritual friendship in a detailed way. But it’s not really developed very strongly. One of the advantages of spiritual friendship is it helps you to become conscious of things that you’re not so conscious of.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell people that would be listening now, who want to be free from suffering?

There are many things I could say. The first thing that springs to mind is to find some kind of balance in your meditation practice. A lot of people when we they go to learn meditation take up some kind of mindfulness practice. That’s the most common thing. So you’re sitting watching everything or paying attention to the body are you sitting watching thoughts passing through. And letting go of them.

That’s all great so wonderful very good thing to do. That’s an excellent practice. But there’s a whole other side of practice which involves working with heart. And developing more kindness and developing more compassion and developing more appreciation. And that is really important.

One of the things that I’m quite wary of in the modern Buddhist world is, there is this emphasis on the goal, as being having a particular kind of insight. And so people want to have this kind of insight.  They want to see you through the illusion of self. Which is a completely valid, and wonderful thing to do. And everyone should have that experience.

But the Buddha’s ideal of somebody who’s awakened was not just somebody who has that insight and seen through the illusion of a separate self. But the Buddha’s ideal was of somebody who is like an ideal human being. Somebody who is warm and compassionate and kind. Somebody who is patient and who is able to live in a very simple way. So some of those elements tend to get lost in people’s practice because they’re focusing on developing mindfulness and insight.

But if you’re doing that, you not really aiming at becoming the kind of person that the Buddha was encouraging us to be. So you’re not really aiming for the Buddha’s goal was. So I really encourage people to take up not just mindfulness practice, but also some kind of loving-kindness or compassion practices as well.

Great advice. I know my my teachers teacher put that, is he said, “I’m not interested in your enlightenment experience. I’m interested in the day after.” (laughing)

I really appreciate your time and and your kind words, and I hope that folks can check out your website. 

Thank you.

Resources

MF 26 – How to Easily Bring Meditation into Your Workplace!

MF 26 – How to Easily Bring Meditation into Your Workplace!

In this post I would like to share some practical ideas for how you can easily bring meditation into your daily work life. This might be especially helpful if your current workplace does not have a dedicated meditation room, or higher level endorsement of this beneficial practice.

I’ll show you how you can incorporate, “mini”-meditations and mindfulness at your place of work, without having to look weird, or needing a, “meditation room”.

This said, having a dedicated meditation room in the workplace would of course be a great asset and high level endorsement of wellness!

I don’t have Time to Meditate at Work!

You may think that you don’t have time to meditate at work! Sure, most of us don’t have dedicated chunks of time during the day to practice formal meditation.

No problem! Lets break down a workday, and see how you can get the benefits from meditation during your workday. Some simple techniques can help you stay fresh throughout the day, and also help you through that afternoon slump.

Most of our jobs involves a lot of sedentary sitting at a computer. But you still get up to go to meetings, or get some water, get your lunch, pick up your mail, go to the restroom, etc. Each of those transitions are opportunities for a quick mini-meditation!

A meditation does not need to be a certain number of minutes or a designated time to be of benefit.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out and verify with your own experience right now!

Try this Mini-Meditation!

  1. If you are sitting in an office, straighten your back if possible, with your head and ears in alignment with your shoulders.
  2. Put your feet flat on the ground and feel the connection of your feet to the ground.
  3. Lay your hands on your lap, so that your shoulders can totally relax.
  4. Check your breathing, let the breathing relax as well.
  5. Now close your eyes, especially if your screen is still on.
  6. Take just 10 deep and conscious breaths, not hurrying it, or slowing it down on purpose, just 10 relaxed breaths.
  7. Count on each in breath, so that for each in, and out-breath, it counts as one.  You can count to 5 (each in and out breath counting as one, next in breath and out breath, count as 2, and so on until your count is at 5 or 10, then return back to one).
  8. Add another 10 if you have another minute!

After you have opened your eyes, tell me you don’t feel just a little bit better!

