This practice comes from the Greater Good Science Center.
A for “Attention.” When you choose to pay attention to things you appreciate, value, or find amazing, you focus your mind and heart on things that are likely to foster awe. We call this selective perception.
W for “Wait.” After you focus your attention, your mind quiets down. If you wait—at least the length of one full inhalation—you can begin to experience a state of coherence. As the poet W.B. Yeats wrote, “The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
E for “Exhale and Expand.” When you exhale, you relax, and when you expand, you amplify whatever sensations you are experiencing. By combining focused attention with a respiratory pattern in which your exhalation is longer than your inhalation—about 2:1—you are opening the gateway to awe.
Each night before you go to sleep, make a list of all the judgments you made about yourself or others. As you become more aware of the judgments you make each day, you can choose to describe what is actually going on instead of making judgments. For example, “That car cut me off by changing lanes.” rather than “That jerk is trying to get ahead of me. I need to teach him a lesson.” Or”I forgot to call my sister.” instead of “I’m so such a bad sister.”
As you are walking down the street, or through your office, notice your reaction to the people you pass. Do you open up or shut down? Notice if you feel attraction, aversion, or indifference, without adding anything extra like self-judgment.
Each day write three things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal. It can be big things like getting a promotion, or meeting someone new. But most days it will be little things. No matter how little you have everyone has things to be grateful for: the blue sky, cloud formations, a non-toothache, ability to see, walk, breathe. After writing your list take a moment to savor it.
Find yourself a gratitude buddy and begin to e-mail or text each other every day 1-3 things you are grateful for. The text or e-mail from your buddy will help you to remember your gratitude practice. You can be grateful for little things like being able to see, or a beautiful sunset.
Taking in the Good
This mindfulness tool, developed by Rick Hanson takes only 20 seconds. When you see something pleasurable (a beautiful sky, a cute baby, amazing artwork, a great picture) take 20 seconds to really let the pleasure sink in. To train your brain to see the positive, do this a couple of times a day.
Another time you can practice mindfulness is when you exercise. Whether you are doing yoga, swimming, lifting weights, or running, slow yourself down enough to feel your body. What muscles are you activating as you move? What muscles may you be activating that may lead to injury (for example your shoulders or your neck)? To really tune into your body, you may need to exercise at 70% of your capacity at least for a few minutes. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the activation of your muscles. If you are lucky enough to have a teacher who provides instruction on which muscles to activate, consider it a guided meditation. Each instruction is a bell of mindfulness bringing you back to your body in the present moment.
Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening in the present moment. A powerful mindfulness practice is to single task. We are so accustomed to multi-tasking, that this may be difficult. You may try it when you are eating. Just eat, don’t read the paper, watch tv, listen to the radio, reminisce about the past or plan for the future. When you are taking a shower, just take a shower, feeling the water on your back. When you are walking, feel your feet touch the ground and the breeze on your skin, notice the beautiful sky, trees, etc.
Switch It Up
We live much of our lives on autopilot. One way to become more mindful is to switch it up. Take a different route to work. Bruch your teeth or drink your coffee with your non-dominant hand. Switch which foot you put your shoe and sock on first. Change your morning routine by eating breakfast before you shower or vice versa. Commit to switching one thing and try doing it for a week. If you forget, don’t beat up on yourself, just begin again.
Most of us normally slouch or lean forward. With this practice we bring our attention back to our bodies. It is helpful to designate a specific place where you will do this practice so you remember to do it. It may be walking down the hall to your office, every time you begin to walk upstairs, or before you open your car door. Notice if your shoulders are rounded forward or up by your ears. Take a moment to slide your shoulder blades down your back. Observe your abdominals and tailbone. Is your stomach tilted forward? Pull your abs in and up toward your ribs while sliding your tailbone down. Each time you repeat this practice, you become more aware of your posture. But don’t expect to find good posture, it is impossible for us to be mindful all the time. The key is to recognize when we are not mindful, and focus our attention in that moment.
Bring your shoulders up by your ears. Tense them as tightly as you can. Notice how your body feels. Notice how your breath is. Hold the tension for 5 breaths and pay attention to how it feels. Now relax your shoulders. Notice how your body feels. Notice how your breath is. Take 5 breaths and continue to pay attention to how it feels. Repeat this again.
The purpose of STOP is to come fully to this moment and observe what is happening. It is NOT to change your experience.
- Stop for a moment. Don’t react. Give yourself the gift of brief reflection.
- Take a breath. Breathe in and out.
- Observe your experience. Notice the sensations in your body. Notice the story you are telling yourself. Remember the story is not necessarily true. Notice your emotions.
- Proceed. Move forward in a way that feels right and is consistent with your values.
There are times your feel overwhelmed and ready to snap. That is the perfect time to take a SNAP break. Find a quiet place, then:
- Stop Just step away from everything for a moment
- Notice your body sensations Are your shoulders tense? Is your brow furrowed? Is your jaw tight? Is your breath shallow?
- Accept how it is in this moment Accept how you are feeling, don’t stress yourself more by trying to change it.
- Pay attention to your breath. Simply noticing your breath as it comes and goes, without trying to change it. When your mind wanders to the stresses at hand, gently redirect your attention back to the breath.
This technique is adapted from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine Family Medicine Program.
- Pause – take a moment for yourself. It might be just a single breath.
- Be Present – Be aware of what is happening in this moment by experiencing the sensations of the body, noticing the thoughts, and feeling the emotions just as they are without trying to change anything.
- Proceed – Using mindful speech and skillful means, respond compassionately to whatever needs your attention in this moment.