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The Irony of Short Mindfulness Practices

When someone is looking for an entry point for mindfulness practice, it's easy to send them to a free app for a few minutes of focused attention or a body scan. My issue with that, as a trained, experienced practitioner and teacher, is that there's so much more that needs to be said either within (so it's longer) or prior to (so . . . it's longer) the actual practice to give the person better odds at doing what they're "supposed to be" doing.

The Two Most Common Missteps

I'm about to attempt to record a track of under two minutes, frankly largely to see if I can do it and I have my doubts. If it's under two minutes, that means I have to set the stage for you now rather than during the recording. To do that, it's best to get two things addressed that come up for most people at the start of their practice.

  1. Your intention isn't to clear your mind. I hear that a lot. "I was having difficulty clearing my mind." You and me both! It's because you have a human brain with a default mode network that constantly generates thoughts, plus you're being barraged by sensory data that triggers thoughts and creates emotions. The default mode network calms down when you're involved in a task—when you're paying attention.

  2. You sit up, set your timer, and proceed to think until the timer pings. Rather than being with the sensations in your body or experiencing sounds as they pass through your field of awareness, you might do some experiencing and being, but you're also thinking about your experience or the contents of your experience. So you hear the trucks outside, but you also have a running narrative about the sounds—which you have already called noise, so you're judging them. This, friends, is not the point. To work with this reality, remember that mindfulness includes noticing that you're having a conversation with yourself about the evil trucks. It includes realizing you're judging the sounds as well as waking up to the monologue in your head. You notice what you're doing, and you return to the body scan or the anchor point or whatever you had set out to do, and you don't get all exasperated and disappointed with the reality that you have a human mind. Be kind to yourself!

Just How Much Difference Can 2 Minutes Make?

Each time you scan your body for 2 minutes—for 1 minute even—you're increasing the odds that you'll notice what's happening in your body during the day. And that noticing is crucial to your conversations, your decision-making, and your actions, as we frequently do things because we want more or less of the feelings we're experiencing. But we have no idea this is the case. At least not until we start doing body scans.

This is neuroscience at work, here. Our brains are prediction engines that take the path of least resistance. Their job is to conserve resources for surprises and emergencies, so they're pretty much going to predict you're going to be and do the same as you have been being and doing. That's because you're a series of habits, and habits don't involve a lot of work for your brain. Habits are actual neural pathways.

When you begin to introduce something new (which is difficult, as it's new), each time you do it you increase the chances that it will become a neural pathway or replace one you already have (which is why replacement is easier—part of what you need already exists). The more you set aside time to scan your body for 2 minutes, the more scanning your body occurs to you because your brain is starting to predict that that's what it does.

So let's start creating that neural pathway for scanning your body. And after you do it and any practice:

  • Capture your experience by freewriting about it for 2 minutes. You're answering the question: What's here now?

  • Reflect on your experience (What did you learn? What did you find surprising? What obstacles did you encounter?)

  • Integrate all of that information, meaning, in what ways can you take your lessons forward? Is there something you learned that you can act upon? Is there a change you need to make? Is there something you need to keep an eye on?

About that 2-minute track . . .

Now I feel like I've responsibly introduced the following track. I'd say, Enjoy! but that's really not the point. Just Experience the track, and Capture, Reflect, and Integrate, if you have the time. If not, just experience the track. And later today, do it again. And tomorrow, do it a few times, as well. And on and on. Each time you do it, the words might be the same, but you will be a different person, having a different experience. Now that you get what it is, maybe start doing it without the track. Be open. And use your beginner's mind, each time you do it!

May ease find you.



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