In all likelihood these 10 breaths took you about a minute of your time. Now imagine doing this multiple times a day, maybe once an hour, and you start to see how this feeling of relaxation and recharging and refreshed clarity might benefit your day at work and into the evening and next day.

Breaking Down a Work Day

So, let’s take a workday and break it down to see where you can squeeze in some mini-meditations.

Going to Work

First going to work. Most of us get into a car, or you get into the subway, or perhaps you are walking or biking to work.

All of these transitions give you an opportunity to meditate if even only for a few breaths.

Car Meditation

In the case of your car, be mindful of getting in the car and sitting down. Why not close your eyes and take 3-10 breaths before cranking the engine? Try it, and you will find yourself more intentional and conscious behind the wheel, which will also keep you safer and more awake on the road.

Now say you’re driving, if you like to listen to the radio, you could once in a while hit the pause button, or take a break from listening to the radio (maybe during a commercial) and again breathe consciously for 5 or 10 breaths at a time (there is more distraction while driving, so 10 breaths will be harder to keep track of at the same time you’re trying to be focused on driving.)

Another opportunity to do this simple breath meditation, is while waiting at a stoplight or traffic jam. Why not use the stop lights as small opportunities to meditate? Especially since they may seem like time wasters and may even be frustrating.

Make that waiting your queue to meditate, and become aware of how tempting it is to not want to be present in the moment, because you want to be at your destination.

These are all ways we can become aware of how easy it is to avoid the present moment, because there is always something better in the future to look forward to. The problem with that is that we then end up “missing our appointment with the present” as Thich Nhat Hanh has so wisely observed.

For the subway, bike, and walking meditation, use similar technique as explained above. Find something as your queue to do a short meditation, like waiting for the doors of the subway to close, or waiting at a pedestrian light.

Walking Meditation to your office

So those are some ideas of what you can do to incorporate meditation on the way to work. Same thing when you leave your car to walk into the building. Use the walk to your office to practice walking meditation.

This doesn’t mean you have to walk super slow; just be conscious while walking. Slowing down helps, as we do hurry a lot, and are overall as a species walking faster than we did a decade ago.

Pay attention, and hear the birds, or jackhammer, or cab honking, or fans above your head as you walk underneath them.

Notice your feet walking over the concrete. Notice your breath as you walk in various situations. Is it hurried as you walk over the boardwalk? Does it slow down as you walk on a quiet hallway?

Each breath is unique, and each breath will inform and teach you about how present, relaxed, or tense you are in that moment. Is your breathing coming from your chest or lower down from your abdomen?

The lower and more relaxed your belly and breathing, the more beneficial for your oxygen distribution and your well-being. If your breathing is tense and shallow, don’t worry, just keep practicing. It may just be tense in certain circumstances.

With consistent practice, it will over time get relaxed  more often, and you’ll start enjoying the present moment more and more. This will happen even in parts of your life that you previously thought were “boring” or “tedious”.

Opening Doors Meditation

So now you’re at the office, how do you open the door? Is it conscious, or on auto-pilot? How do you greet your workplace by way of opening the door and entering into what is a Big part of your life? This stepping into your office may be a good time to internally think about some of the reasons why you are grateful to have this particular job (even if it is not what you want to do the rest of your life). Being grateful as you get in the office will help you feel good and more purposeful about why you are there at that time

It will likely also make your day go more smoothly, even when there are fires.

Sitting Down into Your Office Chair

So now you sit down or stand to start the work day. That moment of sitting down, just like in the case of getting into the car or subway, is another opportunity to take a few breaths and pay attention to how you sit down and go about your work day.

Check your posture, that it is upright and not tense. Same with your arms, if they’re tense from holding the mouse, it will manifest itself as tightness in your shoulders and neck and turn into repetitive strain.

Now the trick is to maintain that upright posture throughout the day. And of course it is very easy to get totally absorbed in your tasks and end up slumping towards your screen or sitting way too long at a time.

So here are a couple of ideas you can try to avoid that slump creeping up on your as the day wears on, which then can turn into fatigue, if not checked.

Mindfulness Timers

What has worked well for me while working in various job environments and continues to do so, is setting timers. I’ll link to a couple of options here. You can use a Youtube meditation timer, such as this 8 hour video, with a mindfulness bell or bells going off, every so many minutes.

 

 

You can also install a mindfulness timer app on your computer or smartphone, to help remind you to get up and move around or meditate for a minute or two.

I’ve also tried kitchen timers, however, the mindfulness bells sound way nicer! 

One caveat though, if you use meditation bells too often, you may end up ignoring them. So vary them up if need be. And one thing I’ve noticed about a kitchen timer, is that if you use one that keeps on beeping until you reset it, it will force you to get up from sitting, and this will have the beneficial effect of forcing you to move. You can then utilize that pause to reset the timer as an opportunity to walk stairs, or do some stretches, exercises, or do some cleaning.

I’ve gathered all kinds of mindfulness bells and timers here on one page:

http://meditationfreedom.com/mindfulness-bell/

Once you have picked a mindfulness sound that works well for you, I would suggest trying different settings and see which one is most optimal for you.

For example, you could try a bell once every 30 minutes, or perhaps in a very demanding day, at least try once an hour.

If you can’t take a 5 minute walk, at least close your eyes in front of your computer, and just allow yourself to breathe for 10 or 20 breaths as mentioned earlier in this post.

As always recommended, please check your posture while doing that to make sure it is upright and awake.

This also has the added benefit of giving your eyes a break from staring at a monitor.

Getting Up and Walking is Crucial for Your Health!

Because extensive sedentary sitting is now known to not be healthy, and is now even compared to the harm of cigarettes. If possible, also try getting up for a brief 5 minute walks through the hallways or staircases of your office or office building. (An outside walk is of course even better. Try to fit that into your day routine as well if possible)

If you have staircases, great! Staircases are ideal, because they are very conducive to meditation. They are quiet, sparse in decorations (distractions), and peaceful. Give that a try! Stairs also have the added health benefits of being a good workout for your body.

If you have only a couple flights of stairs in your building, then just go up and down several times depending on how much time you have.

A consistent slower pace might be more conducive for meditation and mindful walking.

The nice thing about that, is that if you do this every hour or 45 minutes, that when you get back to your desk, your blood is flowing again, your brain is oxygenated, and you can then fully do another chunk of focused work again and be very productive!

You can also do the same type of quick mini-break whenever you walk to the restrooms, the water cooler, or fridge, and before a meeting.

By all means experiment, try things out, the idea is just to incorporate or weave small little mini-meditations throughout your day.

Rest-Room Meditation

The restroom doesn’t just have to be a place to “get your business over with”.

It can also be a rest-room, where you can take a minute or two to meditate!

For guys like me, even when standing, you can still take an extra 5-10 breaths before finishing up. That’s standing meditation. Same when washing hands, and drying. I notice with many people, the whole procedure is hurried, and treated like an inconvenience. Especially when there are lots of thoughts and busyness in the mind, it will express itself in the way you wash, and dry your hands.

In my case, I often drink about a glass of water an hour, so that consequently meant about one restroom break every hour or two.

Meetings

If you are a director or manager and you are having issues with unproductive meetings, try and incorporate a one minute meditation right before starting a meeting.

Allow everyone to enjoy some calm and a few moments of silence, and create a collaborative meeting environment where team members can feel included, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Create a conducive meeting environment where it is less about showing off and more about drawing out and giving room to each team member’s talent. Where attention is gathered, instead of scattered.

Lunch

During lunch take notice of what you’re eating, really enjoy your food. And be mindful of how much you eat and how it affects the rest of your afternoon. If you eat mindfully, and slower, your belly will be able to signal that it is satisfied better, thus decreasing the risk of eating to much. Eating too much, or too much sugar may cause an afternoon slump.

Afternoon Slump?

See if you can repeat the above process of taking breaks in the afternoon. As you get better at it, notice how it may be harder to do the meditation/walking breaks in the afternoon.

If taking meditation breaks is more difficult, it is most likely because our will power decreases as the day wears on, we of course get more tired.

All the more reason perhaps to focus even more on these little breaks. It will much improve how you feel in the afternoon. Remember that by breathing fully and mindfully, it helps our brain keep oxygenated, which will help us feel more awake and fresh and available for each moment.

Be Kind to Yourself!

Lastly, be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up if you are doing this hundreds of times, and you don’t see whatever results you are expecting, or you forget to do it, etc.

I stumble with this practice all the time too. And it can be more difficult if your environment or job changes a lot. You’ll have to then develop new mindfulness cues and routines.

Just let it go, and try again at the next opportunity and tomorrow.

Start with one moment during your workday. With one thing that is easiest for you, and continue to incorporate more and more moments, or mini-meditations throughout your workday.

This mindfulness practice is a way of life, an ongoing process of becoming more aware and awake, not a goal to reach or something to cross of the list of things to “do”.

This is not about doing, it’s about learning to be here and now, and show up and fully appreciate your one and only precious life. In the process, you will increase your appreciation for everything else as well.

Enjoy the stumbles and discoveries of being forgetful and messing up. It is a wonderful gift just to be able to take a deep spacious breath and feel alive. And let me know if you tried any of this and what your experience was in the comments below!

5 reasons to take frequent mini-meditations or meditation timeouts throughout your day

1. Being Aware of Shallow Breath

Our breath has a tendency in our lives to go higher and more shallow. It is easy to test this. While you’re doing something, like working, or sitting, or standing in the middle of the day, close your eyes, and simply take 10 breaths consciously. You’ll notice right away that your breath and body relax a little more, the breath then naturally wants to go down to your belly or abdomen, where there is more spaciousness. In other words, it does not feel right breathing from high in your chest. It may take a few times to notice, but you’ll soon discover that you want to breathe more deeply.

2. Body Posture

If you have an office job, it means lots of sitting. If you can occasionally get away with closing your eyes or taking 10 breaths, you can become aware of posture issues. if you were staring at a computer screen or smart phone, notice if your neck or head is extending. This happens often over time, where the longer we sit behind a computer screen, the more we start, “leaning into the screen”. This pause and internal checkup tells you whether your body is still in good posture or not. If your neck tends to extend forward, that will cause bad posture and symptoms like neck, shoulders and arm tensions over the long run. Give yourself a short breathing/meditation break every so often, I prefer every 25-30 minutes. This way your body posture will benefit (assuming you have a posture issue). If you don’t have a posture issue, at least it will let your body relax.

3. Oxygenation of your whole body and brain

Taking conscious breaths, means taking deeper breaths. Taking deeper breaths feels a lot better too. Part of the reason for that is that you are providing extra oxygen to your body and brain. This oxygen exchange where you take in more oxygen, and let go of the carbon dioxide, is always good for the sense of well-being. Try it at least once a day, and also notice how it increases your productivity.

4. Reduce the stress inducing Cortisol and fight or flight response

Stress which most of us get on a daily basis in some for or another, will increase our levels of cortisol, which is associated with the fight or flight response. While this response is sensible in a truly threatening situation, it can become harmful this state becomes permanent. By taking periodic mini-meditations, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system which in effect allows us to take a breath and a step back. This will in turn, reduce the harmful cortisol levels, and a relaxation response results.

5. Lowering Anxiety, Blood Pressure, and Heart Rates

There is a growing body of research showing that slowing down our breathing through meditation is going to help lower our blood pressure, anxiety levels, and heart rates. Slowing down our breathing regularly, or getting into this habit will long term help prevent stroke and many other health problems. Then of course there are many other benefits, like better concentration, more productivity, better focus, etc. Each of these benefits is a reason in itself to take up this habit of taking meditation time-outs, or mini-meditations throughout your day.

These are just 5 reasons to try mini-meditations today.  Please comment if you found another reason to do regular conscious breaths throughout your day!